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Its A Tough Call, But Bulaga Should Start

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Its A Tough Call, But Bulaga Should Start

Rookie offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was thrust into his first regular season action at left tackle on Sunday after long-time starter Chad Clifton was pulled from the game after it was clear that he was struggling mightily.

Bulaga proceeded to play some very good football in his stead, leading to the obvious question:

Is it time for Bryan Bulaga to be the starter?

After the game, McCarthy addressed the situation. Kind of:

Chad Clifton did not practice twice this week. He has an issue with his knee. I felt that he just didn’t look like he was fully recovered, so I thought it was important to get Bryan in there.
He didn’t look good today. He didn’t look like he was healthy. He struggled last week through the Philadelphia game so that’s why Bryan played today. We’ll assess it in the morning and set our plan for next week.

That plan should call for Bulaga to be named the starter and for Clifton to transition into the role that Bruce Wilkerson played in 1996 - that of veteran safety net. Yes, an expensive safety net, but a reassurance nonetheless.

Clifton needs time to get his knees right, that is clear. He was overmatched throughout the Eagles game and looked even worse yesterday. Bulaga wasn't perfect but he was an instant upgrade from what the Packers were getting at left tackle up to that point. He set the edge in pass protection and got great push in the running game.

If the Packers are serious about Bulaga being their left tackle of the future - and word from inside the organization is that they are - then its better they get him on the field now and let him work through what will no doubt be some growing pains, starting with Monday nights matchup with the Bears and their offseason prize Julius Peppers.Yes, it could be overwhelming for the rookie - but I get the sense that he'd be more than up to the challenge.

Chad Clifton has a good history against Peppers. Carolina had to move him over to the other side when they came to Lambeau in 2008 because he was getting absolutley nowhere against the veteran tackle. But that was two years and many surgeries ago. Peppers would run roughshod over the Chad Clifton we've seen the last two weeks.

Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated at his press conference this afternoon that Clifton is rehabing today and that "If he can go, he'll go. He's our starting left tackle." My hunch is that this is a coach protecting a long-time veteran who, as Greg Bedard is fond of saying, has a lot of pelts hanging on the wall.

But the right play for the Packers is for Bulaga to get the start on Monday night and, hopefully, never look back.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (52) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

JerseyCheese's picture

So let Bulaga get his first start againt Julius Peppers? Replace the 2nd most important position on the team with a rookie? I'm sorry but we're trying to make a Super Bowl run, not play "musical chairs" with the offensive line. Keep the veteran in there until he shows he ABSOLUTELY needs to be replaced. It's way too early to call for his head!

packeraaron's picture

“Keep the veteran in there until he shows he ABSOLUTELY needs to be replaced.” – Um, he did show that. Yesterday. Did you watch him at all? He was absolutely terrible. If he played like that on Monday night he’d get Rodgers killed.

dilligaff's picture

What more proof to you need, he is old, hasn't practiced, issues with his knees, and has under performed in 2 games?

If it was rust against the Eagles, what happen against an inferior Bills team?

Wait for A-rod to get his head riped off on Monday Night, then you have Bulaga and Flynn in.

jeremy's picture

Do we know the last time Clifton was a full participant in practice for an extended period of time? I'm thinking it's been several years.

PackersRS's picture

My hunch? Rodgers is calling for it. Look at his play when Clifton was in there, and when Bulaga was in there. Much more confidence.

IMHO Rodgers doesn't trust Clifton to do the job anymore. And rightfully so, he was getting beat in embarassing fashion.

Go with what works. Put CM3 against Clifton in practice. If he shows he can handle him, then play him. If he continues to show he doesn't have it anymore, go with Bulaga.

CSS's picture

Peppers vs. either an aging veteran or an upstart rookie? The offensive approach would likely be the same regardless. Rolling Rodgers to the right, 3 step drops, chipping with the TE, running back, running at what will likely be an overly agressive Peppers to keep him off-balance.

That's likely the game plan regardless. All things being equal, the game plan can support the transition. Bulaga is instantly the 2nd best run blocker on the line, only behined Sitton when he's in the lineup. He's 21, he will make mistakes. Just don't leave him on an island without the right game-plan.

I'm fine with it, McCarthy just needs to have a talk with Rodgers about that internal clock going off....he won't have a ton of time.

jeremy's picture

"All things being equal, the game plan can support the transition."

