Packers Give Sitton a Try at Left Tackle

Josh Sitton last played left tackle at Pensacola Catholic High. So why, in the biggest game of the 2015 season, would the Green Bay Packers move the eight-year veteran from his Pro Bowl left guard position against a stingy front seven? Because they basically had no better option.

To say the least, it has been a challenging last two games for the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line. And on Sunday night, in an NFC North championship game at Lambeau Field, the plot took a most unlikely twist.

    Coming off their worst performance of the season at Arizona and searching for answers to help their injury-depleted line, the Packers moved Pro Bowler Josh Sitton to left tackle and had backup Lane Taylor start in Sitton’s left guard spot.

“We talked about it earlier in the week. We had a couple combinations that we ‘repped’ just to make sure we were ready,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy after his team’s 20-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. “Josh was excited about the opportunity. I think it says a lot about him to have the ability to kick out there and Lane’s played well. I think Lane has played very well at guard. Based on how we wanted to start the game and lean that way, we felt it was the best decision for tonight’s game.”

Preferred starting left tackle David Bakhtiari (ankle) missed his second straight game after not missing any prior in his career. Though the Packers prepared to play without him, it was only determined hours before kickoff that he would not be available.

“He was close,” said McCarthy. “The (pregame) workout went well. There were a couple of things that (offensive line) coach (James) Campen and Dr. (Pat) McKenzie just weren’t 100 percent on. That’s what it came down to. When you get to this point on game day, they have to just totally 100 percent clear him, and if they don’t do that, then I’m… for this particular situation obviously, that’s why we took the (action we did).”

The Packers were really down to Plan C or even D along the offensive line more than Plan B. Against the Cardinals, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under siege. Don Barclay started for Bakhtiari and struggled mightily. And when right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down during the game, backup Josh Walker (inactive against the Vikings) also played poorly and was replaced at right tackle by backup center J.C. Tretter.

Tretter fared better in garbage time at Arizona but with a week to prepare for a strong Vikings front, the Packers decided that it would be better for their game plan this game to move Sitton to left tackle for the first time in his eight-year NFL career. Initially, the plan worked well. The Packers matched an opening Vikings field goal with a 70-yard field goal drive of their own (nine called running plays and six passes) in which they mainly utilized two-tight end sets.

“We had it going. We moved the ball effectively,” said Taylor, who made only his second career start. “But we kind of stalled out there and allowed them to get some points on the board and then had to come back from behind so it makes things kind of tough.”

There were few noticeable communication errors between Sitton and Taylor, who said the duo got some reps during the week and “talked through a lot of things, through a lot of scenarios” to prepare. But Sitton was facing arguably the Vikings top defensive lineman in Everson Griffen for most of the game and Griffen eventually made an impact.

Captain Munnerlyn’s 55-yard fumble return for a touchdown came after Griffen beat Sitton on an outside rush for one of his two sacks. Griffen got just enough of Rodgers’ arm to force a fumble, which went forward to Munnerlyn. Though it was close as to whether the ball came out before Rodgers’ arm went forward, officials upheld the call with a replay review and the Vikings went ahead 20-3 with 4:28 remaining in the third quarter.

By Packer Report’s count Sitton was additionally responsible for allowing two tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures, two quarterback hits and had a holding call against linebacker Anthony Barr that negated a 6-yard run by James Starks. Late in the game in catch-up mode, the Packers several times left a tight end or fullback John Kuhn in to help Sitton with “chip” blocks.
   
“I don’t think I played great but I went out there and did the best I could,” said Sitton. “I’m not a left tackle. I’m a guard. I think I’ve proved I can play pretty decent at guard. We needed someone to go in there and play and I told them I would do it. I went out there and fought and played the best I could and that’s all you can really ask.”

    To Sitton’s credit, he went the distance. All five of the Packers’ preferred starting offensive linemen were on this week’s injury report, a common refrain over the second half of the season. Sitton has been on for several weeks with a recurring back injury yet has not missed a game and was listed as probable.

    After allowing nine sacks and mustering up just 178 total yards at Arizona, the Packers’ offense did not fare much better against the 14th-ranked Vikings’ defense. Though they gained 350 yards, their running backs totaled just 64 yards on 23 carries in a game they clearly looked to establish the run early. The Vikings recorded five sacks – one Taylor was partially responsible for – and had 11 hits on Rodgers, not to mention tallying eight tackles for losses.

    With their streak of four straight NFC North Division titles over, the Packers (10-6) will now travel to Washington next Sunday afternoon (3:40 p.m. Central) as a Wild Card qualifier to take on the NFC East-champion Redskins (9-7).


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