Considering the Packers had several starting players on defense sitting out of Thursday night's game against the Indianapolis Colts, they played pretty well.
It stands to reason that once the starting 11 gets some time to practice together as one cohesive unit, they'll gel a little bit more and play even better than their performance last night against the defending AFC champion Colts.
But is there enough time left for them to do so before the regular season begins in a little over two weeks when the Packers travel to Eagles on Sunday Sept. 12 for the season opener?
"Defensively we haven’t played the game with everybody on the field yet so the continuity is probably not where we’d like it to be right now," said head coach Mike McCarthy following last night's game. "And that’s something that we’re probably going to have to establish in our practice structure leading up to the Philadelphia game."
Players from each defensive position–the defensive line, linebackers and secondary–were sidelined withheld from action last evening.
Five starters from last year's end-of-the-season defensive lineup didn't play due to injury concerns including defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby.
"The injuries have kind of kept us from getting the continuity that you would like," said McCarthy. "It’s a challenge that you face at some point almost every season so I think that’s where we stand defensively right now."
With several of those same players missing the first two preseason games this year, the Packers defense has struggled despite being ranked the No. 2 overall defense in the NFL last season.
Through two snaps against the Colts, it appeared as if the Packers may struggle again. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Joseph Addai ripped off 49 yards off left tackle. After play No. 2, the Packers found themselves behind 7-0 when Peyton Manning found Pierre Garcon in the endzone for an 18-yard touchdown.
After that point, the defense buckled down and prevented the big play.
"I think it's always important to come back after a slow start," said defensive lineman B.J. Raji. "I felt like we had some issues on the front seven as far as gap control was on the first drive. The first play ... we had some miscommunication. We got rid of that and we played a lot better."
Take away Addai's run, and the Packers held the Colts to 10 yards rushing on 8 carries in the first half of the game. Those numbers expand to 32 yards on 19 carries over the course of the entire game.
And the defense got better as the game went on. The Colts a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter on a touchdown pass from Manning to Reggie Wayne, but were outscored 52-7 the rest of the way.
With so many players sitting out, the Packers have had to rely on a lot of rookies throughout the course of the exhibition season. One of those players, second-round draft choice Mike Neal made the first start of his professional career on Thursday in place of Jenkins and played well.
The Packers played in their nickel defensive package pretty much the entire game, and Neal found himself in a two-man rotation with Raji and Ryan Pickett for the first half of the game.
"Mike played great," said Raji. "For a rookie coming in and starting and starting his third game of his career, I think he did a good job. He has a bright future."
Playing in place of Bigby at one of the safety positions opposite Nick Collins, as he has all of training camp, was rookie Morgan Burnett who was able to get an interception off Manning and deflect two others.
And according to the rookie, the experience of playing against Manning will serve him and the rest of the defense well, as they prepare for the regular season.
"He's a great quarterback," said Burnett. "And then sometimes he takes a long time to snap the ball, sometimes he comes and snaps it quick on you. Basically it's trying to play a game with each other, really."
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