Unfortunately McCarthy has shown little history of doing this. He almost never helps out new Tackles with chips, double teams, or runs at elite pass rushers to open the game. Instead he waits until after they've already been beaten badly several times before making the adjustment. I can think of examples against Jason Taylor, and Jared Allen of his failures in this regard.

andrew's picture

i woulndt call it a failure.. coaches do gameplan for DEs or OLBs to be a problem.. but u obviously want to give your line the chance to prove they dont need the assistance early in the game.. if they struggle u resort to your gameplan to counter.. but no one knows if bulaga can run with peppers in truth.. he could be able to handle him.. and clifton usually plays great against stud DEs so either way if i was in MMs position i would give the line the chance to handle him without help.. having to give your backside help every single play really limits your offensive play calling regardless of whether u gameplan for it or not

dilligaff's picture

Its really not if but when. Can Clifton play another 14 games plus playoffs? IMO I don't think so and he will get hurt when we need him the most, placing an inexperienced Bulaga in the most important games of the season.

Let the Pack go through the growing pains now, when its not lose and your out. The Pack can afford a loss this time of the year, but not in the playoffs.

The same could be said for Tauscher, would have like to have seen Lang get more reps. I thought Tauscher stayed in too long against the Bills, not sure if he even went out. I don't understand the thinking here.

PackersRS's picture

Difference is Lang and Bulaga IMHO.
Lang did show some promise last year, but he missed a lot of time the offseason and didn't look ready when he played. Whereas Bulaga was so good he warranted a starting position, and the coaches actually gave him a chance at LG.

I trust Lang to be the future at RT, but right now I wouldn't put him in. Maybe if Tauscher continues to struggle (though he did much better yesterday) and Lang gets his strenght back later the season...

Andrew Meyer's picture

I agree Bulaga is the future, but sure you'd rather have the Bears no know who to prepare for and make them have to guess or plan two options.

Peppers is a big stage player and this is definitely the biggest stage he's had as a Bear. You've got to expect him to have a big game. The more the Pack can do to complicate their planning, the better chance either Bulaga or Clifton have.

Monday's game should be fascinating on many levels. This battle may well be one of the most critical.

JerseyCheese's picture

Sorry Negative Nagler, but you don't start Bulaga against the most dominant defensive end in the game! Not for his first start at least. Peppers will eat him alive.

And if I remember correctly, Rodgers wasn't put on his back once yesterday. He gave up a sack to Trent Cole in week 1 but I actually consider that a good game. Cole is one of the best in the game too.

Clifton may be hurt right now, his knees may be shot. Maybe rest him for a week or two...but not this week.

Again -- You don't replace the second most important position on a team with Super Bowl dreams with a ROOKIE.

MLecl0001's picture

Did you actually watch the first 2 games or did you just look up the stats? If you actually watch the game, and watch the line and not the rest of the play Clifton looked bad.

And yes if Clifton plays like that against Peppers we may very well lose Rodgers. The only reason the Bills didnt get a sack with Clifton has less to do with him and more to do with the ineptness of the Bills.

sammer's picture

Umm. I think it might be worth mentioning that Peppers starts at LE, which means he would be matched up (most of the time) against Tauscher, *not* Clifton/Bulaga. I didn't see the Dallas game, but he certainly played mostly on the left side against the Lions.

CSS's picture

Sammer, Peppers will be right over Bulaga's nose. Hell, I would place him over Clifton's nose if he starts just as a byproduct of Clifton's first two weeks.

Matthews moves around to exploit mismatches, Lovie Smith and any other coordinator will do the same with Peppers. Last year Peppers lined up over McKinnie and just destroyed Brett Favre. McKinnie stinks, the Panthers knew it and exploited it.

sammer's picture

You're right, I think that's what they'll do. That said, I think there's reason for optimism even if Bulaga does get the start. Anderson and the rest of the Chicago d-line other than Peppers don't scare me much. That suggests that it should be possible to move help to whichever side Peppers is lined up on.

Chicago didn't sack Romo at all on Sunday - and no one would say that Dallas has a good offensive line. I know Romo is hard to bring down, and apparently the Bears did force some bad throws. But I'm simply not that afraid of a Bears pass rush that has only managed 2 sacks against two sub-average offensive lines.

PackersRS's picture

The great defensive effort the Bears made was being agressive. If you look at it, the ints were more of a consequence of the Dallas receivers being afraid of the big hit.

In their prime, they loved to force fumbles. This week specially, MM needs to emphasise (he will) ball security, and the players need to listen. Specially around Briggs and Tillman. And we can't play afraid of the hits.

If they do that, and they don't hesitate when playing, we'll be fine.

Tommyboy's picture

"And if I remember correctly, Rodgers wasn’t put on his back once yesterday."

And Bulaga played the majority of the game...just sayin'.

fish's picture

I would use Cliftons knowledge in the first quarter to get a feel for Chicagos defence, then put Bulaga in for the remaining three quarters. But only "IF", Clifton has a good week of practice.

CSS's picture

"The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak."

PackersRS's picture

I don't get this experience. Bulaga has shown he can pick up blitzes very well, in college he was thought by one of the best OL coaches in all football. And it's not like he has to make line calls, that's with Wells and Rodgers.

The only thing left is pass rushing moves. Obviously, there'll be some things he hasn't seen before.

