The Green Bay Packers erased eight mostly pitiful preseason quarters Thursday night, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 27-13 in the "dress rehearsal" game of the 2012 preseason. The Packers mostly dominated the first half of play, taking a 17-6 lead with the first-team offense and defense on the field.
After re-watching the game a couple of times this morning, I broke down the film of several key players from Thursday:
Rodgers wasn't typical Rodgers-sharp throwing the football Thursday night, but his pocket presence is such a weapon for the Packers quarterback. He has a complete understanding of how to manipulate space, either in an attempt to throw the football down field or take off and run. Thursday night was simply a clinic in how quarterbacks should maneuver in and out of the pocket.
When the Bengals got outside pressure, Rodgers calmly escaped the pocket and burned Cincinnati's two-deep looks with his legs. If you're conceding a two-deep safety look to the Packers' offense—and trust me, teams this season will—defensive coordinators better be ready to sacrifice one player to spy Rodgers. No one wants him running all over the field like Thursday (six carries, 52 yards, two TDs), but it's a weapon against a defensive look that the Packers will see a lot of in 2012.
Hard not to be impressed with Benson's Packers debut. On at least two occasions, Benson got to the line of scrimmage, stuck his foot in the ground and made the right cut back. Once in the hole, Benson absorbed first contact and picked up extra yards.
He passes the eye test of what an NFL back should look like, especially in this offense. A veteran like Benson could eat up the soft fronts that he'll likely see for most of 2012. Barring some kind of injury in practice, I don't see how Benson can't be the Week 1 starter, and he probably deserves the majority of carries.
Green started, but he looked hesitant with the football in his hands. The back that showed some explosion to the edge against the Browns appeared slow and indecisive. On the early screen play, Green needed to be more secure with football.
He's a young player, coming off an ACL injury, so there's not much reason for alarm. But given the opportunity to start, you would have liked Green to show a little more than five carries for 10 yards.
The Packers defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the night. Cincinnati got little to nothing running the football (14 carries for 32 yards from running backs), and the the pocket was sloppy for Andy Dalton on most drop backs. In fact, Dalton had 20 official drop backs Thursday night, and I counted at least 10 times where the pocket either got uncomfortable or the Packers applied pressure that directly led to a negative play. That would have been an unheard-of ratio in 2011.
Second-round pick Jerel Worthy clearly had his best game as a pro. Playing mostly in the nickel, Worthy knifed into the backfield a couple of times to flush Dalton out of the pocket. He also whiffed on a sure sack in the second quarter. It was an encouraging appearance for Worthy and the rest of the defensive line.
Nick Perry and Dezman Moses
Both Perry and Moses stuck out on film.
On the Bengals' second play from scrimmage, Perry blew up the tight end on the edge and helped Ryan Pickett bring down the ball carrier for no gain. A drive later, Perry bull-rushed the tight end right into Dalton's lap, forcing a bailout and throw away. Setting the edge on running plays won't be a problem for the powerful outside linebacker, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't get 6-7 sacks this season by simply beating an in-line tight end on the strong side.
Moses simply makes plays. He's all over the field with the second unit, whether it is creating pressure on the quarterback or dropping into space. Moses did them both well Thursday night. On a third-and-4 play, Moses dropped in the middle of the field and laid a whack on the Bengals' receiver running a short crossing route. Cincinnati ended up a yard short and had to punt. He's a lock for this football team.
The Williams on display Thursday night was the closest we've seen to the 2010 version in some time. Facing one of the game's best young receivers in A.J. Green, Williams played physical at the line and gave very little space downfield. Green caught just one pass for three yards on six targets. Only a nice throw-and-catch from Dalton to Brandon Tate beat Williams Thursday night.
His best series came during the second quarter, as Williams stayed glued to Green and knocked away two throws that likely would have been touchdowns. He probably should have intercepted the second pass, but the play was impressive nonetheless.
There's nothing new to take away from Thursday's film on Harrell. He's still working behind an offensive line that would be backups at the University of Wisconsin, but Harrell again struggled with ball placement.
You have to wonder whether playing behind that line has actually hurt Harrell more than helped him. His footwork in the pocket is regressing, but can you blame him? It's very difficult to evaluate him given the circumstances.
- Erik Walden was unblockable during a three-play stretch near the goal line. He pressured Dalton into a throw-away on the first play, blew up the run on the second and then sacked Dalton to finish the stand. As a backup, Walden still has value on this football team.
- Right before the half, the Packers threw a three-man defensive line of Perry, Worthy and Mike Daniels at Dalton. The rookies each played a role in pressuring Dalton out of the pocket and into a throw-away.
- Diondre Borel has probably blown his chance to make this team. The opportunities have been scarce, but he has two drops this preseason that would have resulted in first downs for the second-team offense. Can't have that. Tori Gurley hasn't done much to warrant a spot either, but he's hard to grade with the ineffectiveness up front and at quarterback on the No. 2 offense.
- Jamari Lattimore has secure his spot on the 53-man roster. He's really embraced a switch to inside linebacker, and I think he's beat out fifth-round pick Terrell Manning for the job. Cutting Manning is still very much in the cards.
- Not much Casey Hayward could do on the backshoulder touchdown throw in the second half. Tough route, good throw.
- The hot and cold of Sam Shields was on full display. He made a diving interception, then one play later got smoked by an undrafted free agent down the near sidelines. Consistency is not Shield's strong point.