On a beautiful night, the Green Bay Packers played their #1 offense and defense a little later into their second preseason game and came away with a feel-good 31-21 win, including a 21-0 first half the featured great performances by the starters.
Here are the TundraVision QuickHits:
* Level of Competition Okay, I will be honest. When the Packers shut out the Cleveland Browns last week, I was satisfied but held back my optimism due to the fact that, simply put, Cleveland sucks. I didn't see them as much better competition than the last game the Packers played, which was against the pathetic 0-16 Detroit Lions. So, while I liked what I saw, I wanted to delay my bubbly over-enthusiasm until they could do it twice.
And that they did. The Bills would have to be considered a "step up" in terms of competition, and the Packers not only duplicated their dominance, but the first team improved from last week and dominated. I figured, "Hey, the Bills beat the Bears last week. They have to be at least an average NFL team."
Now, mind you, looking a little closer, the first half scores for both of the Bills' two games prior to tonight were a 21-6 trailing of the Titans, and a 6-6 stalemate against the Bears and a bumbling Jay Cutler. So, perhaps, the Bills are not that much improved over the 25th-ranked offense and 14th-ranked defense from last season, and conceivably not much more of a challenge than the Browns.
But, for reasons I will list below, I am officially unleashing my optimism for this upcoming season. And, I am looking forward to seeing how the Packers' 3-4 fares next Friday against last years' 4th-ranked offense when the Packers play the Cardinals.
* Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood Okay, if you had a choice between a quarterback who goes 1/4 for 4 yards, or one that goes 8/9 for 98 yards and 2 TD, which would you choose?
The past week's F-Word drama could have rattled the nerves of the Packers, and particularly of the young quarterback who has been trying so hard to get out of his shadow, but Rodgers is no longer a kid. He has matured into a starting QB in the NFL with poise, maturity, and confidence.
Now, I will say this: Aaron Rodgers is a very good quarterback. That's the bad news. The good news is that he has a chance to be a great quarterback, and that is going to be because he has some amazing receivers. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, and Donald Lee all demonstrated remarkable catches today, but more importantly, they were able to twist their bodies and catch the ball with their hands away from their body. Not difficult, diving catches to save their quarterback from a bad throw, but catches that allow the incredibly accurate Rodgers to throw the ball away from defenders and place it where only the receiver can catch it.
Not to bring up the F-word, but Ron Wolf always bemoaned that he didn't get a certain ex-quarterback a some great receivers to throw to. Credit Ted Thompson for getting Aaron Rodgers a stableful of them. Instead of having a quarterback who makes his receivers great, you have a quarterback and receivers making each other great.
* Driver Keeps On Ticking Did you notice the catches Donald Driver had today, and the awareness and control he had with his body? In the first quarter, Rodgers tossed him a sideline route that he caught on the three yard line, falling down. But, as the defender had run past him, Driver twisted his body on the ground, instinctively not turning over or putting his body or elbow out of bounds, despite momentum taking him there. He couldn't see the line...he just knew where it was. He stayed in bounds and had an opportunity to advance the ball further, although the defender came back and touched him down.
On his touchdown catch, he again showed fantastic body control in twisting his body to force his second foot down in-bounds, preserving the touchdown. A lesser receiver would have struggled to drag that second foot down with the momentum carrying him out.
Like Michael Jordan, Driver is simply learning new tricks as he grows older, but is still as deadly.
* The Defense Is Swarming and Aggressive Last season, when you watched the defense play (particularly the front seven), they always looked like they were running in mud. The Bob Sanders defense was a "stay back and see what they do first" defense, reducing risk by rarely blitzing and hoping to contain offenses. It was the 4-3 version of a prevent defense, and often, it prevented us from winning. It's no wonder we had so many interceptions last season: quarterbacks were fooled by the front seven moving so slowly and indecisively that they didn't expect the secondary to move so fast.
Not anymore. The defense played like they were on rocket powered roller skates all through the first half. Rushers and blitzers got upfield fast, often overpowering their blockers (give it up for BJ Raji, by the way). Receivers were blanketed, and if a rusher or a reciever got the ball past the line of scrimmage, they were swarmed...fast. Not just time-fast, but by fast-moving defenders, who would come flying in like there were electromagnets attached to the ball.
I am giving a game ball to Dom Capers. I don't know if it is the 3-4 scheme itself, or simply the philosophy change of "attack!" instead of "read and react", allowing the talent that we have on the defensive side of the ball to actually play the kind of defense they were drafted for.
* Sitton Spin On the fourth-and-one play where Grant was stuffed for a loss inside the red zone, I decided to rewind and see who missed the block. Josh Sitton completely whiffed on his block, and that man penetrated to make the stop on the play.
