Saturday, August 10, 2013

Packers lose preseason opener to Cardinals, 17-0

Well, it wasn't pretty, that's for sure. The preseason home opener for the Green Bay Packers versus the Arizona Cardinals was about as flat as you'll ever see. Final score: Cardinals 17 - Packers 0.

Other than a fast-paced no-huddle opening series led by Aaron Rodgers and the number one offense which eventually stalled out at the Cardinals goal line, the Packers as a team did nothing of note offensively or defensively. To put the game in historical perspective, the recap by Bob McGinn in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes that "It marked the first time that the Packers had been shut out in a 60-minute exhibition game since a 33-0 loss in August 1987 to the Washington Redskins in Madison." Yowza.

OK, OK, it's just a preseason game and the first one at that.

In our preview, we offered a few things to watch for during the game. Let's see how that shook out, shall we?

Running Game
We knew a couple things going into this game. First, that the Packers wanted to make a commitment to run the ball this season in a way they haven't done in years. That's why the team drafted two top running backs early in the NFL draft. We also knew that rookie RB Eddie Lacy would be held out of the game because of a hamstring issue. So we anticipated a big dose of rookie Johnathan Franklin, plus James Starks, Alex Green, and rookie Angelo Pease. Starks got the start and rushed 12 times for 38 yards with a long run of 8 yards, and totaled 18 yards in seven first-down carries. Starks looked good. When he's healthy, as we saw late in the 2011 season, Starks can be a formidable runner. Staying on the field has been his problem. Franklin also showed potential, but the Packers really need to scheme to get him to the outside where he can use his speed. He carried just six times for 14 yards. Alex Green got some carries and finished with seven attempts for 16 yards. Angelo Pease had one carry for two yards. So on the whole, how do they say it...oh yes...meh. Eddie Lacy was very much needed on the Packers' first drive when they tried to rush it into the endzone a few times from the goal line without success. Starks just couldn't blast through. From that standpoint, it seemed like same ol', same ol', as the saying goes. Getting Lacy back will be a boost to the offense, for sure.

Conclusion: incomplete.

The Packers have four quarterbacks vying for what will likely be three spots on the roster. One spot is a lock. We know who that is. (Hint: his initials start with "Aaron Rodgers.") Beyond that, Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young will battle it out for the remaining two spots. Last night didn't go very far in determining who had a leg up (or arm, as the case may be) on the rest. Harrell got the most time to show how he's progressed as the main backup to Rodgers from last season. It was an unimpressive performance. He finished 12 of 19 for 76 yards, including one interception and one fumble when he was stripped on a sack. As some might point out, whether those turnovers were all on Harrell or not is questionable. He and his receiver on the interception were clearly not on the same page, and the sack/strip was a result of RT Marshall Newhouse getting smoked by the rusher. Vince Young came in to relieve Harrell. For someone who was signed Tuesday, playing on Friday was a pretty quick turnaround. In a complex system such as the Packers, Young's head had to be swimming. Reports were that head coach Mike McCarthy probably had five or six plays in the hopper for Young. He finished 1 for 3 (7 yards), while running twice for 12 yards. B.J. Coleman had mop up duty on the night. He went 2 for 7 for 15 yards passing.

Conclusion: Rodgers great, everyone else...meh.

Kicking Game
Given Mason Crosby's struggles last year, and his 3 for 7 performance in the Family Night scrimmage a week ago, everyone was very interested to see how he fared this week, as well as how his competitor, Giorgio Tavecchio, stacked up. Well, funny story...neither one of them saw the field last night. After the first offensive series, where the Packers opted to go for it on 4th and 2 at the Cardinals' goal line, not once during the rest of the game were the Packers even in field goal range. Both the kickers got the night off.

Conclusion: Incomplete

Randall Cobb was held out last evening, and Jordy Nelson is done for the preseason with minor knee surgery. That left James Jones as the main man, which he certainly was on a huge 50-yard pass reception from Rodgers on that first drive of the game. Beyond that, eight other receivers had receptions on the evening. Tyrone Walker had perhaps the best night after Jones, with five receptions for 41 yards, with a long of 22 yards. Alex Gillett also had some nice catches, including the only completion for Vince Young.

Conclusion: Incomplete

Offensive Line
Given the loss of LT Bryan Bulaga for the season, all eyes were on rookie David Bakhtiari. He has impressed in camp and the expectations for him are high; the Packers will be in real trouble if he isn't able to fill the void. The good news was that Bakhtiari acquitted himself quite well last evening. He got lots of reps, which he needs. Concerns arise, still, from tackle Marshall Newhouse who was moved from left tackle to the right side in the new flip-flop scheme. As noted earlier, he got beat badly on a sack of Graham Harrell which led to a strip fumble. Seems as if his struggles continue, at least for now. As to the rest of the linemen, nothing distinguishing one way or another.

Conclusion: Mixed

We wanted to keep an eye on rookie DE Datone Jones to see what he could bring to the party. Unfortunately, he left the party early with an ankle sprain. We'll have to keep watching news today to see the severity of that sprain. Obviously, it would be a blow to the defense if he was out for any length of time, particularly if it turns out to be a high ankle sprain. We also wanted to see how DT Johnny Jolly did in his return to the field after three years away. He got a good push on several plays and seemed to hold up fairly well. Some pundits think it's a long shot that he'll make the final roster. Maybe. But I'm still rooting for him, because if he can even come close to what he was several years ago he's worth keeping.

One of the areas we didn't mention in our preview was the defensive backs. I guess we should have. Because what we saw on display last night was an area of concern. Coverage was lax, tackling was poor. Davon House got burned several times on poor coverage. Rookie Micah Hyde displayed some toughness but also had moments where being a rookie showed. This will be a part of the defense that will need to step up.

And speaking of stepping up, the Packers' linebacking corp -- aside from Clay Matthews who didn't play long last night -- needs to do just that. Not much to write home about...or write here about. Robert Francois had what could have been the defensive highlight of the night when he flashed speed on a blitz and had the Cardinals quarterback wrapped up for a sack...except, he didn't; the quarterback broke free and wound up scrambling for a first down.

The entire defense looked very flat and inept. But much the same can be said for the rest of the team as well, first unit offense excepted.

Overall Conclusion: Flat

Not much more to say about last night's game. The best part is that it doesn't count. The worst part is that it seems as if the team has a long way to go before it comes together. Coach McCarthy has his work cut out for him.