Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review of Pre-Season Opener

So, the Packers lost their pre-season opener Saturday night, 27-17, to the Cleveland Browns.  Of course, they lost to the Browns in the pre-season last year, too, and the season worked out pretty well anyway.

I did not see anything to get me too concerned.  Sure, it would be great if they looked in post-season form, but that is not too likely in a first pre-season game.  On offense, the starters (minus Jermichael Finley, who was held out with a minor injury) did not look sharp on their first drive, going 3 and out.  But they got it together on the next drive (the last drive for Rodgers), and moved crisply down the field, scoring in 7 plays, including nice looking passes to Donald Driver and to Greg Jennings for the touchdown.

Matt Flynn led the offense for the rest of the first half, and he looked like a very capable backup, who could lead the offense if necessary.  He put 10 points on the board, on a couple of scoring drives, and made no big mistakes.  Graham Harrell played quarterbacks with an all-backup team for the entire second half, and did not look nearly as good.  He completed 50% of his passes, but gave up the big play of the game, a blind-side sack and strip that was returned for a touchdown.  He had two other fumbles to add to this.  In fairness to him, there was a lot of rotation of offensive linemen in the game, but especially in the second half, presumably so that Coach McCarthy can test out different players at different OL positions.

The defense never showed any consistency at any time in the game.  Of course, they were playing without Charles Woodson (just resting) and Sam Shields (minor injury).  Plus, Dom Capers called a pretty plain-vanilla style defense, as you might expect at this point.  Still, the coaching staff can't be happy about letting Colt McCoy complete 90% of his passes and two scoring drives.

Among the new players, there was one real standout: rookie WR and KR Randall Cobb (the Packers' second pick in the draft this year).  He was the leading receiver for the Packers in this game (3 catches for 60 yards), and he looked really promising, especially as a kickoff returner.  He returned two kickoffs for a total of 58 yards, and in both cases he got an extra 5-8 yards after I expected him to go down.  The league has deliberately de-emphasized kickoffs this year, by moving the kickoffs back to the 35 yard line.  This will result in more touchbacks and fewer runbacks.  Which might be too bad, now that we have a promising kick returner.

The bottom line is that when you add Cobb to an already-excellent receiving corps, the Packers really have something special.  Plus, if Cobb is the main kick returner, we can keep Tramon Williams out of having to return kicks, which scared me every time he lined up back there.  I anxiously await the return of Jermichael Finley.  They can't keep all the WRs and TEs on the roster, but if they keep the good ones healthy, they will be in great shape.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Defense of the Title Starts This Week

I feel as if my normal off-season rhythm was thrown off completely this year by the lockout, and even though I don't normally post much during the off-season, this year I have hardly posted at all.  And here the pre-season opener against the Cleveland Browns is only three days away.  It is high time to get myself back into a football frame of mind.

But before turning to the pre-season, why not take a couple of minutes and watch the story of the making of the Packers' Super Bowl rings.  The rings are stunning, and I love the fact that Jostens traces the history back to the Super Bowl I rings, designed jointly by Jostens and Vincent Thomas Lombardi.  Anyway, enjoy, and know that a lot of these rings will be on display in the White House on Friday.  Fire up the metal detectors.

Turning to the pre-season, the big news of the week is that Clay Matthews played the second half of the season, and the entire post-season, with a broken leg.  OK, it was a stress fracture, but that is still a broken leg.  It was over 30 years ago that the Rams' Jack Youngblood played in Super Bowl XIV with a broken leg, and I gather that his broken leg was also a stress fracture.  But it still is a powerful thought, that these guys can play, and play well, with that kind of an injury.  Play well?  My goodness.  I still get the chills when I see the video of Kevin Greene telling Clay Matthews that "it is time" [to make a play], followed by Matthews forcing a fumble to preserve and lengthen the lead over the Steelers.  To me, that Kevin Greene/Clay Matthews combination is right up there with Babe Ruth's called home run shot in the 1932 World Series.

Obviously, the key to this or any other Packer season is protecting Aaron Rodgers.  Just today, posted an article that pointed out something I had not thought of before.  The starting offensive line this year will consist of three left tackles, along with a center and a right guard.  Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, and rookie Derek Sherrod are all left tackles by past experience.  Given that, for a right-handed quarterback, the left tackle is the most important member of the offensive line, having three of them in the starting lineup provides some promise that Rodgers' sack total should drop again this year.

Let the games begin.