Wait, this was a preseason game? The Packers pulled out a last-second heart-stopper (if you can call it that in August), beating the Indianapolis Colts 24-21 in Week 3 of the preseason. If anyone had any doubts about our third-stringers being able to pull out a come-from-behind victory over another team’s third-stringers, all doubts have now officially been cast off. But seriously, the Packers showed some grit in the final moments of the game, Mason Crosby sent a message to his doubters, and Mike McCarthy surprised us all by being willing to take a preseason game into overtime. Yes, there’s still a lot to work on, so let’s get to this week’s Packer Report Card.
Passing Offense: B+
Upon reaching the locker room following the game, tackle Chad Clifton checked the regular season schedule to make sure Dwight Freeney wouldn’t show up on the other side of the line again this year. We all knew that Freeney was a beast, but he looked like Reggie White out there, demonstrating all of his different moves to get to a quarterback, giving Clifton a major struggle all night. Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and forced to scramble twice, which is not the rate you want your potentially concussion-prone superstar quarterback to be taking hits or running past the line of scrimmage per half. On one play in particular, Freeney made a spin move that essentially took extra blocker James Starks out of the play, using Clifton as a screen. Rodgers gave Starks an earful after that sack on a third-and-11, but you have to give credit to Freeney (and some accountability to Clifton for leaving the lane open instead of turning the blocker outside).
Other than that, Rodgers was nearly perfect when he was passing, and again, the Packers were at their best running out of the no-huddle offense. Come on…there’s was a little bit of sadistic irony we felt watching the Colts victimized by a quarterback calling the plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing like giving them a little taste of their own medicine, right? Rodgers went 19-for-23 for 204 yards and a touchdown in just a half of play, but once again, the traditional offense used on the first drive bogged down quickly. While I have little doubt the Packers will get it together as the season goes on, I’m getting the uneasy feeling that, right now, the no-huddle is becoming just as much a necessity as it is an option. Receivers looked good, though James Jones was given the start in place of a missing Greg Jennings, and didn’t receive a pass in his direction the whole game. I had been wondering why there was such a hubbub over Ryan Taylor from the beat writers who have been covering training camp, but he certainly caught the attention of all Packer fans with his game-tying touchdown-and-two-point-conversion catches at the end of the game. Graham Harrell scores props for his gritty end-of-the-game performance, but was still scattershot on many of his passes (the interception dug that hole to begin with), and was given a major assist by Colt Chip Vaughn’s brainless penalties on the game-tying drive. Harrell will survive cutdown day on Tuesday to play another game. Vaughn will not.
Rushing Offense: C
When you’re running a no-huddle offense, the running game tends to take a back seat. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? We found out about Ryan Grant's contract re-negotiations this week, likely preserving his spot on the roster. Grant continued to split time with James “Neo” Starks, both of whom are battling for the starting nod this year. Both were bottled up after the handoff. Grant generated a little more yardage on his own than Starks, who was limited to just two yards on his only carry. But Starks is proving to be a weapon out of the backfield, catching short passes and rumbling up the field for positive yardage. Given the Packers’ affinity for the no-huddle, the running back that is more of a receiving threat out of the backfield will see their stock rise. On the other hand, not picking up blitzers, as Starks failed to do on Freeney, will see that stock drop quickly. Alex Green, after a solid showing last week, struggled mightily with his opportunities. There was speculation that if Green could cement the #2 spot, it might make Grant expendable, but you can put that on hold for now. He did generate a nine-yard run (that probably should have been longer), but that brought his final stats to eight yards on five carries. Overall, the line didn’t do much to help the run get established, regardless who was getting the handoffs, and the more we see that, the more likely the Packers will default back to the no-huddle.
