The one thing the Green Bay Packers couldn't afford, other than an injury to Aaron Rodgers, was attrition on the offensive line. And now they've lost the player expected to fill the important left tackle spot.
The Packers' examination confirmed the worst, that Bryan Bulaga is done for the season with a torn ACL. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the torn ACL confirmation, although Bulaga is getting a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. Bulaga suffered the injury at some point during the team's scrimmage on Saturday. He kept playing, but afterward told the team his knee didn't feel right. That's unusual, and the main reason nobody noticed until the news about Bulaga's injury started breaking on Sunday.
Now that the torn ACL diagnosis has been confirmed, the question is how it affects Green Bay's Super Bowl chances. On the surface, it appears just as significant as other key injuries to contenders: Percy Harvin's hip for Seattle, Michael Crabtree's torn Achilles for San Francisco, Dan Koppen's knee for Denver and Dennis Pitta's hip for Baltimore.
The Packers had one of the worst lines in the league last year, unable to open up holes in the running game or protect Rodgers. Green Bay allowed 51 sacks last year, second most in the NFL to only Arizona's horrendous offensive line. The Packers can't expect Rodgers to take that kind of punishment again and make the Super Bowl. That's why they moved Bulaga, a former first-round pick, from right tackle to the left side this offseason. They also moved guard Josh Sitton to the left side.
The counter argument is that Bulaga isn't an elite left tackle, and the Packers did OK without him last year. According to Pro Football Focus' grades, Marshall Newhouse was the 54th best tackle in the NFL as Green Bay's left tackle last season, and the most likely scenario is he moves back to the left side to replace Bulaga. But Bulaga ranked just 53rd among tackles. Bulaga was eighth in PFF's 2011 rankings, and that's why there was hope he could adequately protect Rodgers' blind side. But he wasn't coming off a great season either.
Bulaga missed the final seven regular-season games due to injury last year, and both playoff games. The Packers went 6-3 without Bulaga and with Newhouse playing left tackle, which is probably how the Packers will go into the 2013 season.
The Packers took tackle David Bakhtiari from Colorado in the fourth round of this year's draft, and he's drawn rave reviews so far. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported he'll go into the lineup, although it's unclear if that will be at left or right tackle. Either way, a fourth-round rookie will likely be entrusted to help protect the best player in the NFL.
The Packers' situation on the offensive line was shaky at best going into this season. Now they'll start a below-average veteran and a fourth-round pick in Week 1 against San Francisco's fierce pass rush. At least we should have a decent idea after one game if the offensive line woes will keep the Packers from getting to the Super Bowl.