But question is, what good is in knowing opposing moves, when you can't stop them? Clifton may know them all, but he was beat by simple speed and bull rushes against the Eagles and the Bills.

CSS's picture

Just as important, one option in potentially neutralizing a rush end involves running the ball at him. Peppers can really set the edge, no doubt about it, but Bulaga along with Crabtree or Lee can punish him.

Clifton, even in his prime, could barely get in the way let alone run block. I love Cliffy and want to see him healthy and starting. That being said, Bulaga can finish in the run game.

andrew's picture

just to be clear.. your talkin about clifton as a run blocker right? cause when clifton was young he was one of the best pass blockers at the time

CSS's picture

Yes, I agree. Clifton was second only to Walter Jones and Orlando Pace as a pass blocker for a good 5-7 years. He was phenomenal. As a run blocker he was less than average in his prime.

RockinRodgers's picture

You play the better player at LT and right now that is clearly Breno Giacomini. J/k its bulaga.

Cole's picture

This is exactly what i was going to write. Bulaga is better, plain and simple. Just leave in Jackson to pass block on that side and it should minimize any mistakes he makes. The only way the bears stop our offense is if they start pressuring rodgers and force him into bad decisions.

JerseyCheese's picture

So you don't think they'll match up Peppers on Bulaga because he's strictly a LE? Please! They'll put him right on top of the rookie.

Let me ask you this -- If Bulaga gives up three sacks to Peppers in the first quarter, do you then go to the man you just demoted and tell him to play? You know, the man who has been starting at LT for the last decade and we take him out of the starting line-up after two games?

Here's a thought: Why don't we start Flynn only for the first half of the game because Rodgers always has a sluggish start. I mean it's been two games! Rodgers should be lighting it up already!!!

PackersRS's picture

Wait a minute! Are we talking about Favre in here?

Mel's picture

You need to remove your head from your ass. Bulaga is not a 5th round pick or something.. Could have been a top 10 pick but was a gift from the draft GODS. Put him in there. Remember when we put TJ Lang against Jared Allen and he wasn't terrible but TJ is a RT not LT. We drafted Bulaga to do a job and the current guy isn't cutting it. Any one knows that if you can't perform you don't play. If he loses his job to Bulaga and for some reason struggles Clifton will more than happy step in a prove that he shouldn't have been benched!!! Bulaga is a beast!!!!

packeraaron's picture

Easy on the head-removal instructions Mel. Otherwise, good take. ;)

sammer's picture

Show me a reason to be afraid of the Bears pass rush. 2 sacks in 2 games against 2 crappy offensive lines.

Or roughly one third of Clay Matthews' output over the same period.

andyman's picture

You still can't sleep on a guy like Peppers. Ever.

packeraaron's picture

Exactly. The guy loves to turn it on on the national stage. He singlehandedly took the Vikings apart on Sunday Night Football last year.

fish's picture

Brian Urlacher's no doorknob either.

R.I.P. - Rodney Dangerfield

WoodyG's picture

Funny how Cliffy was good enough to start as a rookie but somehow many years later, Bulaga is not? .......

PackersRS's picture

Killing point. No arguments against it.

dilligaff's picture

good point, I think Clifton was a second round pick, Bulaga a first.

We are starting rookies in the secondary.

Keith's picture

This is the NFL. There is never an "ideal" time to get a rookie his first start. Bulaga is a competitive dude and he'll scrap. The sooner he gets in there, the sooner we can head down the path of him becoming a our next stalwart (and hopefully Pro Bowl) LT.

WoodyG's picture

Argue all you want ...... Cliffy's health will keep him on the sidelines come Monday night ...... Bulaga will play because he's the better option no matter who the opponent may be ...... It's always difficult for a HC to sit an old pro like Clifton but it has to happen .....

Now just reel in some reliable, talented, experienced RB & GB is set to dominate .....

JerseyCheese's picture

(Removes head from ass) Alright, let me think...I DO remember when TJ went againt Jared Allen. You're RIGHT, he wasn't terrible, he was God awful.

In their first meeting, TJ gave up a safety to Jared Allen. Allen had 4.5 sacks that game. The Vikings D had a total of 8!

In their second meeting, TJ gave up 3 sacks to Rodgers giving Allen 10.5 on the season at that time. (7.5 coming just from playing the Packers)

In fact, Lang did so well against Allen, ESPN's Kenny Mayne decided to do a spoof on him for his "Mayne Event." You can watch the video riiiiight here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClUs60M0gUg

KILLING POINT!!!!!!!!!!

