The Packers come back and defeat the Seattle Seahawks by the same score that they lost by last week, 27-24. It was an interesting game, mainly because so many veteran players were given the night off, including the entire starting linebacking corps and nearly the entire secondary. It makes evaluating the unit a bit difficult, but this game wasn't as much about evaluating team units as it was about individual players trying to vie for roster spot consideration. So, without further ado, here are this week's QuickHits.
Players who helped their cause:
Mason Crosby: The much maligned placekicker for the Packers has struggled early in training camp and continued to be a question mark coming into the game. Crosby made both of his field goal attempts today, and continued to boom his kickoffs into the endzone. Yes, he missed a tackle early on, but come on...we shouldn't have to be counting on our kicker to be covering for the coverage team's deficiencies all the time. The 51 yarder he kicked in the fourth quarter was the difference in the game, and you could tell by his body language there was a bit of confidence and relief when it went through.
John Kuhn: There's nothing McCarthy loves more than versitility, and Kuhn took over rushing duties in the fourth quarter when Quinn Porter left the game. He had 5 rushes for 30 yards, and added his usual receiving touchdown in the first quarter. Porter may be the odd man out if the Packers end up being able to keep just two running backs and trust Kuhn as an emergency halfback. There's little doubt right now that Kuhn is the #1 fullback.
Brandon Jackson: Jackson exploded nearly every time he touched the ball, rushing for 80 yards on 11 carries. Despite the serviceable production from Kuhn, you could see the difference when Jackson was rushing the ball tonight: he seemed to be in fast-forward motion, making sly moves and turning on the burners when needed. There was talk last week that Porter may have moved ahead of Jackson on the depth chart. After tonight, you can definitely say it is Grant/Jackson at #1 and #2.
Matt Flynn: Last week's anguish over Flynn appears to be a bit better after watching his performance against the Seahawks. He seemed sharper (at least with the second-team offense), finishing 10/20 for 130 yards and an interception. His 50.0 passing rating won't make some folks feel at ease, but he had trouble in the third quarter when the cast around him started shuffling more and more. Most improved was his mid-field passes: when he could look at his target in front of him, whether it be on a crossing pattern, a slant, or a curl in the middle of the field, his passes were like darts. However, his weaknesses still come on the sides of the field (and the corners of the endzones), where his timing patterns look like they are stabs in the dark. He needs to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks, too.
Quinn Johnson: No, it wasn't perfect, but he caught one of two passes directed at him, and continued to lay solid blocks when given the opportunity, leading the way for Jackson's rushing touchdown by simply stiffarming two guys and bowling into a third at the goal line. I would love to see Johnson get an opportunity to lay some wood with the first team offense, because he does add a dimension that Kuhn and Hall can't quite do as well.
Frank Zombo: Seems to be Zombo only plays the latter half of preseason games, but he is such an active player when he is in there. He got a sack and a quarterback hit, and just seemed to be all around the ball. With all the starters out, he certainly has to given the coaches reason to consider keeping him around for a while.
Players who hurt their cause:
Quinn Porter: From the moment he got on the field, he seemed to have something bothering him after every single play. First, it was his helmet, causing him to miss plays to have it fixed. Then, on a couple of occasions, he popped up limping. Finally, he left the game with a sprained ankle. When you are competing against the defacto third-down back (Jackson) and a fullback who can fill in at halfback, you need to start having some good games. Whether his own fault or not, Porter didn't distinguish himself at all.
Sam Shields: I think we all declared the Sam Shields as returner experiment over last week, but there's something about 4.2 speed that makes you want to keep going back to the well. His first return was fielded well, but was a rather nondescript return that didn't showcase any speed, and his second (and hopefully, last) return was a debacle. The ball bounced in front of him, and Shields appeared to freeze as he watched it bounce, before touching it and watching it get claimed by the Seahawks. Shields is still in the running for a regular secondary spot, and maybe even a gunner spot on special teams after making a nice punt coverage tackle. But, his value as a returner is officially nil.
Breno Giacomini: There's something about a 6'8" guy trying to play a position in which you are expected to get low to win leverage battles that makes me uncertain. There's something else about making mistake after mistake that gets your quarterback killed that makes me afraid. The Giacomini experiment may also be over, with so many swings and misses on blocks that you'd think he's Rob Deer back in the day. With Allen Barbre also looking miserable at tackle, it is pretty clear why Thompson paid a lot of money to aging vets Tauscher and Clifton to return, and why the picture after they retire is still murky.
Brandon Underwood: The Packers are pinning a lot of hopes on this guy, but if things go as it did today, many opposing quarterbacks will be pinning hopes on Underwood, too. Underwood was clearly targeted by Seattle QB Matt Hasselback early on, and his struggles in underneath coverage were clearly exposed. With Al Harris hurt, Underwood may be called on soon to be a nickel or dime back. Today did very little to make you believe he's ready to start a game in the regular season.
Jarrett Bush: I don't know why I even bother. Why he is still on the team is beyond me. Back to back penalties in the fourth quarter are just inexcusible.
Derrick Martin: I haven't seen the replay, but Martin was ejected from a preseason game for apparently pulling a Seattle players' dreadlocks, then punching him at least once on a punt return. This is simply inexcusable and deplorable. The Packers' short-handedness in the secondary is a pretty good example of what it is like in the regular season with a 45-man roster: we have no time for a key special teams player to be getting himself ejected. That's bush league and McCarthy, I'm sure, will be having a long talk with Mr. Martin.
Shawn Slocum: If there were final cutdowns for coaches, Slocum would already be on the bubble. Other than Crosby's kicking, every aspect of special teams was terrible tonight. Penalties, players not coming off the team in time (resulting in a time out), mediocre punting, terrible returns, and two opposing punts down inside the 5 yard line. The Packers worked at a tremendous disadvantage all night in terms of field position, and that's a battle often won or lost with special teams. This is looking more and more to be a mess this season.
Starting defensive line: The only position group that started intact tonight was the defensive line, with Raji, Jenkins, and Pickett all trying to put pressure on the quarterback. However, Hassleback had a pretty good night with little pressure at all, including a touchdown pass in which he had time to go through all of his reads at least twice, as well as order out Chinese delivery,. While I haven't examined the tape closely yet, Pickett seemed to be the only lineman who could get any push, while Poppinga was kept easily outside the pocket. Raji and Jenkins seemed to get swallowed up on every play. It's the job of the the nose tackle, in particular, to occupy two blockers and allow the rest of the group to make plays, but either he wasn't doing a good enough job, or the guys around him weren't doing any better.
All in all, a satisfying win, with a lot of individual performances standing out, both good and bad. The good news is that our starting offense appears to be still on pace for a fantastic season, while our "first defense" played a bit better than how we started last week.