Barclay started his first game last weekend for the injured T.J. Lang, who had switched over from left guard to replace right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is out for the season. Backup Evan Dietrich-Smith has been playing left guard since Bulaga went out. Kind of confusing, right?
Now, Lang appears ready to return, but he will return to his original position, left guard, while Dietrich-Smith will be the odd man out (or will he? More on that later).
Though the Packers train several of their lineman for multiple positions, it’s obviously better to have Lang in his natural position where he has the most experience and highest comfort level.
Barclay has done well in his first couple of games, particularly in the running game. He’s been caught for a few penalties, but I’m more concerned with his protection and blocking abilities. The Packers’ run game has shown significant improvement in the last couple of weeks and, while it’s far too early to draw causality simply from Barclay’s presence, much of their success has come while running to his side of the field.
The Packers have much better statistics in yards, yards per carry, and first downs the last two weeks when running to the right side as opposed to the left side or the middle. They’ll have a chance to continue their improvement against a faltering Chicago run defense, which started the season impressively before allowing 100+ rushing yards in each of their last seven games.
Things get more interesting with the news that right guard Josh Sitton is now questionable for Sunday’s game with a hip injury. Sitton is one of the best and most experienced linemen on the team and it could be very, very bad news if he is unable to play on Sunday. If he is sidelined, presumably Dietrich-Smith would play for him. (This is getting really confusing.)
Throw into the mix the fact that left tackle Marshall Newhouse will almost certainly need help against Julius Peppers and you have an offensive line that could use extra help at four of the five positions. Oh dear.
The good news is that Brian Urlacher is out and Henry Melton and Shea McClellin are both doubtful, but Packer fans have to be nervous for Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay quarterback has been sacked 42 times this season, including 13 sacks in the last four games – and that’s with a guy who excels at escaping the pocket and making defensive linemen miss.
Even though the Packers’ passing game is their strength and the Chicago secondary is suspect right now with several injuries, the Packers are going to have to keep it on the ground more than they’d like because of the protection issues. Rodgers has been hit way too many times. Only if Barclay and Dietrich-Smith (if he ends up playing for Sitton) prove that they can handle their assignments with minimal help will the Packers be able to take looks downfield.
For now, all fans can do is cross their fingers and hope that no more injuries come to the Green Bay offensive line.