So, later on, when Ryan Grant scored on the touchdown to the right corner of the endzone, I rewound again to see who had hit their blocks. What I noticed, however, was that Sitton again missed his block completely. The defender burst into the backfield and, luckily, ran into Korey Hall. However, if for any reason Grant would have had to turn that run inside, he would have been bulldozed by Sitton's man for a loss.
Now that the Packers have used the same running play to score a TD with Grant in consecutive weeks, teams are going to have tape on it and be game planning for that outside run.
Sitton is not making the decision at center any easier. It may be that Jason Spitz may have to move back to guard until someone else is able to man it consistently.
* Run game still in overdrive I noted that the Bills had held their first two opponents to 73 and 57 yards rushing, and figured we wouldn't see the crazy 200+ yards rushing like we had last week. The Packers gained only 108 yards rushing, but starter Ryan Grant had 43 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, and looked to only be running more and more downhill as his short time in the game went on.
My underdog favorite, Tyrell Sutton, took over in the second half and essentially duplicated Grant's performance with 49 yards on 11 carries, with a touchdown. What I love about Sutton is not only his tenacity and vision while running, but that he is developing a good rapport with Quinn Johnson. I'm starting to enjoy watching Sutton getting a handoff, and right around his first or second step, there's a loud snap of pads as Johnson levels the guy in front of him. Credit Johnson for opening the hole that allowed Sutton to score.
On the other hand, Kregg Lumpkin may have moved himself down to 5th on the depth chart with negative rushing yardage and a nasty fumble that effectively ended his night.
Brohm Gets Chance, Flynn gets hurt I took a little flack for an article I wrote last week showing some concern about Brian Brohm's development. The counterargument was that we have a Pro Bowl quarterback (well, not yet) and a solid backup that could start for an NFL team (well, probably Buffalo) ahead of him.
I was somewhat surprised to see Brohm given the nod to go in with the second teamers. Perhaps Mike McCarthy felt it was fair to have the two backups switch off as they did last preseason. Perhaps with the criticism Brohm has been getting for much of training camp, we wanted to give him a fair chance to prove himself with better players around him. In any case, Brohm had his chance to do it...12/19 for 83 yards and an INT comes out to a 50.9 efficiency rating, which is 50.9 points higher than he had last week.
But he still looked confused and lacking in self-confidence out there. He went 2/4 on his final drive in the fourth quarter, but was relying heavily on an audible quick slant to Kyle Heckendorf, which was how he completed both of his passes (missing badly on the first of three tries). Sutton rushed seven times on that drive for 38 yards and drew a 15 yard facemask penalty.
However, an injury to Matt Flynn's arm brought Brohm's development into higher concern. If Flynn is hurt for a stretch of time, Brohm moves up to backup...and that is something he's not ready for. Greg Bedard is convinced that the Packers showcased Brohm to dangle him for trade bait. Hmmmmmm.....
* Guacamole Sandwich Breno Giacomini did a terrible job blocking Copeland Bryan, who was able to circle around at full speed and smash pretty hard into Matt Flynn's arm, which caused a fumble that Breno had to pick up.
Those are the kind of plays that can bury you on the depth chart or make people look really carefully at Duke Randolph when it comes to final cut time. Flynn left the game with a shoulder sprain that everyone appears tight-lipped about for now. I have a feeling this is going to be on McCarthy's "medical situation" list for a while.
* Collins give us a scare After making a great play deflecting a pass to be intercepted by teammate Brady Poppinga, Collins left the game with a rib "medical situation". Luckily, the results came back negative, and I'm sure he'll be held out practice until the soreness is gone. But, I was feeling the world "jinx" come to mind when I thought of my article this past week naming Collins as one of the five players we could least afford to lose to injury.
*Yeah, so you say now... I don't mean to skeptical, but MM says he's going to make a final decision on the offensive line after this game. Hopefully. "I'm hopeful that the film will give me that strong opinion one way or the other. That's something we'll definitely take a close look at as a staff and I'm hopeful that will happen. But I'm not making any guarantees. Just want as much information as we can so we can make a good decision."
Gotta say, though, the first string line has looked awfully good last week and this week both in pass protection of Rodgers and opening holes for the running backs. Let's hope it is due to their own improvement and not the level of competition.
One way or the other, though, I really-really-really hope McCarthy can find the right five guys and give them the opportunity to mesh and know their roles inside and out. The Offensive Line Shuffle needs to end.
Lots more we can talk about, as we always can after a good game. The Packers are not only 2-0, but the new 3-4 defense didn't allow a point to be scored against them until 1:09 remaining in the third quarter of their second game. If our first team offense and defense can continue to play at this level in the regular season....playing some old guy on the Vikings will be the least of our things to look forward to in 2009.