MarkinMadison's picture

Killing point only if Bulaga is no better than Lang. He is better than Lang. Bulaga played very well against Buffalo. The Bears game might be his first start, but he wasn't out there for garbage time against Buffalo's 3rd string D. I didn't see him give up any pressures, and I saw him finishing his run blocks. He is just head and shoulders above Clifton right now. Unless Clifton makes some miraculous recovery - and I'm not even convinced that he has an acute injury that can be cured (as opposed to all of the chronic injuries that he will suffer with for the rest of his life) you have no choice, you have to start Bulaga. Peppers will probably make a few plays, but less than he would against Clifton right now.

PackersRS's picture

Looks like someone's angry that noone is backing him up.

Your point was about rookies LTs playing, not about Lang. T which I could also point Oher, Jake Long, Joe Thomas...

But then again, you know it, right? Right?

andrew's picture

you really dont konw if bulaga is better than clifton.. or lang.. we all assume he is.. and i know he will be... but just because he came in and handled the bills doesnt mean anything.. bulaga came in saying oh man im gettin some action i want to tear this up.. clifton is saying man im old and tired i dont want to have to block these guys.... when i see clifton making mistakes.. most of the time it looks like he is just being lazy... he loves going against players like peppers.. and i would not be suprised if he was asking to start monday night cause he will want to be against peppers

Dennis Eckersly's picture

In bigger news,

I just created an account with the Chicago Now website so I could leave comments on Da Bears blog. Totally worth it.

deelux523's picture

Eck,
In the intrest of fairness, I am compelled to say that's troll behavior.

Take it from Ron Burgundy: "Stay classy."

As a GB fan living behind enemy lines (312 area code), there's nothing you can write on Da Bears Blog that'll be more abusive to the Bears than the Trib or SunTimes columnists will write.

That's the great thing about a two-paper town. In their fierce competition to woo readers, each paper's columnists have to be so friggin' over-the-top about all things Bears that subtlety or restraint in "reporting" are not on the menu.

On the heels of the Dall-ass win, the Chicago media is practically booking studio time to re-record the "Superbowl Shuffle." But one loss and they'll be writing that Lovie Smith is worse than Hitler. (Hint: He isn't. Though I would compare Jerry Angelo to Dr. Mengele)

However, it's not as extreme since Mariotti left. He's a got a bit of a temper--just ask the LAPD.

dennis eckersley's picture

dude, that's the point; trolling is awesome.

Look man, if they don't understand that THE BEARS STILL SUCK, then someone needs to tell them, otherwise they're gonna find out the hard way on monday night

Tommyboy's picture

Eh, don't do it man. That's a cheap way to stir the pot...Trolling is just petty and annoying.

andrew's picture

i would be suprised to see bulaga starting... bulaga will go in if clifton starts hurting.. but i honestly believe sometimes clifton is just being a lazy old guy... he looked bad the past two weeks.. yes.. he is old and keeps gettin hurt adn will be done after this year most likely.. but this is his swan song i think he will want to go against the players like peppers one more time and these are the game i think we will see the best he has left... bulaga was pumped just to get any time at all he was going to have a good showing against the bills terrible dline cause he wanted it bad.. where clifton seems like he is just going through the motions.. its only been two weeks.. if rodgers was playing like clifton was would we all want flynn in?... todays nfl is crazy.. when u name a starter 8 out of 10 times he is your starter the whole year.. the more u bench and switch players around as the season goes on the more inconsistent your team will be and will lack chemistry... its still early yeah.. but colledge needs a veteran to tell him what to do and where to go on both sides of him if u ask me.. either way after this week MM needs to decide and it needs to be perminent.. either its bulaga or clifton.. you cant start switching back and forth depending on how he played last week..
and you cant say.. well if bulaga played we would have won.. if clifton played we would have done better.. all this nonsense is ridiculous bulaga is a rookie.. rookies often look good when they come in for short periods of time... but many players who arent ready to start or arent good enough to start show it after bieng in for a longer period of time... want an example? derek anderson.. looks great at first.. as the season goes on he falls apart... 1 example not enough for you? kevin kolb.. everyone thought he was the shit. came out as the starter and could not move the ball at all...
so i think you guys are jumping on the bench clifton wagon a little early

andrew's picture

i am not saying bulaga ISNT good enough to start.. im just saying if i had the choice id stick with clifton to start and then give bulaga reps accordingly cause bulaga has not gotten enough reps for me to be like OH COOL HE IS THE STARTER.. he could fall apart.. gets beat once doesnt know what to do with himself peppers intimidates him and starts having a hayday on him.. this might not be what u would expect.. but it is possible..

WoodyG's picture

Glue should be used in model making only.

Chris's picture

Clifton will play IF he is healthy. And that is a big IF. But he has a good history against Peppers and he won't get "the jitters" on a big football stage like Monday Night.
It would help of course if we had a run game and could force Peppers to play the run to reduce his pass rush, but it seems we can't even run on the measely Bills.

Jersey Al's picture

Bulaga should be starting somewhere, right now. He's good enough.

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