Monday, August 27, 2018

Happy Reunions; Sloppy Game

Old Friends Sharing a Laugh, Photo by Ben Margot, AP
Friday night's game was reminiscent of those "Grandma went to Cancun, and all I got was this T-Shirt" gifts.  Sixty minutes of football, over 3 hours of clock time, and only 1 touchdown to show for it, as the Raiders beat the Packers, 13-6, Friday night.  It was a sloppy game for both teams, and there were more penalties in the game than points scored.

The Raiders have plenty of ex-Packers on their team and staff.  Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson, Edgar Bennett, Reggie McKenzie, and probably others who don't come to mind.  The feel-good part of the night was in warm-ups, with Rodgers throwing a pass to Nelson, and Carr throwing a pass to former college teammate Davante Adams.  But it was mostly downhill, once the game started.

I am not sure what ever happened to the idea that starters play at least a quarter, if not a half, in the third preseason game.  I suppose, at least for the Packers, the specter of Jordy Nelson's preseason injury a couple years ago still looms large.  At any rate, I am glad we decided not to pop for tickets, inflated concession prices, a four hour drive each way, and a hotel room to go to this game.  It was boring on TV and presumably almost as boring in person.  What a shame for the Packers to play so poorly in the same stadium where they played one of the most memorable games in Packers history, the "Irvin Favre" game.

What do we make of the fact that QB Tim Boyle didn't play at all?  Either the Packers plan to cut him and were much more interested in seeing Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer play, or the Packers have decided that Boyle is good enough to try to sneak him onto the practice squad, and by not playing him, they hope to avoid another Taysom Hill debacle like they had last year.  I suspect the latter. 

The main problem for these QBs was that the backup offensive lineman provided very little protection, and they were running for their lives.  I went back and forth on which QB looked better, as I thought that Kizer looked more poised in the pocket than Hundley.  But Kizer had too many inexcusably bad throws, so I have to give the nod to Hundley.  Still, the Packers have a Damarious Randall trade invested in Kizer, so I wonder if they would really cut him?  I suspect he ends up as the number 2, or the Packers keep three QBs. 

Last year showed that after several years of development, Hundley could not be counted on when he was needed, which makes me think there is more upside with Kizer.  McCarthy has acknowledged that Hundley was not ready last year.  But since McCarthy is supposed to be the quarterback whisperer, is that more the fault of Hundley or the fault of McCarthy himself?  And if he was not ready last year after 2 plus years of preparation, what reason is there to think he would be ready this year?

The defensive backs, meanwhile, may have had the best game Friday night.  While Jaire Alexander gave up a huge pass to Amari Cooper on the first play from scrimmage, he came back to make his first interception of the preseason later in the game.  And Josh Jackson made his second pick-six of the preseason, although this one was unfortunately nullified by a penalty on the other side of the field.  Over the weekend, the Packers traded DB Lenzy Pipkins to the Colts for LB Antonio Morrison.  I know nothing about Morrison, but it is obvious that the Packers have at least a little need for additional depth at LB, having lost Jake Ryan for the year, what with Oren Burks having injured his shoulder in warmups!  But the thing the trade shows me is that the Packers are feeling pretty good about their defensive back situation.

The Packers' final preseason game, this Thursday night in steamy Kansas City, probably will not have many starters playing either, at least on offense.  On defense, the new system under Mike Pettine requires some more playing time by the starters.  If they can just get through this last game without any additional injuries, it will be time for some football that actually counts.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Early Returns on Jimmy Graham are Favorable

First of Many Jimmy Graham TDs? Photo by Adam Wesley, USA Today
By the time four minutes were gone in Thursday night's game against the Steelers, the score was 14-0 Packers.  Tramon Williams made the ultimate in triumphant returns, snatching an interception and a pick-six on the first play from scrimmage.  And a few plays later, Aaron Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham for a red-zone touchdown to make it 14-0.  Lambeau Leaps for Williams and Graham.

Rodgers was now done for the night, but in Rodgers' few plays we saw lots: a perfectly timed slant pass to Davante Adams, a successful 12 men on the field penalty, a scramble and slide, and the TD to Graham.  No running plays at all, but hey, Rodgers probably wanted to maximize the few plays he was going to get. Graham played a few extra plays, as compared to other starters like Rodgers, Adams and Cobb, but not enough to get more than that tantalizing first look at what he might mean to the Packers' offense. Let's hope that touchdown catch is the first of many.  If things work out, he could be the Packers' first truly elite tight end in a long time; the kind of tight end we thought Jermichael Finley might become.

