At Preseason's Halfway Point, Here's What We Think We KnowPosted:Aug 19th, 2016 2:08 pm
Two games down, two to go. The next game will be the most meaningful of the preseason; the last one will be the most meaningless (except for the last few guys on the roster bubble and potential practice squaders).
First, the good news:
Eddie Lacy looks like a reasonable facsimile to the player we grew to love in his first two season. The key will be whether he grows around the middle as the season goes along. While he doesn't appear a whole lot slimmer than last season to me, he does appear much quicker and explosive. His nine carry 45 yard performance in the opening drive against the Raiders was precisely what we all wanted to see--coming against a solid, up and coming defense.
The offensive line is showing that if it stays healthy, it will be the team's strongest unit, behind QB. JC Tretter has filled in nicely for the injured Corey Linsley--maybe he'll steal the job back, after Linsley stole it from him two years ago. We all know that free agency is likely to dismantle this unit a bit after the season. So far, it looks like they will go out with a bang this season.
The defense, despite playing without Matthews, Burnett, Shields and Peppers, looks ready to take another step. The young corners held their own against Derek Carr and his weapons, granted in a game where neither team showed much. Randall and Rollins both appear to be ready to step into bigger roles and LaDarius Gunter is on the verge of being the latest in Ted Thompson's line of undrafted corners who can play. Blake Martinez looks like an improvement on the inside. He's making plays and showing a good closing burst. Datone Jones looks like he's found a home at OLB, despite the boneheaded personal foul penalty in the first quarter.
The long anticipated 2016 debut of Brett Hundley was shorter than anyone would have liked. He definitely looks the part. In the 18 or 19 minutes he played, he was very efficient--mixing in the pass with a heavy dose of the running game. His bootlegs were solid and he showed some nice zip on passes to Jared Cook and Davante Adams. The problem, of course, is his pesky ankle, which got rolled on when all world pass rusher schooled rookie Jason Spriggs (more on that in a bit). Mike McCarthy said after the game that the injury didn't appear to be as bad as the first injury. But it makes you wonder whether he can get it right in time for the opener.
Will the injury cost him the last two preseason games, denying him some invaluable and much needed experience? Can the Packers afford to trust that he'll be fine in a few weeks? Will they be forced to call Geico and buy some Matt Flynn insurance? After all, in about 15 minutes of playing time the guy earned millions of dollars. It's something to watch. Not sure we can afford to be one play away from Joe Callahan under center.
The other most noticeable bad development was the blocked punt, caused by a missed block from Gunter. The punting game is one of the team's major question marks with Masthay and Mortell duking it out, while understanding that the team could eventually grab someone off the waiver wire. Special teams was improved last season. But losing gunner Jeff Janis is a loss, as is the looming suspension for Goodson.
Since the Raiders played their starters through the first half, the Packers were able to see how their backups matched up. It gave guys like Spriggs invaluable experience--though he may not look at it that way right now. Mack had his way with the rookie, beating him several times, which is what you'd expect. No doubt, Spriggs enjoyed himself much more in the second half. But those snaps against Mack will serve him well down the road. On the flip side, the Packers' backup defense held Carr and the other Raider starters in check. A rare chance for them to play against big time players.
Finally, the news broke Thursday that the three players, and two Packers, named in the since recanted Al Jazeera report, have agreed to interviews with the NFL. While selfishly as fans, we're mostly glad to hear that they chose that route, rather than face indefinite suspensions. A part of me feels like they're dancing with the devil here. It would be different if the league claimed to have credible information regarding alleged PED use. But as Rodgers said, their CBA deal allows the commissioner unilateral power when it comes to 'conduct detrimental to the league.' Now we wait and see how this plays out. The Packers are loaded at outside linebacker, with guys like Perry, Jones, Elliott, Fackrell and McCray. But we all know that Matthews and Peppers are the heart and sole of this defense and if they miss time it would be a monumental hole in this emerging defensive unit.
Lots to learn in the final two weeks. Besides the Peppers and Matthews entanglement, what we'll be watching most closely is #87, who put the pads on and participated in individual drills before the game and appears ready to return to practice next week. Whether he plays against the Niners or not, we'll all be laser focused on his progress, and whether he slowly begins to resemble the pre-injury Jordy Nelson.