Monday, August 28, 2017

Preseason Week 3: Packers Lose in Denver, 20-17

Against the Broncos, there were some concerns about the backup offensive line and defensive front seven, but these aren't new concerns for the Green Bay Packers. The biggest problem in this game was that QB Aaron Rodgers didn't throw the ball well. He only played two series and completed 3 of 5 attempts, but one of those attempts should have been an INT if WR Davante Adams hadn't stole it away from the cornerback. But Aaron Rodgers isn't a real concern, not based on 5 attempts in a single preseason game, so there wasn't anything too bad with the loss.
The most disappointing thing about this preseason has been that I wanted to see more of the revamped secondary. Rookies CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones have played well, so the answer to the question about them is that they seem to be good so far. But other questions haven't been answered. Will Randall and Rollins be the starting CBs along with King or will CB Davon House start even if he ends up missing the entire preseason? Last season's starting CB LaDarius Gunter has been moved into a reserve role, which is good because King is a better player, and maybe even Gunter's roster spot is in jeopardy. The lineup in Denver with Randall and King outside, Rollins in the slot at cornerback, and Jones and Burnett all over the field at safety with Brice patrolling centerfield, appears to be the Packers' secondary to start the season. Then some combination of LBs Ryan, Martinez and Thomas will make up the back seven of the defense.
The second biggest disappointment is the EDGE position. Datone Jones and Julius Peppers left in the free agency, which is OK, and they added Biegel in the draft to go along with more from Fackrell. Unfortunately neither Biegel or Fackrell seem to be working out, and injuries keep appearing as Elliott has a bad back and Perry just hurt his ankle against Denver. Clay Matthews isn't known for his perfect health either, which unfortunately makes their interest in LB Ahmad Brooks seem legit. Fixing the secondary was more important this offseason but their step back at the EDGE position is a problem.

RT Bryan Bulaga missed the Denver game due to an ankle injury in practice and Jason Spriggs showed why he's still only a backup. Spriggs got beat badly a couple times by spin moves, once by Von Miller but another time by somebody else, and he hasn't shown that he's good enough to start. But maybe we're all wrong about what we see during the preseason. Last year, LG Lane Taylor had the worst preseason performance by any player I can recall. Instead of releasing him, they released Josh Sitton to open up a starting spot for Taylor, who went on to have a good 2016 season. And this is also nothing new for the Packers, who never seem to have a decent backup tackle on the roster, JC Tretter and Don Barclay in past seasons weren't the answer at tackle either. As long as Bulaga is back to start the season, maybe none of this matters.

So there's only one more preseason to game to go, though none of the starters should play and 53-man roster has probably already been decided on by the coaches and front office. Still, I'll never complain about watching more Packer football.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Preseason Week 2: Packers Defeat Redskins 21-17

I skipped writing a review of the Green Bay Packers' first preseason game of 2017 against the Eagles because I was busy at the time and many of the "problems" I saw in that first game seemed to be offseason rust (shaking off the cobwebs or pick a similar saying). And a lot of those things went away in their second preseason game, like I hoped they would.

I'm not going to write about the fringe roster battles yet (Will there be a 3rd QB battle? Which of the dozen WRs will they keep?). Right now, I'm watching to see that all the starters are all in place (they almost all are). For the bottom of the 53 man roster (and practice squad) there's still more up-and-down over the last two preseason games to see who will make the cut.

First team offense: QB Aaron Rodgers wasn't expected to play but he did (briefly). My guess is that he prefers playing on the road in the preseason, he played almost the entire 1st half back in 2015, during a preseason game in New England, one in which Tom Brady barely stepped onto the field. In any case, Rodgers stepped on the field for one drive and went 75 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown. There wasn't a big strike, in fact the longest play of the drive was a 13 yard scramble on a busted play. It was a veteran quarterback at the top of his game taking apart a 1st team defense that wasn't scheming to stop him. TE Martellus Bennett ended the drive with a touchdown catch, split wide against a single LB in coverage. It was nice to see them connect, but there's no way a defense will let a LB go outside in single coverage during the regular season. Other defenses will switch a DB or safety over.

While Rodgers was sharp, so was everybody else on the first team offense. Rookie RB Jamaal Williams got the start while RB Ty Montgomery was hurt, and he found little room to run. Maybe that's a sign that they'll still have trouble running the ball this season (free agent RG Jahri Evans wasn't the problem, he actually looked good at getting to the second level) or maybe that the Redskins spent most of their time in their base defense which is probably better against the run with an extra linebacker or two. In any case, the first team offense looks ready for the regular season to begin.

First team defense: This got a little interesting because some players were held out.
It sucks that S Josh Jones missed the game. The Redskins left their 1st team offense on the field for the entire 1st half and Jones could have used the experience. I haven't been excited about the return of Davon House as the new No. 1 CB, I don't believe he's the answer, but his absence, along with Randall's, gave second year CB Josh Hawkins a lot of playing time with the first team defense and he delivered.
I have to admit that I wrote off Hawkins after his struggles last season. He had a strong couple games to start the 2016 preseason, but then faded in the final couple. He still made enough of an impression to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but when injuries left them looking for help at cornerback, he only made a brief regular season appearance, got burned badly, and spent the rest of season hidden at the bottom of the roster. I wasn't optimistic he'd earn another roster spot this year. Instead, he's become a fierce hitter and the most exciting CB to watch in their first two preseason games. House and Randall aren't going anywhere, but based on their past performances, the starting CB job should be an open competition. If Hawkins continues to earn the top grade, then he should win the job.

The rest of the 1st team defense looked good against the Redskins' No. 1s. They slowly pulled the starters, Matthews, Daniels, and Perry all left after the first series while others played most of the 1st quarter. Kirk Cousins had his best success throwing to TEs and RBs, who were covered by linebackers, but those players might have been covered by Burnett or Jones in the regular season. Rookie CB Kevin King looked much better in his 2nd NFL game, and he's playing with a big chip on his shoulder. He actually might need to calm it down, to make sure he avoids any taunting penalties.

That might have been the last preseason game for a number of veteran starters on the offense and defense, and that's fine because they look ready for the regular season on both sides of the ball. They still enter the season with the same concerns about pass rush and pass coverage that they had all offseason, but they look as good as they're going to get with the current roster. They still have two more preseason games to go and then finalize the 53-man roster, but I'm ready for the regular season to begin.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Did WR Malachi Dupre Break Out At Packers Family Night Practice?

I don't want to make a big deal out of the Green Bay Packers' annual Family Night televised scrimmage. It's not a real game setting which makes player evaluation almost meaningless, though it is fun to watch (when it isn't getting rained out). But it was interesting to see one of their rookies make a big play on Saturday night:
I'm down on CB LaDarius Gunter after last season, in some games he was a life saver when all the other CBs were injured but in other games his obvious weaknesses were completely exposed (see NFC Championship Game). I don't think he has a long-term future with the Packers. So outplaying him isn't a super-impressive feat of strength. But this isn't the first time Dupre's name has come up in training camp and he might be a prospect who was written off too soon.

Amazingly Dupre was thought of as a 2nd round prospect, and even a Top 10 1st round prospect, by some a year ago. But he committed the cardinal sin of having a worse college season than the year before (though he led LSU in receptions and receiving yards in 2015 and 2016) in large part due to a terrible quarterback situation. He also disappointed with his measurables at the NFL combine; he wasn't actually as tall as he was listed in college, he had "small" hands, and he wasn't the fastest receiver with a 4.52 40 time.

But he is a former five-star college recruit who was a high school state champion in track-and-field. And receivers can play a lot faster than they look if they're a great route runner,. Although he measured shorter than expected at the combine, he's still over 6-2 (above average for a Packer wide receiver) and he was the 3rd best WR in the vertical jump at the combine which might mean he'll play taller than his actual height.

Still, so far all he's done is look good in practice and training camp. It's how he does, and whether he can hold onto the ball, during their preseason games that'll really matter. But he should be in a good position to see a lot of playing time because there's no need to give a lot of snaps to Nelson, Cobb and Adams. I'm curious whether they'll hold Nelson out entirely considering he tore up his knee during a preseason game in 2015. Also, QB Brett Hundley missed practically the entire 2016 preseason so the Packers are probably eager to get him throwing as much as possible. Dupre hasn't proven anything yet, but he has become one of the players I'm most eager to see during the preseason.