Packers: Pass rush, offensive line should be top priority this offseason

Green Bay Packers, Clay Matthews (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Clay Matthews (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Fixing the pass rush and offensive line should be the Green Bay Packers’ biggest priority this offseason.

The Packers have a lot of work to do this offseason, from finding a new head coach to adding talent to a roster that has put together back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990 and 1991.

But once Mark Murphy has hired Mike McCarthy’s replacement at head coach, it will be up to GM Brian Gutekunst to build the roster. And the top of his to-do list should be finding upgrades to the pass rush and offensive line.

While Green Bay’s defense tallied 44 sacks in 2018, tied for eighth-most in the NFL, that doesn’t tell the full story.

Only of the Packers’ edge rushers, Kyler Fackrell, had more than 3.5 sacks all season. Fackrell had a team-high 10.5 sacks.

Clay Matthews, who had an $11.37 million cap hit in 2018, according to Spotrac, had just 3.5 sacks on the season, a career-low. Matthews is a free agent this offseason.

Reggie Gilbert, a standout performer in the preseason, had just 2.5 sacks. Nick Perry, just two seasons into his five-year, $59 million contract, posted just 1.5 sacks and missed seven games due to injury.

The Packers were able to finish with 44 sacks, and a lot of credit goes to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine for that. But it’s now over to Gutekunst to add an edge rusher or two, either in free agency, early in the draft, or both.

Just as important is addressing the offensive line. The Packers gave up 53 sacks as team this season, tied for third-most in the NFL.

Not all of them are on the offensive line. Some are on Aaron Rodgers.

But the offensive line needs to get better. Once one of the most talented lines in the league, the Packers haven’t done enough to keep adding talent over the past few offseasons.

Green Bay lost longtime starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang in the space of six months. Sitton was a first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler in Green Bay before he was released ahead of the 2016 season.

Lang was also a Pro Bowler in Green Bay before signing with the Detroit Lions in the 2017 offseason.

The Packers haven’t done enough to replace either player, and guard remains the biggest problem on the offensive line.

When fully healthy the Packers have three starters in place. David Bakhtiari is now a three-time All-Pro and arguably the best left tackle in all of football.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but when healthy he’s still an excellent player. Bulaga ranked second among tackles in ESPN’s pass-block win rate for the 2018 season, one spot ahead of Bakhtiari.

Center Corey Linsley hasn’t missed a snap in over two seasons and continues to play well at the heart of the offensive line.

This offseason the Packers need to add more talent at tackle and guard. While Bakhtiari and Bulaga are two of the best in the game when healthy, the team needs better depth when injuries happen. And with Bulaga entering a contract year in 2019, it’s important to be prepared for 2020 and beyond.

The Indianapolis Colts focused on strengthening their offensive line last offseason, and it’s worked.

Last season the Colts gave up a league-high 56 sacks. As a result, they selected guard Quenton Nelson sixth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Nelson was named a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler.

In the second round they selected Braden Smith, who made the Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Team at offensive tackle. Nelson also made the team.

The result? The Colts allowed just 18 sacks in the regular season, the fewest in the NFL. Andrew Luck put together arguably the best season of his career and the Colts are now heading to the divisional round of the playoffs after winning 10 of their past 11 games, including a dominant wild-card victory over the Houston Texans.

The Packers have an All-Pro at left tackle in Bakhtiari. A Pro Bowler at right tackle with Bulaga, assuming he remains part of the team’s plans for 2019 (which he should). An excellent starting center in Linsley, who was graded sixth at the position by PFF this season.

Let’s not forget offensive line coach James Campen, who we can only hope is part of the new head coach’s plans next season.

With those pieces in place, the Packers aren’t far away from once again having one of the league’s best offensive lines.

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But adding more talent along the offensive line should be a priority for Brian Gutekunst this offseason.