“That’s going to be up for discussion I would say this week,” said Matt LaFleur on Monday when asked about the left tackle position.
Walker has been starting at left tackle since Week 2 after clearly jumping Nijman on the depth chart during training camp. After surrendering just two total pressures against Atlanta and New Orleans, Walker has since given up 12 in the previous four games, along with three sacks. He’s also been penalized seven times this season.
“I think Sheed’s done a pretty good job,” said Adam Stenavich prior to the Denver game. “But he’s one of the guys, fundamentally, just being more consistent. When you play 70 to 80 snaps, it’s how can you eliminate some of those really bad plays. And a lot of that has to do with fundamentals and focus and things like that. Again, good effort, and when he’s on he looks pretty good, but we just need to keep focusing on the details.”
Unfortunately, that consistency hasn’t been there for Walker as he navigates the growing pains as a first time starter. He has PFF’s second-lowest run-blocking grade at the tackle position this season. He ranks 52nd out of 80 tackles in pass blocking efficiency, and he has the fifth-most penalties at the position.
In the first quarter of the Minnesota game alone, Walker was penalized once, which negated a 20 yard gain on third down on the opening drive, and he allowed a sack as well. That, coupled with his overall body of work, resulted in the Packers putting Nijman in, a path that we didn’t know whether or not Green Bay would go down, considering how that position battle played out over the summer.
“Right now he’s a backup tackle for us,” said Stenavich prior to Week 1. “That’s where he’s at. Football is a very competitive sport. Some guys rise to that competition and some guys don’t. So that’s basically what I have to say about that.”
Nijman played 50 snaps against the Vikings, allowing one sack and two pressures. He missed the final drive with a foot injury that he suffered on special teams, but told Ryan Wood that he expected to be available for Sunday’s game against Los Angeles.
While far from perfect, this was the offensive line’s best performance over the last month from a pass protection standpoint—although that also isn’t saying much either. According to PFF, Love was under pressure on only 26 percent of his dropbacks against the Vikings, after being near the 40 percent mark over the previous three games. However, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for only 40 yards on 13 carries.
Naturally, all eyes have been on Love and Green Bay’s young group of pass catchers, but consistent success for this offense begins with being better up front. The Packers are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry this season, and that figure is bolstered by some big scrambles from Love. Their inability to move the ball on the ground puts them behind the chains and in predictable passing situations, which has spelled doom for the offense this season.
Then, of course, not having time in the pocket regularly will often lead to disaster, especially for a first-time starting quarterback with an inexperienced cast around him. Green Bay’s struggles in pass protection have played a factor in Love not being as decisive of a decision-maker as he was earlier in the season.
When it comes to the left tackle position for the Packers, there is a balance they have to strike. On one hand, with Nijman set to be a free agent at the end of the season and probably not fitting into the Packers’ future plans, so getting Walker as many valuable reps as possible to hopefully expedite his learning curve makes sense.
However, on the other hand, success for the offense begins in the trenches, and in order to give Love the opportunity to turn things around, he needs stability around him, and the offensive line as a whole has not helped provide that.
“I think we look at everything,” added LaFleur. “Just to try to kickstart this thing. We have to play better in every phase of the game. We have to play more complimentary and play better.”