Game #3 of the preseason for the Green Bay Packers had most of what fans expected to see, and unfortunately some of what they dreaded to see. Expectations are included in this week’s Best, and those fears reared their ugly head in the Worst category…
Overall, it’s hard to pick a winner in this group, not because of what fans feared going into the preseason (that no player would stand out), but instead the opposite (everyone seemed to stand out)! Beginning with Richard Rodgers, who despite having a steady if unspectacular preseason to this point, broke out in a big way in the game against Oakland, including the big (and only) pass in the opening touchdown drive. He followed that up with a 9 yard catch in the next drive, and was also mentioned for his blocking by the network broadcast. He did have one obviously negative play early in the 2nd quarter where he and Aaron Rodgers were not on the same play, but it appeared that the quarterback pointed to himself as having screwed up - if so, that’s a big point in favor of the young tight end.
However, the party was just getting started for the tight ends. Later in the 2nd quarter Andrew Quarless got a big catch over the middle for a touchdown. The 2-point conversions went in his direction but Quarless was interfered with to prevent the score (James Starks would run in the conversion on the do-over). Jake Stoneburner followed up Quarless with (by my notes) at least three big catches, and Ryan Taylor and Justin Perillo each added good catches in the later stages of the game.
Considering that Brandon Bostick was expected to compete for the starting position, it suddenly seems very crowded in the tight end group, and could make for some tough decisions for Green Bay going forward.
Originally I was just going to put Eddie Lacy here, because when you get the ball 6 times on a 7 play drive, carrying the ball 36 yards including the touchdown, and then sit down for the night, you can’t do much better than that. However, DuJuan Harris really seemed to make amends for his rough game against St. Louis with a mainly positive result for most of the rest of the game, other than a few false start penalties. While Harris had some good runs (including a great 18 yard run in the 2nd quarter), including quick hitters, cut backs, and draw plays, all with his signature bull-dozing, Lacy-esque style, it was his use in the passing game that really drew my attention. Not only did Harris catch a few passes out of the backfield, but he had a perfect block in the 3rd quarter on a blitzer that gave Matt Flynn just enough time to hit Myles White for a good catch and run. It was reminiscent of John Kuhn’s block on Julius Peppers in last year’s final regular season game, that gave Aaron Rodgers just enough space to get the ball to Randall Cobb for the win. Proving he can block like that will make Harris a more enticing option for the Packer coaching staff moving forward.
And that’s not to say James Starks had a bad night either, necessarily - he did have several good hard runs, a nice catch or two, and the two point conversion. For whatever reason, however, he did not play a ton, which makes me wonder exactly how the depth chart is going to look after the final preseason game this week.
Finally Green Bay fans were treated to the monster that they thought they’d be getting from Chicago when the Packers signed Peppers this offseason. On the second defensive series of the day he recorded his first sack as a Green Bay Packers, and then got pressure on the quarterback, forcing an early throw and enabling Micah Hyde to get a bead on the receiver and bring him down with a great tackle. Peppers also showed good contain on run plays, getting several tackles for no gain, something that he hadn’t shown in the previous two games. As we should have expected, Julius Peppers is too much of a veteran to need a ton of time in preseason to get up to form, and he obviously knows how to turn it on when necessary. He should be a lot of fun to watch this season.
Once again, untimely and costly penalties reared their ugly heads in this game (on both sides, but lets face it, we’re talking about the Packers here). Illegal Contact on the very first defensive play set the tone for the rest of the night. Some of the later penalties could be attributed to over-eager players desperate to get noticed and doing something stupid instead. but even many of the Packers’ core players had a disturbing tendency to show up on the official’s naughty list. At one point Sam Shields drew a Pass Interference penalty on two plays back to back - when the Raiders ran on the third play and got no gain, I found myself wondering the hell they even bothered trying to run!
At this point all I can hope is that the opening week of the season will see the Seattle Seahawks rack up at least as many penalties as the Packers, because I’m not sure how the number of penalties that Green Bay has been racking up on a weekly basis is sustainable with their expectations.
As we now know, B.J. Raji’s injury was worse than initially feared (or hoped), knocking him out for the remainder of the 2014 season, and seriously jeopardizing his chances of playing in a Packer’s uniform again. Behind him on the roster we have a bunch of new faces that haven’t played in coordinator Dom Caper’s system for very long, so the Packers find themselves face-to-face with a potentially serious problem on their hands when they play teams with strong, straight ahead style running teams.
Remember that team that Green Bay opens the regular season with? Yeah.
It’s going to be imperative that the Packers use their final preseason game to get a feel for what they have now at the nose tackle position. If the replacements can’t lock up double-teams up the middle (which seems a lot to ask of anyone other than Raji), that could leave an extra offensive lineman free to roam to the 2nd level of the defense, potentially wiping out the middle linebackers. And all that's not even considering the glaring hole in the middle of the offensive line with JC Tretter's injury. Luckily, he is not lost for the entire season, and the people that will be on either side of his replacement are used to helping new faces get up to speed. That being said, if the new center falters badly, that will have a huge effect on every aspect of the offense.
Quarterback Accuracy and Wide Receiver Route-running/Hands
Admittedly, this is a bit nit-picky, considering the result, but Aaron Rodgers obviously didn’t have the timing down yet with all of his receivers, and that will only improve with practice. However, Matt Flynn also seemed to suffer from some inaccuracy problems (including a particularly ugly interception on the first play following an Oakland turnover), and all three quarterbacks were not helped particularly by their receivers. Randall Cobb in particular had a hard time connecting with Aaron Rodgers, and that connection is going to be critical to Green Bay’s success all season. I think it’s safe to say that most Packer fans are not too worried about Rodgers’ accuracy, but with the likely chance that he won’t play at all in the 4th preseason game, that gives him a limited number of options to work on that timing issue before week one in Seattle (a defense that isn’t likely to cut him a break).
Overall, it’s hard to argue too much against a 10-point win that was actually not nearly that close until later in the fourth quarter against players unlikely to be on the Packers’ 53-man roster. There are certainly bugs that need to be worked out before the first game, but every team in the league is saying that same thing at this point. Basically, it’s time to start lacing up the cleats and get to work for real, and while the final preseason game will be vitally important to several players’ chances of making the Green Bay Packers’ roster and to solidify who is going to take Raji’s place at the heart of the D-line, it’s really all about Seattle now for the rest of the starters.