Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Preseason: Packers 3, Seattle 21. "Wretched. Just plain wretched" were the words used by Bob McGinn to open his column about the first preseason game. McGinn was primarily commenting on the awful performances by QB Tim Couch and P B.J. Sander. Overall, the Packers had a poor performance, but the first team offense played well, there were no turnovers, some players had outstanding individual performances, and the mental mistakes and penalties were as good as could be expected for the first preseason game.

First Quarter: The first team offense played well, although they only scored 3 points on 2 drives. QB Brett Favre threw 5 completions to 5 different receivers, the big one a 19 yard pass to RB Tony Fisher. Fisher was wide open because the Seattle cornerback to that side of the field blitzed late. Favre's two incompletions were an incomplete-almost touchdown to WR Donald Driver and an incompletion in the end zone to backup TE David Martin. On the pass to Martin, Seattle had starting CB Ken Lucas cover him, which should tell Favre (again) that the entire NFL knows he likes to throw deep to his tight end and that is hasn't worked since 1996. RB Ahman Green ran well considering C Mike Flanagan and LG Mike Wahle sat out. TE Bubba Franks had a great game; catching one pass and opening a giant running lane on a run off left tackle for Green.

The starting defense played flat, like it did during most 1st quarters last season. The Packers run defense played well (although ESPN's Paul McGuire thought otherwise) and RB Shawn Alexander only had 10 yards on 5 carries. Seattle tried to run at DE KGB but he played great run defense. On 3rd down, the Packers called on DE Cullen Jenkins (who?) to rush from right defensive end opposite KGB. Jenkins didn't have much success in the 1st quarter, but he showed why he had this opportunity in the 4th quarter. The Packers couldn't stop Seattle on 3rd down; on one play, a late cornerback blitz left WR Bobby Ingram wide open for the conversion, and on another play, a ineffective linebacker blitz left the middle open and WR Darrell Jackson blew by CB Michael Hawthorne for the reception. Seattle picked on Hawthorne, which should continue to happen in the regular season, unless CB Mike McKenzie returns. Seattle had some success throwing to TE Jerramy Stevens, but LB Na'il Diggs was not playing (is he injured?) who ordinarly would be responsible for the tight end. The blitzes were not hidden or very effective (I counted 2 out of 5 blitzes created QB pressure), but in the preseason, the Packers wouldn't show off their real blitz packages. The TD run by Seattle FB Mack Strong had to be a missed assignment (NT Grady Jackson jumped out of the way and it looked like LB Torrance Marshall didn't jump into the Jackson's spot fast enough).

Second Quarter: The wheels come off. CB Ahmad Carroll was returning kicks instead of RB Najeh Davenport. Why? Hopefully Davenport is still number 1 on kickoffs and Carroll is number 2, however Carroll needs the practice more than Davenport. The second unit offense, with who's that at left and right tackle (LT Atlas Herrion and RT Jason Jimenez), was awful. No running lanes for Davenport and weak pass protection. I would expect that OL Steve Morley is the real backup left tackle, OL Kevin Barry is the real backup right tackle, but they both played at guard tonight because they are the backups at those positions too and they need more practice at guard. QB Tim Couch was awful. Wretched. The rest of the second team offense didn't help him, but Couch was not following through with his passes, his accuracy was off, and that hitch in his delivery can't be helping him. Couch might be injured, but who knows. Let's see if he improves during the preseason. QB Seneca Wallace has little chance of success in the NFL (at best he will have QB Jeff Blake's career) but the Packers second team defense made him look respectable (and made ESPN's anchors gush about Wallace). Backup NT Larry Smith did not hold the line well and gave RB Maurice Morris some cutback opportunities, plus the 3rd quarter gave Smith reason to worry about his backup nose tackle spot and potentially his spot on the roster. Smith played well with limited opportunities in 2003, but he has a roster battle on his hands. CB Bhawon Jue looked awful Monday night, he had an awful (and wretched) 2003 season, and he missed at least two assignments and tackles in the 2nd quarter. Carroll got a big pass interference call, WR Alex Bannister actually started the grabing, but Carroll grabed last and drew the penalty. All the backups played in the secondary and they looked confused, for example when they forgot to cover WR Jerheme Urban for a wide open TD pass.

Third and Fourth Quarter: I decided to lump the two quarters together, because in both quarters the Packers second (third/fourth) team offense wasn't productive in any way (couldn't pass, couldn't run), and the Packers second (third/fourth) team defense played well but spent too much time on the field and got tired. The Packers offense gave Sander plenty of opportunity to punt and he looked awful. Wretched. He didn't kick a single punt longer than 40 yards, and only a couple of his 10 punts had good hang time. He is supposed to be a quality directional kicker, but none of his kicks were anywhere near the end zone (he was kicking from Packer territory) so it was hard to tell. Backups WR Carl Ford, WR Scotty Vines, and TE Tony Donald had plenty of playing time, but the offense was struggling so bad, it was hard to tell if any of them played well. QB Doug Pederson had a lot of opportunities, but he wasn't effective. The first play of the second half was a run that was stuffed when third string NT James Lee got into Seattle's backfield. It was like starting nose tackle Jackson was still in the game. Depth at nose tackle was a concern with the injury to rookie DT Donnell Washington, but Lee just turned the position into a strength. Lee repeatedly beat Seattle's offensive line into the backfield and had an effect on every run play Seattle ran in the 2nd half. The Packers secondary played much better in this quarter, which is not surprising since they had never played together before this game. LB Steve Josue had a big hit, but he still has a roster battle on his hands (the Packers have good depth at linebacker this season). LB Marcus Wilkens played well on the outside, and he looks recovered from his 2003 injuries. Jenkins, the defensive end who is the brother of Pro Bowl DT Kris Jenkins from Carolina, had a fantastic spin move in the 4th quarter and got a sack. Jenkins does not have a guaranteed contract, so he slipped through the cracks, and I hadn't noticed him yet this preseason. He looked good in the 4th quarter, played very well in NFL Europe this spring, played with the first team defense in the 1st quarter, and it looks like he will be in the Packers' defensive line rotation this season.

Overall, the Packers offense looked awful without Favre in the game, which should come as a surprise to no one. The Packers defensive line and linebackers played well, but the secondary is a work in progress, which is what should be expected of it at this point. The special teams didn't have any big kick returns, K Ryan Longwell looked as good as ever (accurate but without much strength), and Sander looked awful (which is disappointing but not unexpected because of his poor reviews so far in minicamps and training camp). The disappointments were not surprising and some players were much better than expected. It was a good start to the preseason, although it would be even better to actually win the game.

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