The Green Bay Packers offense is potent, we knew that, but in their longest outing of the preseason against last year’s AFC champs, they put any doubts to rest.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who I have a hard time believing isn’t on his way to becoming the best player in the NFL, cut up the Colts defense to the tune of 21-for-29, 195 yards and three touchdowns. After some early struggles, Rodgers simply killed the Colts and went 7-for-7 on the Packers final drive before the half, which resulted in a short touchdown to James Jones.
Rodgers did all of this without his No. 1 receiver, Greg Jennings, who was inactive because of back spasms.
Jermichael Finley, meanwhile, was his usual dominant self, catching six balls for 85 yards and touchdown. I haven’t seen anyone who can match up with Finley yet and if this guy isn’t moving up your fantasy draft board, you’re an idiot.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers looked about as good as they have all preseason, despite missing starters Clay Matthews and Brad Jones. Brady Poppinga and undrafted rookie free agent Frank Zombo started in place of Matthews and Jones.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers threw some different looks at Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, but the Packers rarely rushed more than four players. Somehow, they still managed to pressure Manning, which is a very positive sign.
When Capers unveils his full game plan, the Packers defense is more likely to resemble the havoc-wreaking unit from last season, than the lethargic unit we’ve seen in the first two preseason games.
Some interesting notes…
Rookie undrafted free agent cornerback Sam Shields played extensively in the first quarter and throughout the game. Unfortunately, he got beat quite a bit. I noticed him give up at least four first downs. Brandon Underwood opened the game as the nickel back, but Shields replaced him early. Pat Lee, who is currently the Packers dime back, was a non-factor and if Thursday’s game is any indication, the Packers are giving Shields an opportunity to move ahead of Lee.
Fullback Quinn Johnson saw quite a bit of time with the No. 1 unit. This is the first time he’s played before halftime this preseason. Johnson was a guy we thought had a pretty slim chance of making the team, but he didn’t appear to hurt his chances on Thursday. Korey Hall and John Kuhn would appear to have an edge on making the team because of their special teams play, but Johnson isn’t necessarily dead in the water yet.
Tight end Tom Crabtree worked with the No. 1 offense in the two tight end set. He was targeted but overthrown by Rodgers in the second quarter and ended up catching one ball for 14 yards. Crabtree has had a solid camp, but he’s in a logjam at tight end with Finley, Donald Lee and Andrew Quarless.
Speaking of, there was an Andrew Quarless sighting. The rookie tight end caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came from Matt Flynn in the third quarter.
Guard/center Jason Spitz looks to be in real danger of getting cut. His primary position was supposed to be center after he was removed from the competition at left guard. On Thursday, Evan Dietrich-Smith opened at center with the No. 2 unit, while Spitz played guard. Spitz’s versatility may help him, but if the guy is the second best center on the team, why isn’t he playing center?
Rookie tackle/guard Bryan Bulaga was inactive with a hip flexor. That doesn’t help him in the competition at left guard, where he’s competing with Daryn Colledge for the starting spot. Something tells me Colledge opens the season as the starter.
The Packers first-team run defense was stout, except for a 48-yard run by Joseph Addai on the first drive. Nose tackle B.J. Raji was blown off the ball and defensive end Mike Neal and linebackers Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar also looked like they got abused on the play. Other than the big run, Addai only gained 12 yards on six carries.
Zombo had a nice showing for himself. He generated pressure off the edge, fared well in coverage, and forced a fumble on Manning mid-way through the third quarter. He finished with five tackles and a sack. The five tackles was second on the team. Mark this guy down for a roster spot.
Rookie strong safety Morgan Burnett made some mistakes. He was late giving help on Reggie Wayne’s 38-yard reception in the third quarter after Brandon Jackson’s fumble. That being said, he also made some big-time plays. Burnett broke up a deep pass in the first quarter that he nearly intercepted and he jumped a route in the second and picked off Manning. The latter play made him look like a veteran.
I can’t remember the last time I said this, but kudos to the special teams. The Packers scored two special teams touchdowns — the first when Hall recovered a fumble in the end zone after a muffed punt and the second on a 75-yard punt return by Jason Cherry. The Packers did give up a 58-yard kick return, but they held the Colts No. 1 returner, Brandon James, in check. James averaged only three yards per punt return and 24 per kick return.
Will Blackmon, who is supposed to be the Packers No. 1 punt returner, didn’t do anything to help his case. He averaged nine yards on three returns and muffed one punt before recovering. Interestingly, the Packers didn’t use Blackmon on kickoff returns. It looks like Blackmon’s hold on a roster spot is tenuous at best.
Tim Masthay may have moved ahead in punting competition. He hit his only punt for 53 yards and also held for kicker Mason Crosby. Chris Bryan’s two punts were for 38 and 45 yards.