Passing Defense: C+
Tell you what, Curtis Painter came into this game as a dead man walking, and early on, he looked like it. Clay Matthews was able to put some pressure on Painter early and the Colts punted time and time again. But as the first half wore on, the Packers produced less and less pressure on Painter without the help of an extra blitzer (usually Charles Woodson, already in mid-season form). But the tide turned when Morgan Burnett bit on an inside cut instead of taking receiver Reggie Wayne, who was passed on to him by Sam Shields. With what looked like four Packers covering Pierre Garcon short, Wayne took an easy lob pass from Painter and walked into the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown. The Packers had been controlling the game up until that point; and when Nick Collins gave up a 36-yard pass late in the second quarter, setting up a Chris Brooks touchdown over Jarrett Bush, the Colts went into the locker room at halftime with a 14-10 lead that never should have been. Painter finished with a 111.4 efficiency rating, something a struggling guy facing the Super Bowl Champion defense really shouldn’t be attaining. The second-string defense really held Dan Orlovsky to zilch, only throwing a touchdown when given starting field position on the Packers’ 3-yard line. With Frank Zombo out, Vic So’oto made his case for being kept on the 53-man roster by wreaking a little havoc in the backfield, notching his first sack.
Rushing Defense: B
As has been the case much of this preseason, the Packers can stop an opposing running back three out of four times, but that fourth time tends to be a gasher. Joeseph Addai rushed for 44 yards on 8 carries, with rushes of 19, 9, and 8 yards along the way. Luckily, the Packers don’t let too many of those happen in a row, but they do allow another team to convert a third-down or work with second-and-short. The loss of Mike Neal and CJ Wilson means more work for Howard Green, who may just end up taking that starting spot anyway. Jarius Wynn is getting a ton of experience, too. You really hope that Neal’s injury isn’t so serious that he loses many more reps, because this season could end up being a wash again if Wynn and Green establish themselves ahead of him in the rotation. The Colts’ back of the future, Delone Carter converted a 3rd and 1 despite getting hit behind the line, then ripped a 15-yard run after that. Teams simply don’t stick with the run against the Packers, though, because they get stuffed enough times to make them go to the pass. So, it’s a good thing.
Special Teams: A-
Have to take off half a point for Mason Crosby’s missed field goal from 43 yards out, but hit his other attempts (26,32), including the game winner (50). Crosby has taken a little heat for his rich contract, and that miss got some folks starting to grumble on Twitter. But he was booting kickoffs out of the back of the end zone, executed a perfect surprise onside kick (for which there was no reason for the Colts to be surprised, yet they were), and gave us the dagger with all the pressure on him. No, it won’t completely silence his critics, but he proved himself to be an asset to the team today, and good on him for it. Other than one long return late in the game, the Packer coverage teams were excellent and kept the Colts starting out deep in their own territory. Tim Masthay, once again, continued his excellent preseason with an incredible 49.1 gross average, pinning the Colts inside the twenty twice and having nary an touchback. Kerry Taylor made his case for being our return man if Randall Cobb is unable to start the season. Not likely he’ll be kept, but he had a solid day returning the ball, including a 25-yard punt return and a 33-yard kick return.
Until both teams’ primary units are out there playing to win until the final whistle is blown, we can’t pass judgment on the team as a whole. McCarthy surprised me by going for the two-point conversion to tie up the game with under two minutes to play. Figure, what’s to lose by just kicking it? You still onside kick and the field goal would still win the game for you. But, that's my preseason mentality. In the end, we saw the Mike McCarthy we got used to during the playoff run…a risk-taker who isn’t willing to let even a meaningless game go, especially when his back is against the wall. It put pressure on Harrell, who quite honestly had not played very well up until that point, but it also showed the confidence MM has in his young third-stringer. You can imagine that McCarthy and James Campen are going to be having some long conversations this week prior to the Chiefs game, trying to figure out why the line has been so leaky this preseason. The Packers are averaging almost five sacks allowed per game, and that simply cannot continue into the regular season. Don’t expect too many surprises on Tuesday, when the rosters are cut down to 80. However, there are a lot of interesting decisions to be made next week before the final cutdown, especially on the offensive side of the ball.