While first round draft choice Jaire Alexander also made his Packers debut, he had no stats of any kind, and he played sparingly (only 9 snaps).  So it will be at least another week before we see what he can do. But if Alexander is not yet making an impression in the preseason, a young receiver struggling to make the roster certainly is.  Jake Kumerow is not a rookie, and has kicked around practice squads for several years.  He scored on a 52 yard TD in week 1, but I just figured that was a fluke.  That plus his 82 yard TD against the Steelers suggests that there is no fluke involved, and it makes him impossible to ignore.  I have to believe he is playing his way up the depth chart, and with all the drops by J'Mon ("Come on, Mon") Moore, Kumerow certainly must have at least passed him up.  Kumerow has repeatedly been praised by Rodgers in training camp (contrast Rodgers' criticism over the years of Jeff Janis), so he must be doing something right.  At the moment, I don't see how Kumerow won't get a roster spot (as I understand it, he is not eligible for the practice squad).  But we will see, and if his injured shoulder turns out to be serious, I suppose he could end up on injured reserve. 

All told, the game was an impressive offensive showing for the Packers.  After all, they scored 51 points (37 on offense) in the 51-34 win.  Giving up 34 points is never a plus for the defense, but if the Packers can get back to their ball-hawking ways of the 2010 season, generating points on turnovers, I suppose they can afford to give up some points along the way.  Plus, the defense will be seeing more change than the offense under the new defensive coordinator, and with new starters like Muhammad Wilkerson and Oren Burks, and old/new starter Tramon Williams, there is more settling in to be done on defense than on offense.  I am not too worried yet

The Packers are on their way to Oakland this week, to play the Raiders on Friday night.  I won't be able to make it to the game, but I look forward to seeing more of the young players and how they do.  I hope they televise the reunion of Jordy Nelson with his old teammates.  It should be fun. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The 2018 Season is Here!

DeShone Kizer, Scrambling (photo by Adam Wesley, USAT)
Well, not exactly the 2018 season.  The 2018 preseason has arrived.  It seems like the preseason is less and less edifying every year.  Having said that, I can't help myself.  If there is a Packers game to be watched live (or on delay as is more typical in the preseason), I just have to watch.

This offseason has been one of significant changes.  Ted Thompson and Dom Capers are gone from their prior positions.  Jordy Nelson is now playing in Oakland.  Jeff Janis and Richard Rodgers are also gone on offense.  Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall are gone on defense.

On the other side of the ledger, Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis are potential impact players at the tight end position.  I am particularly excited about Graham, who could be the best Packers tight end since Jermichael Finley.  Tramon Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson might both be past their prime, but both are in a position to shore up the defense, which sorely needed shoring up by the end of the 2017 season.  DeShone Kizer may or may not turn out to be an upgrade at backup quarterback.  Brett Hundley certainly has more experience in the offense, but Kizer strikes me as having more upside after Hundley's disastrous turn at the reins last year.

In the draft, first round pick Jaire Alexander and second round pick Josh Jackson better be ready to play at cornerback.  They will start the year on the bench, but there is no doubt the Packers will be turning more and more to them (especially Alexander) as the season progresses.  Third round pick Oren Burks is penciled in as a starter at LB, given the loss of Jake Ryan for the season.  Late round WR picks Equanimeous St. Brown (who sports an all-time Key & Peele type name) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling look like they are ready to compete for a backup position.

As for the week 1 preseason game, which the Packers won, 31-17 over the Titans, who really cares?  But in all seriousness, the players who stood out to me on offense were Hundley and Kizer at QB.  I was less impressed with Tim Boyle in my first exposure to him.  Jamaal Williams looks like he is ready to pick up where he left off last year, which would be a very good thing.  And rookie WRs St. Brown, Valdes-Scantling, and even second year player Jake Kumerow, made some impressive plays. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Burks, Josh Jackson and Reggie Gilbert all looked impressive and made good plays.  Quinten Rollins made an impression, but not a good one, and seemed lost at times, playing poorly on both defense and special teams.

Week 2 of the preseason is almost upon us.  It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff lets more of the starters play, even if briefly.