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Packers hope to get T Bulaga back this week

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The Sports Xchange

GREEN BAY — The timing couldn’t be better for one of the NFL’s hottest teams in the early portion of the season.

Not only will the 4-0 Green Bay Packers stay home at Lambeau Field the next two weeks, where they have been unbeatable in 11 straight games, they could be gaining some much-needed fortification for their matchup against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

Sooner than many anticipated, right tackle Bryan Bulaga jumped back onto the field Wednesday.

“I don’t know what his status will be (for Sunday), but it’s great to see him out there,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s a great player for us.”

Bulaga’s swift recovery from having surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee three weeks earlier comes as the Packers are bracing for a pass-rushing assault from the Rams’ formidable defensive front.

Bulaga still needs the green light from the team’s medical staff to suit up again Sunday and rejoin the starting lineup.

Yet, an upbeat Bulaga sounded optimistic Wednesday about being able to line up across from Rams left defensive end Chris Long. Bulaga has been sidelined since injuring the meniscus as well as the MCL in the same knee in Green Bay’s season-opening victory at the Chicago Bears on Sept. 13.

“I wasn’t ready (to come back) a week ago,” Bulaga said. “Believe me, if I feel ready, I’m going to go. I’m not really one to hold back. If I feel ready to play, I’m going to do my best during the week to show the coaches that I’m ready and play. But, it’s going to be a day-by-day deal.”

Listed as limited on the injury report, Bulaga said he was able to participate in all facets of Green Bay’s light practice Wednesday, which mostly consisted of individual drills.

“Just get a feel for how (the knee’s) going to react to certain movements and stuff,” Bulaga said.

The true test is to come Thursday, when the Packers typically hold their most extensive practice of the week in pads.

“It’s going to be a day-by-day evaluation,” Bulaga said. “Today was the first day of it. We’re going to go into it (Thursday) and see how it feels and just go from there. I’m not really making any guesses on anything. It’s just going to be a day-by-day process.

“I’m just trying to get feedback every day from how (the knee’s) feeling and watching the (practice) tape to see if I like the way I’m moving,” he added. “I think that’s a big key, is if you can get out there and you can feel good and move good but when you watch it on tape how does it look? Every day is going to be an evaluation.”

Having a healthy and mobile Bulaga back in action Sunday stands to be a boost for Green Bay’s pass protection.

After allowing only three sacks through the first three games, the offensive line allowed Rodgers to get sacked three times in the 17-3 win at the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. The primary culprit was Don Barclay, who made his third straight start in Bulaga’s absence and was beaten twice by outside linebacker Aaron Lynch.

“It’s all fundamentals. That’s really what it comes down to,” head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday about Barclay’s struggles in that game. “It’s no different than any other player. There’s still plenty of room for our whole offensive line to grow and particularly coming off that game.”

The Packers’ line is sure to have its hands full with the talent-rich defensive line of the Rams.

Whether it’s Bulaga or Barclay matched up with Long most of Sunday’s game, the challenge that looms the largest is left tackle David Bakhtiari against star right end Robert Quinn. The Rams are tied with Green Bay for the second-most sacks this season with 17 – half of them from the big-play trio of athletic second-year tackle Aaron Donald (3.5), speedy Quinn (three) and the tenacious Long (two).

“This front four can all get after the passer,” Rodgers said. “I remember watching film on Donald last year – we played them in Week 2 of the preseason – and I remember watching his first couple games and it was really impressive, and he just keeps on getting better. He had an incredible year last year, and he’s an impact player inside.

“So, is (tackle) Michael Brockers. That guy is a stud; he has been for a long time. (Former Detroit Lions tackle) Nick Fairley, they added him into the mix, and obviously you have Quinn and Long on the edge. That’s the kind of D-line you’d love to have as a (defensive) coordinator.”

