The Green Bay coaches had a long list of things they wanted to accomplish in their preseason opener against the Houston Texans Saturday night. Clearly, winning the game was at or near the bottom. Shortly before kick-off, the Packers released a list of thirty players, fully one-third of their roster, who would not suit up for the game. The non-participants included all of the team’s best players. It didn’t take long to realize there was simply not enough talent remaining on the field to be competitive.
What the coaches did get was a useful sixty minute evaluation of their reserve and borderline players. With such a collection of youth, unfamiliarity and inexperience playing the game, mistakes could be expected. And there were many. Coaches had to be a bit disappointed at the lack of execution and physicality, especially in the trenches, on both sides of the ball.
Yet, even in the face of a 26 to 7 drubbing, there were some encouraging signs. Jordan Love for example. The offensive line in front of him, missing its three best tackles, gave him no running game. The Packers had a total of three yards rushing while Love was playing. The pass protection wasn’t much better. Predictably, the offense began with two 3 and outs. The lone drive where things began to click, was the third series.
A quarterback in the NFL makes his living on third down. If you can’t make big plays on third down, you can’t play in this league. On third and nine at his own 13 yard line, Love looped a beautiful pass down the deep middle to a wide open Jace Sternberger for 34 yards. What followed was a glimpse of what Packer fans hope to see for the next decade or so. Love, dropping back, firing darts on schedule into tight windows, moving the team steadily downfield. The drive ended with Love deftly executing a screen pass to Kylin Hill who ran 23 yards for the score.
That was pretty much it. The rest of the night saw drives scuttled by mistakes, turnovers, and mediocre play. After the touchdown, Love would complete three more passes for 24 yards, one of them a nifty 16 yarder over the middle to Devin Funchess. Love fumbled the ball away once when left tackle Yosh Nijman was beaten badly, and Love’s arm was hit as he was cocking it back. Coach Matt LaFleur would later say the turnover was partly Love’s fault for dropping too deep.
Love tweaked his shoulder on the play and did not return in the second half. He finished 12 of 17 for 122 yards, one score, and a QBR of 117.4. 89 of the yards came on the touchdown drive. Considering the lack of first team talent around him, it was about as good as you could expect. I would have liked to see him use his legs to make a few plays. One instance in particular, on third down, Love stepped up in the pocket and looked as though he could have run for the first, but instead took a checkdown which ended up short. Most young signal callers trust their legs before their arm. Love will learn to balance the two.
Other players who helped themselves:
Certainly Devin Funchess, with six catches for 70 yards, including a spectacular grab on a throw over the middle. He played like a guy who’s not only going to make the team, but who will challenge for the number two receiver position.
Malik Taylor also showed some dependability with five receptions for fifty. He served notice he isn’t ready to concede his spot on the roster to the newcomers just yet.
Kylin Hill ran the screen pass beautifully into the end zone. He also had runs of 8 yards and 5 yards. Unfortunately, the 8 yarder was called back, and the 5 yarder was neutralized when Hill was tackled for losses three times due to a lack of blocking. He would seem to be the leader in the clubhouse for the number three running back spot.
Dexter Williams ran well late in the game, albeit against the bottom of the Texans roster. Patrick Taylor looked a bit slow by comparison, with 22 yards in nine rushes.
Oren Burks wants to play. He was active and physical. He had a sack and led the defense by playing a role in six tackles. He was almost too aggressive, getting penalized for roughing the passer. He recognizes there is an opportunity at inside linebacker. He’s also in a contract year.
Rookie defensive back Shemar Jean-Charles had a nice PBU, and Kabian Ento had an interception. Vernon Scott made a diving knockdown of a pass at the goal line.
Players who didn’t help themselves:
It’s revealing when you’re a cornerback in the first preseason game and the opposing team targets you over and over. That was the case with Josh Jackson, who struggled to cover and allowed several completions in front of him. His play opened the door for Jean-Charles and Ento to move past him.
Tackle Yosh Nijman had a rough night. If Jordan Love’s shoulder injury turns out to be serious, Nijman will likely get the blame. The Packers can’t rely on potential much longer. It’s time for Yosh to start performing.
The other tackle, Dennis Kelly, also struggled. He gets a pass because he is new to the team, but Green Bay needs better if he is to be the third tackle.
New special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton does a great media session, but his units played as dreadful as ever. They gave up two long punt returns, a fumbled punt reception, and the inability to return a kickoff to the 25 yard line. Drayton probably also deserves a pass because he was working with the bottom of the roster, but that’s generally who plays on the special team units.
No one would blame Matt LaFleur if he chooses to withhold all of his good players throughout the preseason. After all, the main goals in August are to get a good read on your new talent, and to get to week one as healthy as possible. Winning games? He’ll worry about that in September.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.