The Packers hosted the Arizona Cardinals on August 19 for their second preseason game, and came out on top 28-20 with no serious new injuries of note. CD Angeli takes out his red pen and gives the squads their grades.
Passing Offense: B
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, and even Graham Harrell came into the game and had incredibly efficient, mistake-free games through the air. Rodgers may want to beat himself up over his failed third-and-long, but if that’s the biggest mistake of the game by our quarterbacks, I’m willing to live with it. The Packers’ first-stringers have managed a touchdown drive to Greg Jennings in each of their first two preseason games, but needed to be in the two-minute offense to do it. I’m not worried yet, but I would like to see a sustained, clock-eating drive before we hit the regular season. What brought this grade down was the bullfighter blocking that has led to nine sacks the Packers have endured in two games. While there were guilty parties all around, it’s becoming clear that the Derrick Sherrod experiment should be over at guard, and perhaps should just focus on crafting his trade behind stalwart veteran tackle Chad Clifton. Still, too early to panic on the line, as players were shuffling left and right all night. Let’s see how they do when they are set in their spots. Chastin West may have sealed up the sixth WR spot with a stellar game.
Passing Defense: B-
Overall, you can’t get too worried about the pass defense at this point, but there were enough gaffes in the backfield that should have Dom Capers busy this week. Yes, we’re perfectionists who have grown to expect an interception for a touchdown on nearly every play, and holding the Cards to six points at halftime should be satisfying. But, the Cards converted six third-down situations through the air yesterday, many of them long passes that caught defenders out of position. Some, like Fitzgerald’s circus catch or Tramon Williams’ phantom interference call were unavoidable. But missed tackles….BAD missed tackles, like the whiff by Sam Shields on an out pattern, or Jarius Wynn’s grabbing air on a sack attempt…are things that, in Mike McCarthy’s words, “have to get cleaned up.” The Packers did a good job forcing the Cardinals into 13 third downs in this game, but big plays through the air kept those drives going, the clock ticking, and our defense on the field. Really warming back up to Morgan Burnett’s hard-nosed play at safety, and M.D. Jennings made his case to be considered for at least a practice squad spot, if not the final 53.
Rushing Offense: B
Ryan Grant finished with 23 yards on five carries, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling he was zigging when he should have zagged on a couple of rushes. Obviously, he’s missed a lot of time and needs to shake the rust off, but watching him turn a run back inside and right into a tackler made me shake my head a bit. In the absence of James Starks, Alex Green got his first opportunity in the backfield and didn’t disappoint. He picked up a screen pass and ran with authority for 25 yards, then put the ball in from the goal line. As long as he stays healthy, I have a hard time not seeing him making the team and contributing this year, especially if he improves his pass blocking. Dimitri Nance made sure we didn’t forget him with 28 yards. The same cannot be said for the other backup running backs on the roster.
Rushing Defense: C
The loss of Cullen Jenkins and absence of Mike Neal and Clay Matthews allowed Beanie Wells and to break past the first level on a couple of occasions, compiling 44 yards on eleven carries. When Wells ran into the heart of the line, BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett were able to pile him up, but as he ran off-tackle, our linebackers were running laterally to catch up downfield (and on more than one occasion, being pushed backwards by blockers). Wells tallied good yards on first and second downs on both of their first-team’s field goal-scoring drives, which also took over fourteen minutes off the clock. Between the third-down conversions and allowing opponents to control the clock, the defense needs to kick it up a notch as we go through the rest of the preseason.
Special Teams: B+
Tim Masthay is kicking lights-out this preseason, dropping two of his five punts inside the 20 and averaging 46.6 yards per kick. He’s really looking like a weapon in field position for the Packers this year. Mason Crosby had no field goal attempts, but his kickoffs seemed to sail further and further back into the end zone on each try. Moving the kickoffs up to the 35-yard line looks like we’re going to get a return on that strong leg Ted Thompson drafted. Randall Cobb looked extremely fluid on returns, catching the ball on the run out of the end zone and instinctively looking for his blockers. I would have liked to see those blockers open some better holes for him, as he still only managed to get back to the 20-yard line or so each time. My heart broke for Diondre Borel, who just couldn’t seem to get his feet under him on his returns, then fumbled it away on top of it. He may not get another opportunity.
Yes, this is going to be my grade throughout the preseason. You really can’t give a solid grade for coaching and overall performance when the end goal isn’t necessarily to win the game. McCarthy has used the first two weeks to rest players and shuffle many others around, so his goal is to evaluate and come out healthy at the end. The two injuries of note, backup defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and Cobb, are looking to be minor ones…luckily for the Packers, who really can’t afford more losses along the defensive line. There’s a lot of similarities between Cobb and Ryan Williams of the Cardinals: both were drafted in the second round this year at a position of depth, yet were exciting young players with high hopes of contributing as rookies. They both suffered knee injuries yesterday, but that’s where the similarities end: Williams was carted off the field with a season-ending ruptured patellar tendon, while Cobb’s knee bruise has us all breathing a sigh of relief.
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