SERIES HISTORY: 92nd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 45-44-2. The Packers have quickly closed the gap on the teams’ all-time results by winning the last four meetings and five of the most recent six encounters, going back to 2004. Three of the victories in the current win streak for Green Bay came at St. Louis, including a 30-20 outcome in 2012. The Packers prevailed 24-3 in the last matchup at Lambeau Field in 2011. Their average margin of victory in the last four meetings is 17 points. The longtime non-division foes have split their two games in the playoffs, the last coming in the 2001 season, when the Rams battered the visiting Packers 45-17 in an NFC divisional-round game.

GAME PLAN

Nick Foles is no stranger to playing well as a visiting quarterback at Lambeau Field. In the midst of an otherworldly stretch of prolific passing, Foles threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns in only 18 attempts to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a 27-13 win over the Packers in November 2013. Foles returns to Lambeau on Sunday in his first season at the helm of the St. Louis Rams offense. The difference this time is he won’t have the luxury of having Seneca Wallace or Scott Tolzien as his counterpart at quarterback as he did two years ago when the Packers played the first of seven straight games without Aaron Rodgers. Unbeaten Green Bay is a prohibitive favorite in this game, not only because Rodgers is playing at an exceptional level but also because the Packers defense is suddenly dominant with 13 sacks the last two games and stingy against the run as well. Plus, Green Bay hasn’t lost at home in 21 months.

This could be another banner day for the defense. The Rams aren’t explosive on offense and would prefer to grind out sustained, clock-eating drives with rookie running back Todd Gurley now back up to speed after his breakout performance of 146 rushing yards in St. Louis’ road win over the previously unbeaten Arizona Cardinals last weekend. The Packers will again be out to stop the run first, then be in a position to go after Foles hard in the pocket and try to build on their 13 sacks of the last two games. The wild card from Green Bay’s perspective is multi-threat receiver Tavon Austin, who will have to be shadowed closely wherever he lines up. After managing only 17 points in a sluggish win at San Francisco last time out, the Packers offense will be tested by what many regard as the finest defensive front in the league. Green Bay’s offensive line has allowed only six sacks of Rodgers, but the protection hasn’t been foolproof, particularly on the outside where the Rams will unleash the terrific tandem of Robert Quinn and Chris Long. In an effort to neutralize St. Louis’ pressure schemes, the Packers can counter with a quick passing game from Rodgers and effective running from Eddie Lacy, James Starks as well as the daring quarterback, who loves to make an aggressive defense pay when a running lane opens as the pocket collapses.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Packers LT David Bakhtiari and RT Bryan Bulaga or Don Barclay vs. Rams DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long.

Just when concern about Green Bay’s pass protection was building after Aaron Rodgers was sacked a season-high three times in the win at San Francisco on Sunday, Bulaga made a welcome return to the field this week. The veteran starter had been sidelined since suffering tears of the MCL and meniscus in his left knee in Week 1, the latter of which required surgery and kept him out for three games. Bulaga is hopeful about resuming game action Sunday, which would move Barclay back to the bench after the latter struggled against the 49ers’ pass rush. The task gets more challenging this weekend with the arrival of St. Louis’ formidable pass rush up front. The Rams are tied with the Packers for No. 2 in the league with 17 sacks, and nearly a third have come from the relentless duo of Quinn (three) and Long (two). Bakhtiari will get a heavy dose of all-star Quinn off the right edge.

–Packers WRs vs. Rams CBs Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner.

Green Bay’s pass-driven offense bogged down at times in the 17-3 win over the 49ers last weekend, in part because it was down another pass catcher with young starter Davante Adams sidelined because of an aggravated ankle injury. Adams’ availability for Sunday is up in the air. Aaron Rodgers continues to make do in his mistake-free season at quarterback thus far, relying on veterans Randall Cobb and James Jones as the playmakers and trying to get rookie Ty Montgomery more involved each week. Jenkins, who has an interception in the Rams’ last two games, and Johnson are skilled on the outside. Look for Rodgers to try to exploit a potential mismatch with the 5-foot-8 Joyner on Cobb or Montgomery in the slot.


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