Friday, August 10, 2012

Packers' first preseason game an ugly one

Well, Packer fans...we've been waiting a long time for football season to roll around. The excitement was building since OTAs, mini-camp, and finally the start of summer training camp. The Twitter-sphere was abuzz yesterday with anticipation for the 2012 Pack's first preseason game (by the way, you can follow yours truly on Twitter @packfansunited). As always, San Diego was presenting its sunny charms.

Unfortunately, the game then got underway.

This nationally-televised game on ESPN showed the Packers not ready for primetime. The final score was 21-13, but it never really seemed that close. Granted, it's the first preseason game. But it looked more like a Pop Warner League game than an NFL game. Oh sure, we know that the starters aren't going to play long because coaches don't want to expose them to injury. In fact, the Packers played last night without 16 injured players, including starters Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, among a slew of others. Defensive back Charles Woodson was withheld.

Last night, it might have also done well for the coaches to save the starters from embarrassment. Turnovers, dropped balls, missed blocks, missed tackles...those can be expected from the young guys getting their first taste of the NFL. But for starters to be so sloppy? The starting offense ran three series for a total of 14 plays, generating all of two first downs and 32 yards. They turned the ball over twice and punted once. Oy.

Now, it's not time to hit the panic button. It's only the first's only the first doesn't doesn't count. The coaching staff and starters are too good to let these errors go unaddressed. But the game also shows just how far the team has to go in the next month to get ready for the season opener at Lambeau Field against the 49ers.

A lone bright spot of sorts is that backup QB Graham Harrell seemed to acquit himself fairly well. In the second half, he was able to execute some nicely thrown passes. He could handle the team if something were to happen to Rodgers, although the drop off would of course be considerable.

Concerns and Injuries
Particularly disconcerting was the play of nominal starting running back, James Starks, who is being counted upon to step in and replace the unsigned Ryan Grant. On his first touch of the ball, a little safety valve pass from QB Aaron Rodgers, Starks simply dropped the ball. Easy pass, easy catch...nope. Just one pass, but it goes to reinforce the knock on Starks from last season that he has trouble catching the ball. The third time Rodgers handed him the ball, he fumbled, leading to the Chargers' first score of the game two plays later. Starks didn't seem to be running with aggressiveness or playing with confidence...both somewhat necessary traits to have in a starting running back.

Another area of concern is the lack of depth at certain positions along the offensive line. With starting left guard Marshall Newhouse sitting the game out because of injury, and second-year player Derek Sherrod still not cleared to play from last season's injury, the starting nod went to journeyman lineman Herb Taylor. Rodgers' interception was directly a result of Taylor getting whipped like a rented mule on a bull rush by the Chargers' rookie linebacker, Melvin Ingram. The play prior, Taylor was called for holding Ingram. Not good.

The defense had its own share of problems despite taking the ball away twice in the first quarter, including a great pick by Tramon Williams. Rookie Nick Perry got an early sack, but then was promptly penalized 15 yards for celebrating that fact. Overall, Packer fans saw much of what we saw last season: little pass rush, pass coverage breakdowns, and tackling that is more suitable for flag football than the NFL.

To add insult to injury, actually injury to injury, LB Desmond Bishop was injured in a tackling pile and had to be assisted from the field; he was reportedly seen in the locker room after the game on crutches and with a brace on his leg. Head coach Mike McCarthy said they weren't sure whether it was a leg or hamstring issue, but from watching replays of the play on which Bishop was injured the guess from here is leg and that he will be out for a while. Hopefully, that while won't turn into a lost-for-the-season type of thing. Stay tuned. The other injury was that of defensive back Davon House, who left the game after taking a hit to his shoulder. He is scheduled for X-rays today to assess the damage; best case scenario, some commentators thought, might be a dislocation. The Packers were looking for House to step up this season and make significant contributions to the secondary, so let's hope this isn't something which limits that.

So, next up in the preseason football follies is the Cleveland Browns who come to Green Bay next Thursday. Let's just hope McCarthy and his coaching staff get this team whipped into better shape than we saw last night. Still, it's probably helpful to remind ourselves that McCarthy's record in exhibition games is now 12-13, including a 2-5 record in openers. Moral to that story: at this stage of things, don't worry about it.