There’s not a lot of lot of elite players suiting up for the Minnesota Vikings, as evidenced by their one win on the season.
So when you play the Vikings, game plans revolve around the few top-notch players they do have.
On defense, you do everything in your power to stuff running back Adrian Peterson, as the Packers did Sunday evening, limiting him to a relatively harmless 60 yards on 13 carries.
And on offense, you focus on stopping pass-rush extraordinaire Jared Allen.
Lining up across from Allen for much of the Packers 44-31 win over the Vikings was rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, who received praise from his coaches and teammates for helping to stonewall the fearsome Minnesota defensive end.
“David’s playing very well,” said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “We’re obviously very conscious of Jared Allen, and I think Jared’s having an excellent year. So we’re very conscious how we set the run game and our protections. But David did a heck of a job.”
Allen came into Sunday’s matchup with 4.5 sacks on the season, preparing for a battle of No. 69 in purple and white going up against No. 69 in green and gold. But not only did Bakhtiari hold him without a sack Sunday night, Allen didn’t make so much as a single tackle either.
The fourth round draft choice of the Packers deserves credit for rendering the Vikings’ five-time Pro Bowler almost powerless, a remarkable achievement considering Allen has 121.5 career sacks and has notched at least 11 in each of the past six seasons.
Bakhtiari got occasional help from running backs chipping on Allen as well as help from the left guard, but in teaming up with Josh Sitton, the Packers are also having more success running to the left side of the field more than they’ve had in years.
“I tell you, our left side with Josh Sitton having another great year and David’s just getting better and better each week, I just can’t say enough for a young man to play with the consistency with he’s played right out of the gate here in his rookie season,” said McCarthy.
The Packers ran for 182 rushing yards, on their way to more than doubling the time of possession that of Vikings, 40:54 compared to 19:56.
As nice as the rejuvenated ground game has been in Green Bay, protecting the backside of Aaron Rodgers is priority No. 1, and Bakhtiari has proved capable of doing so against the Vikings and for most of the season.
Given that the Packers made a $110 million investment during the offseason in a contract extension given to Rodgers, keeping him upright has been imperative. For as many injuries as the Packers have weathered, losing their quarterback could be a death knell.
“One guy who’s been steady all year long and hasn’t gotten a lot of credit is David Bakhtiari,” said Rodgers after the game, unsolicited. ”He’s been solid at left tackle, playing against one of the premiere guys in the league, pass rusher. And I thought David did a nice job.”
As a mid-round selection, there weren’t a lot of high expectations for Bakhtiari, but after Bryan Bulaga went down in training camp with a knee injury, the rookie offensive lineman has more than stepped up to the challenge.
The season hasn’t been perfect for Bakhtiari––he’s had his fair share of penalties and there’s been a few sacks allowed along the way. But he’s also responded to adversity.
Bakhtiari seems to have a short memory, not dwelling on the negative, and not letting the pressure snowball like Marshall Newhouse seemed to do the past two years at left tackle.
He appears to be getting better each week since the Week 3 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals when Rodgers was constantly pressured. Perhaps not coicidently, the Packers have been on a four-game win streak since that game.
So when Bakhtiari did the equivalent of pitching a shutout in a victory at the Metrodome, his stock is trending upward. At least if the opinions from the face of the franchise and the team’s head coach mean anything.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.