Is It Time To Worry Yet?
by Mike Conklin
August 17, 2012
The Packers are over halfway through the preseason, and there haven't been too many bright spots yet.
Last night's drubbing by the hapless Browns, who haven't made the playoffs in ten years, left a bad taste in the mouths of the thousands of fans that left Lambeau early.
But it doesn't really matter, does it? It's only preseason, right?
The Packers haven't played their stars much, and it shows. There is no way that the Packers would have suffered the same fate if their stars had played more. Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley didn't even suit up, and Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson barely broke a sweat. Should that make fans feel better?
There really isn't much we can take from these games. In 2008 the Lions went undefeated in the preseason, only to go 0-16 during the regular season. But at the same time, it's the way the Packers have looked during these first two games that is making fans wring their hands. Their 35-10 loss to the Browns was the worst preseason loss at home since they lost to the Giants 34-3 on August 6, 1988. There are 43 players on the Packers roster who hadn't even been born yet back then.
In this game the starting offense didn't look all that bad, but other than when Rodgers and Jordy Nelson hooked up for a great 20-yard touchdown they didn't particularly look in sync. When Harrell entered the game, they were awful. The player of the game was probably Tim Masthay, who saw the field early and often.
What may have been more concerning was the fact that the starting defense allowed the Browns to move the ball down the field with a rookie starting quarterback and a backup running back. Brandon Weeden was able to throw for 118 yards, and converted some third downs when the Packers really should have been able to get off the field. Montario Hardesty was also able to rush for 45 yards and a touchdown. At times in the first half the Browns looked like Hank Stram's Chiefs of the 1960's, as they matriculated their way down the field. (To be fair, they weren't exactly great all of the time. Packers defenders Casey Hayward and A.J. Hawk both dropped what probably should have been interceptions.)
The thing that hurt the most during this game was the fact that the Packers turned the ball over four times, after having the same number the previous week. Whether it is the starters or backups, it is a concern that a team that focuses so much on ball security drills every day in practice is turning the ball over at such an alarming rate. It is definitely unusual for a Mike McCarthy-led offense.
"It better be a preseason anomaly," said McCarthy after the game. "We turn the (expletive) ball over too much...it's something that needs to stop."
The Packers will be a good team, and should be able to overcome some of these early season challenges. At times, they looked like a team that may suffer from the fact that injuries have cut several of their practices short in the past week. But there are a few things that bear watching over the next two weeks leading up to the regular season.
A year ago at this time, the Packers were coming off of a Super Bowl season, and nobody thought that their fifth-ranked defense from 2010 would have such a precipitous fall and become the league's worst. In hindsight, there were early signs that there may be some problems. Colt McCoy carved up the secondary last preseason, going 9-for-10 for 135 yards and a touchdown. With Peyton Manning out for the Colts, Curtis Painter (!) was able to throw for 171 yards and two touchdowns. In the preseason finale, Matt Cassel completed 15-for-17 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown, and led the Chiefs to a 16-7 halftime lead.
None of these games mattered of course, as the Packers went on to a 15-1 regular season record. But the pass defense left much to be desired during the preseason, and it only continued in Week 1 when Drew Brees torched the secondary for 419 yards and three touchdowns. It didn't help when Nick Collins went down in Week 2 against the Panthers, while Cam Newton threw for 432 yards. The situation never really improved throughout the season.
Should there be concern about the defense again this year?
Nobody has really stepped up to take hold of a safety job, although Jerron McMillian made some noticable tackles for the first time this week. It is hard to make much of a judgment at safety yet, however. Woodson has barely played in the preseason so far, and the fate of the secondary will likely rest on his shoulders.
At cornerback, Davon House was having a bit of a coming out party last week before his injury, and was starting to separate himself from the competition. Now, Casey Hayward is getting his chance to step up. Although he has much to learn, the early signs are good as he looks like he may be a playmaker. He dropped a pick-six that he probably would make nine out of ten times, he recovered a fumble in run support, and even pressured the quarterback on a blitz.
What about the pass rush? Last year opposing quarterbacks had too much time to scan the field, and the defensive backs suffered as a result.
The Packers didn't have any sacks against the Browns, after notching two last week. Although they weren't able to sack Weeden, there were times when they put pressure on him and disrupted the play. It looks like Perry and Moses will both add something to the team as rookies, and there appears to be signs of improvement among the front seven.
As for the tackling, the Packers had their moments despite the fact they gave up so many rushing yards to Hardesty in the first half. D.J. Smith showed signs that he can fill in capably for Desmond Bishop, as he racked up six tackles in the first half. There were moments when the Packers tackled a receiver immediately after the catch, which was a good sign. When the backups were in there, Jerron McMillian made some noticable plays, as mentioned earlier.
The mantra for fans last night was "It's only the preseason," and with good reason. The early signs are mixed. It is hard to think that the offense won't get it together and be very productive, as long as Rodgers stays healthy. The defense shows some signs of improvement here and there, but still need to get off the field more consistently.
Last year, the Packers lost a little steam at the end of the regular season. They lost an inexplicable game to the Chiefs, got it together enough to beat their archrival Bears in prime time, and then sat their key players in the season finale. Although they never said anything to indicate this, it almost seemed like they thought they could turn it on for the playoffs. That didn't happen, as they were beaten handily by the Giants. It is hard not to think about that now, as the Packers have had a lackluster start to the exhibition season.
Although it is difficult to put much stock in these games, the Packers need to raise their level of intensity in the next two weeks. Their first four games of the regular season will be too difficult to allow them much room for error.
Photo Credit: Associated Press