The Green Bay Packers’ first preseason game against the Houston Texans is almost here, and as always, there will be a lot to keep our eyes on.
Most of us are aware of the obvious things to watch for—such as the position battles at edge, cornerback, receiver, running back, and more. Which key players to watch closely, such as rookies TJ Slaton and Eric Stokes, along with Jon Runyan and Ben Braden, to name a few. And of course, we all can’t wait to see how Jordan Love performs in his first NFL game.
There are others that I didn’t mention, but you get the idea. Through training camp, the many articles written, and various podcasts, we mostly know what to be on the lookout for this Saturday.
However, what I wanted to do was try and find a few less obvious items worth keeping track of—and hopefully, I did that. These are items that might not have gotten as much attention as what was previously mentioned, but they are still important.
In doing so, I came up with three things in particular that are worth monitoring as the Green Bay Packers take on Houston.
The Joe Barry Defense
This will be the first time that the Green Bay Packers’ defense takes the field with Joe Barry as defensive coordinator, not to mention that it is a preseason game, so from a scheme standpoint, what we see is going to be pretty vanilla.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t see anything new either. As Packer Report’s Ross Uglem laid out beautifully in this year’s Cheesehead TV Draft Guide, there will be plenty of noticeable differences in Barry’s scheme compared to Mike Pettine’s.
For starters, the defensive front will contain a 0-tech defender, along with a pair of 4i-tech defenders, and of course, the edge rushers. With this defensive front alignment, it should make life easier for the linebackers, so do we see them making more plays than what we have in the past?
There will also be late movement by the safeties to throw off the quarterback. When meeting with reporters, Aaron Rodgers mentioned that on one particular play early on, as he was about to release the ball, Darnell Savage was in a completely different spot than where Rodgers anticipated him being based on his pre-snap alignment. The result was a win for the defense on that rep.
We should also see the safeties playing closer to the line of scrimmage, more lightboxes, and plenty of two-high safety looks as well. We’ve also heard from several players throughout training camp — particularly along the defensive front — that they have the freedom to move around more in an effort to find favorable matchups–so do we see more pre-snap movement?
The special teams unit is often the forgotten about group in football, but during this time of the year, it’s special teams play that is going to determine several of the final roster spots. If you’re a sixth cornerback or a fourth edge rusher, for example, and likely not going to see many snaps on the defensive side of the ball, you better be able to contribute on special teams, otherwise, what are you adding to this roster?
Over the course of several different press conferences, Matt LaFleur has discussed the importance of special teams contributions for those back-end of the roster players. OLB coach Mike Smith went as far as to say that it will be special teams play that will determine who the fourth edge rusher is–Tipa Galeai or Jonathan Garvin.
So with that in mind, try to take note of which players are with the starting special teams unit, as well as who is taking the most snaps. But just as importantly, also take note of which players don’t see many reps during the game–that can be equally as telling. And of course, how do they perform?
Some key positions where special teams are going to play a major role in carving out the back-end of the depth chart include receiver, edge rusher, cornerback, running back, linebacker, and safety.
Jordan Love’s Footwork and Progressions
At the end of the day, every single Jordan Love pass is going to be heavily scrutinized, and his final numbers on the stat sheet are going to be how many define his performance. But at this stage of Love’s young career, it’s very much about the process over the results–it’s not like he has to be the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback tomorrow. And two big areas of emphasis for him have been his footwork and making sure that he goes through his progressions.
“The main goal for me right now is that he just progresses properly, that he plays with his eyes and his feet,” said QB coach Luke Getsy via Packers.com. “If his eyes and his feet tell him to move in his progression, I want him to move in his progression. So if defense is taking something away, we need to progress. I don’t want him to think he needs to force something down the field.”
Doing these two things well is going to set Love up for success before the ball even leaves his hands, and in turn, can help inflate his stat line.
Throughout training camp so far, we’ve seen a very inconsistent Jordan Love–on one play, he will make a brilliant throw, and the next one will be way off. Not every time, of course, but oftentimes those errant throws can be tied to his footwork on that specific throw. It’s a part of his game that he is seen working on every day with Getsy, Nathaniel Hackett, as well as Aaron Rodgers.
So as the game unfolds on Saturday, does Love look balanced when he’s delivering the ball? Or does he stay on his back foot? Do his feet stay active in the pocket? And as he scans the field, do his feet move with him?
In the several practices I’ve been to, when Love’s first read is open, he oftentimes delivers a very good pass to his receiving target. But as we all know, that isn’t always going to be the case, and he is going to have to bounce from one read to the next.
During the annual Family Night practice, there was a great example of when Love went through his progressions. On a deep out-route to Funchess, you could see Love working his way across the field from left to right before finding Devin along the sidelines. It was difficult to tell, but my guess is that Funchess was the third read on that play, and moving forward, we want to see more of this from the young quarterback.
So if Love’s first read isn’t there on Saturday, do his eyes keep progressing to the next read? If he feels pressure, do his eyes stay downfield? Or does his head drop and he’s looking to get out of the pocket?
Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl.