Sunday, August 24, 2014

Packers beat Raiders in preseason home opener, lose Raji for the season

So the good news coming out of Friday night's win was that the Green Bay Packers offensive and defensive units were better, much better, than that of their Oakland counterparts. The Raiders picked up a couple of late touchdowns in garbage time to make the final score of 31-21 seem much more competitive than it really was. The Packers dominated on both sides of the ball all night long. Yours truly was in attendance and saw that firsthand.

QB Aaron Rodgers and the offense clicked on their first series in the no-huddle offense. And while the line seemed to sputter in the next few series, and some of the timing was off between Rodgers and his receivers, the first half showed what the offense will be able to do. Even a little of RB Eddie Lacy is a lot for defenses; he played only on the first series, and rushed six times for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Back up RB DuJuan Harris also got lots of touches and performed exceptionally well, finishing with 56 yards on 12 carries. He also had two receptions for 42 yards, with a long reception/run of 31 yards. He showed quickness and power. The Packers will need to find a way beyond just kickoff returns to get Harris on the field.

Rookie TE Richard Rodgers also had a good game. Back up QB Matt Flynn didn't have a particularly good or bad jwas ust kind of...meh. It appeared to this writer that he focused on each receiver he was going to throw to right from the start. QB Scott Tolzein came in just before the end of the third quarter and played very well. He was making quick reads and had zip on the ball. It's always been the opinion of this writer that Tolzein has the better arm between he and Flynn and if he could just get some more playing time he would be the primary back up to Rodgers. I've said it before here and will do so again: the Packers will keep three QBs on their roster. There is a much bigger upside to Tolzein than Flynn and the Packers need to hang on to that.

As for the defense, they acquitted themselves quite well, too, holding the Raiders -- who played many of their starters into the second half -- to just 7 points until garbage time. A couple players stood out, including Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. No surprises there. The secondary seemed to do well, particularly Davon House. When back ups entered the game, it seemed as if Oakland was targeting rookie CB Demetri Goodson. He struggled. Given the competition in the secondary, I'd be surprised if he isn't released in the first round of roster cuts.
B.J. Raji leaves the field -- and the season -- after Friday night's game against the Raiders.
Photo copyright Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The major negative to come out of the game, we learned yesterday, was the loss for the season of NT B.J. Raji who tore his right biceps apparently during the first quarter. The implications for the Packers and Raji are big, as this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicates. The Packers younger players will have to fill the void. They certainly have good options there. As the article indicates, it would be surprising if the Pack were to re-sign either Ryan Pickett or Johnny Jolly at this point, relying instead on second-year players Josh Boyd, free-agent acquisition Letroy Guion (who has yet to even practice because of hamstring injury) and undrafted rookie Mike Pennel.

While not a nose tackle, another young player of note over the last several weeks has been rookie LB Jayrone Elliott, who had three sacks in four plays against St. Louis and followed that performance up with another game in which he made his presence known. I expect Elliott to be on the final roster given these performances.

What goes on at a Packers preseason game?
The Packers answered that question themselves, putting together this video.

I can also share that while fans were out in full force (more than 73,000 were in attendance!), along with all the tailgating, etc. that goes along with it, the crowd still felt a bit subdued. Attribute that to the fact that it was a game that didn't count, in which the starters didn't play very long, and the weather was a sultry 83 degrees around kickoff time with humidity in the vicinity of 80 percent or so, as well.

However, for the first time, yours truly was able to grab tickets inside the (relatively) new indoor club level. I have to tell you, it spoils you. For face value of $222 per ticket, it should. (Fortunately, what I paid through one of the online ticket exchanges was far less than that.) But for a night, my wife and I were able to share in a bit of the bounty of these seats. You enter through the Bellin Health gate on the north side of the stadium and take elevators up. Once there, there is an abundance of upscale food and drink choices, with prices to match, of course. You sit inside an air-conditioned seating area, in very comfortable and cushy seats, with order-takers and servers to make the food and beverage runs for you if you wish. There were a few glitches on that end, it seemed. After all, this was the working staff's first home game, as well, and there were some bugs in the system here and there. (One of the servers even told us this would be his first and last game doing this gig.) But the intentions are good, that's for sure.

One of the other pleasures of the indoor seating was flat-panel TVs which showed the live play as well as the replays, of course. Given that we were in the north endzone, it was nice to have that TV view. But instead of having to listen to the usual folks on TV coverage, we instead heard -- thankfully -- the play-by-play of 620WTMJ radio announcers Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren. That's as good as it gets.

One of the downsides of this seating level, however, is to get access to the Packers Pro Shop, you have to basically go half way back around the stadium, down and below the Atrium level. Not convenient. At all. For the money the team spent re-designing the Pro Shop and this stadium, this is terrible traffic flow and customer access. When I mentioned this to several red-vested Lambeau Field staff members, they each agreed. It was almost as if the architects were designing only with outside entry in mind; to heck with those trying to enter from within the stadium. Really poor planning in this regard.

I've posted a photo below of our view during the game. It really doesn't do it justice. If you haven't been to Lambeau Field since all the additions, you owe it to yourself to go. If you've never been there, definitely go. If the best you can do is to take a tour of the stadium, spring for the $20 version; a young couple we met from Toronto had done that a few days earlier and raved about it.

It's getting close, Packer fans. That first game against Seattle will be here in about 10 days or so. It looks as if the Pack is in good form going into that opener. But we know the Seahawks will be, too. They are the champs...for now.

Go Pack Go!!!