Friday, August 24, 2012

Packers beat Bengals, work out some bugs.

The Green Bay Packers won their first game of the preseason last night, defeating the Bengals 27-13 in Cincinnati. The win kept the Pack from going 0-3 in the preseason for the first time since 1993. Interesting little piece of trivia there. But more importantly, we finally got to see the first team offense and defense get into a bit more sync than we've seen in the prior two games.

Having said that, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was scrambling much more than he should have been, even accounting for two rushing TDs off scrambles. You don't want the league MVP on the run that much during a game. When he had a chance to remain in the pocket, especially on quick slant throws, he and his receivers looked sharp. On the other hand, some of the deeper routes and passes didn't connect the way you expect them to once the regular season kicks in.

The other big plus on offense was seeing running back Cedric Benson, late of the Bengals, rush for 38 yards in six carries. I Tweeted during the game that he seemed quick and decisive, and with plenty of power. He runs with his shoulders down and packs a load, always seeming to be falling forward. Benson may very well bring a dimension to the Packers' running game that we haven't seen in a long, long time. He will clearly be the starting running back come game #1 of the regular season. For more on what others, including several of the scouts and personnel men from other teams had to say about Benson and the Pack, check out this fine article by Milwaukee Journal Sentinal Packers beat writer, Bob McGinn.

The starting defense also seemed to perform well, holding Cinci to three-and-out in the first two series by the Bengals offense. Linebacker Erik Walden performed well. As did rookie LB Nick Perry. The latter is particularly nice to see given that he was drafted to take pressure off Clay Matthews. Perry had some great push. On an occasion or two, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers even lined up Perry and Matthews on the same side. Now that could get interesting in the right situation! Second-year linebacker Jamari Lattimore, playing late in the game, had a great pick-six interception, dropping into coverage, reading the quarterback and receiver, and jumping the pass lane at just the right time to take the ball into the endzone. You like to see that out of your backups. The defensive line also seemed to acquit itself well, although Ryan Pickett left in the first half with what was described as a calf injury. As to the secondary, it also seemed to perform well for the most part, although Sam Shields seemed to be a bit out of place or caught with bad footwork on a few passes.

The only casualty of the evening, if that term is even appropriate, was tight end Tom Crabtree who caught a great ball downfield a bit and was immediately popped by the defensive back. The back was flagged for an improper hit on a defenseless player (because Crabtree didn't have a chance to prepare himself for the hit, apparently), although replays showed that the hit was in fact perfectly legitimate. Crabtree left with what was reported to be a shoulder injury of an unspecified variety.

Backups Battle
After the departure of the starters for the second half, the backup brigades took the field. While some of these players may have earned themselves spots with their performances, others did themselves no favors in terms of making the team. One frustration for yours truly and many others was the fact that backup QB Graham Harrell received no repetitions with the first team offense. Instead, he was left with second, third, fourth and no-stringers to try to show what he can do. Hard to impress when you have a Keystone Cops type line in front of you. Head coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson are both high on Harrell in their public comments. They are apparently seeing more than we are. Perhaps in the final preseason game next Thursday versus Kansas City at Lambeau Field they will give him the opportunity to at least have a few snaps with the number ones.

Cuts Coming
It's clear that the Packers are deep at many positions, and definitely have the potential, barring injuries to key personnel, of a championship run. But I don't envy McCarthy and Thompson in having to make their cuts. The team roster will go from 90 to 75 by 3 p.m. CT on Monday, Aug. 27. By 8 p.m. CT Friday evening, Aug. 31, they will need to be down to the maximum of 53 players. On Saturday, Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. CT, the claiming period for players let go during the final round of cuts ends. The Packers can also start establishing their eight-man practice squad at this time. If you followed all that, and know who's making the final squad and who isn't, you must be a coach.

The Packers have young and talented receivers. One of the questions that keeps coming up during discussions of cuts is whether the Packers will release Donald Driver in favor of keeping one of the up-and-comers. I'd hate to see that happen and don't think that it will given that the Pack gave Driver a $1 million-plus signing bonus earlier this summer, and Driver cut his salary besides. My guess is they will keep Donald around this season for his veteran leadership with the younger players, as well as for his occasional role in the offense. Make no mistake, he will not get the majority of plays any longer. Last night he had his first catch of the preseason, as a matter of fact. But he can still play. More importantly, he can lead. That's worth keeping around, at least for one more season.

There will be more later on all this, especially as Monday rolls around. Probably won't be reporting anything more here until then. So enjoy your weekend, everyone. And say it with me: it's great to be a Packer fan!