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Are Packers Playing It Safe During Preseason?

Coaches Mike McCarthy and Pete Carroll have the same decision to make during preseason: should I preserve or prepare my key players for the season opener?

It’s probably a forgone conclusion, based on past tendencies: McCarthy will play it safe while the Seahawks’ Carroll will have his top players get significant preseason playing time. Seattle, of course, risks having one or more of its stars miss the important week 1 battle due to injury.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Packers, regardless of how careful they try to be, will finish the preseason with their key players healthy. As you’ll recall from the 2015 preseason, Jordy Nelson suffered his ACL injury without any contact by an opposing player.

McCarthy began playing his stars sparingly in preseason games several years ago. Most of the rest of the league’s coaches are now using the same tactic. Carroll, however, continues to follow his own strategy of having his star players thoroughly battle-tested by the end of preseason.

Taking the two teams’ quarterbacks, for example, last preseason Aaron Rodgers stats were: six completions in nine attempts for one touchdown – and no sacks. Russell Wilson, meanwhile, completed 27 out of 40, for 327 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – but he was also sacked four times for a loss of 41 yards, and he ran three times. Rodgers played in just one of the team’s four preseason games last year.

Regarding the running backs, Eddie Lacy had 20 preseason carries for 114 yards and one touchdown for the Packers, trailing Brandon Burks, who had 31 carries for 120 yards. For Seattle, the projected first-string running back ran 26 times for 157 yards – that’s right, it was Christine Michael, who wound up joining the Packers 10 games into the season.

As for the receivers, the pattern, for the most, part continues. Davante Adams had five catches, Randall Cobb had three, and Jordy Nelson was held out of the preseason contests. In fact, the Green Bay player with the most catches was running back John Crockett, with 10. Justin Perillo, Jared Cook, and Jared Abbrederis followed. The Seahawks’ top receivers, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett, had five, three, and six catches respectively, with Lockett tying two others for the most preseason grabs on the team.

With each passing year, Big Mike seems to be getting more cautious with his most talented players. The stats on quarterback Rodgers prior to his nine pass attempts last preseason: 15 completions out of 24 throws, with three sacks, in 2015; 20 of 37, with one sack, in 2014; and 17 of 24, with one sack, in 2013.

To indicate how much Carroll believes in heavy contact leading up to the regular season, last September the NFL announced that the Seahawks would lose their 2017 fifth-round draft pick, a week of OTAs, the team was fined $400,000 and Carroll was personally fined $200,000. The violation was for a helmets-off practice that featured a collision between two players going for the ball. The stiff penalty followed a number of warnings to the team for similar violations of CBA safety-related provisions.

Will the Packers stick to their philosophy, or will they add to the playing time of their key players in order to be as well prepared as their week 1 opponent? We’ll find out over the next four weeks.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. GBORNBRED August 6, 2017

    There’s no reason to expect that McCarthy won’t continue his philosophy of limiting playing time for star players during the preseason. I, for one, agree with this philosophy for the following reasons:

    1. First reason is obvious; You want to limit the possibility of losing star players to injury before the regular season even starts. When Jordy Nelson went down in the 2015 preseason, it was a crushing blow, not only for Jordy himself, but for team morale as well. This one is a no-brainer.

    2. Contrary to the philosophy that Pete Carroll apparently subscribes to, I believe star players should already be battle-tested. When early-September comes around, a pent-up, yet rested star player should be ready to go that much more when it’s finally time to go balls-to-the-wall.

    3. Rookies and other younger players are those that truly need to prove themselves, and what better time for a young player to become battle-tested than during preseason? Not only is preseason the time for high-round draft picks to begin proving themselves, it’s also a perfect opportunity to discover hidden gems in the form of late-round draft picks, not to mention undrafted free agents.

    4. Finally, you can’t tell me that a few extra offensive series in the preseason for an elite QB like AR in the preseason is going to make that much of a difference. Preseason, however, is the perfect time to give backup QBs the playing time they so desperately need, no matter how much you hope and pray you never have to endure seeing them get that PT during the regular season. Furthermore, at the conclusion of this preseason, the Packers will hopefully be able to raise the ante even higher for any other team(s) willing to go all-in for Brett Hundley.

  2. Howard August 6, 2017

    I don’t recall seeing Jordy take part in any 9 or 11 on 11s last night. I thought at one point maybe he was out. I did see Jordy at the end of the scrimmage milling around with his pads on. That probably tells you how much time starters are going to see.

    I think a good half or three quarters total for the entire preseason is all you will see for starters. You can also forget about seeing primary backups play at all in the last preseason game unless they are in the dog house due to poor play or are on a bubble.

    I do agree that Seattle plays their starters more in the preseason. To clarify those fines levied against Seattle were for OTA issues (to much contact) that the Seahawks have had over at least two years, if not more. The fines did not relate to training camp.