Monday, August 17, 2015

Reactions to First Preseason Game

Photo by Maddie Meyer, USA Today
Packers football is back, and the preseason could not arrive fast enough for me.

Let's face it, preseason games can be boring.  Who cares who wins or loses, when the point is more about evaluating talent than about winning the game?  Going into the Packers' first preseason game against the Patriots, I was primarily interested in seeing the answers to three questions: (1) how did the Packers look on offense, especially when the backups were in the game?; (2) are there any differences noted with someone other than Mike McCarthy calling the offensive plays?; and (3) how does the defense look, especially the defensive backs, the linebackers, and the run defense in general?

(1) Offense.  On offense, the Packers seemed to be able to move the ball pretty much at will, both with starters and backups, but the catch is that they were not very good about scoring touchdowns.  If the problem in the NFC Championship game was (among many other things) settling for field goals from the 1 or 2 yard line, the problem this time was that they were going for it on 4th and anything short, but not making the first down and touchdown when it counted.  Scott Tolzien played most of the game at quarterback, and he looked much more solid than I remember from his playing time in 2013.  Now that he has been part of the system for two years, he looks ready to go.  Even rookie Brett Hundley looked good in his relatively short time in the game.

(2) Play-Calling.  New play-caller Tom Clements seemed intent on making a statement with his fourth down strategy, and I found it refreshing.  I was critical of McCarthy's decisions on 4th and goal from the 1 and 2 yard lines early in the NFC Championship game.  Part of the reason I welcomed a new play-caller was that the one overriding critique I have of Mike McCarthy as a coach was his tendency to play it safe in situations like this, and to play it safe with a lead late in the game.  Both of those tendencies played out, to the catastrophic detriment of the team, in the NFC Championship game.  While I don't expect Clements to be as aggressive on 4th down in the regular season (and while I hope he is more successful when he does), I see it as a good sign that he is willing to show some aggressiveness now.  Who knows if Mike McCarthy will be OK, in the long run, letting Clements call the plays?  He did say something about being bored on the sidelines with nothing to do.  But the first exposure to Clements calling plays was a positive one.

(3) Defense.  Having lost both Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency, cornerback is an obvious area of concern.  But both Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter looked good in their first game experience, including Gunter intercepting a Jimmy Garoppolo pass.  Gunter, an undrafted rookie, has been making quite a splash in training camp, and is the only defensive back with multiple interceptions off Rodgers.  Another Ted Thompson special find?

It was harder to find a standout performance, good or bad, from the linebacking corps, especially with Matthews not playing and Peppers making only a token appearance.  But the Packers did sack New England Quarterbacks 7 times, with most of those sacks being recorded by linebackers.  While the run defense was spotty. and never looked worse than on the 55 yard touchdown run in the second quarter, on the whole the defense looked pretty good and should only improve as time goes on.

All in all, a good start to the preseason.  Let's see what happens in week 2 against the Steelers.