With the exception of Family Night, for the first time since winning the XLV crown, the Green Bay Packers will play in front of the Lambeau faithful. Expect the crowd to be incredibly rowdy. Expect the Packers to play with a sense of urgency. Expect the Packers to walk away with their first win of the preseason.
A fan can only take away so much from the first preseason game. It only carries so much weight, but nonetheless, it was great to see the defending champions take the field once again. It was refreshing. Officially, football is back. Here are some thoughts that I took with me after Saturday's preseason opener in Cleveland:
* I enjoyed the no-huddle offense. For those that have followed the blog for a bit, you know that I'm a staunch McCarthy supporter. I'm not sure why he went to the no-huddle, but I liked it. Was it possibly to give the Saints something to chew on in preparation for the Regular Season opener? Or was it to ignite a fire under this team? Let's be honest - back-ups or not - the first possession for the offense and the defense did not go the way any of us wanted it to. In my mind, the no-huddle was quite possibly McCarthy's way of installing a sense of urgency in the team. Clearly, the results were scintillating. The intensity picked up. Rodgers responded with brilliance - pure precision. Regardless of the reason, props to McCarthy.
* Quick RB thoughts: Starks played the way he left off last year. Quick to the corner. Powerful. Interesting to see him only running out of single back formations. Meanwhile, Grant was clearly getting used to contact once again. Additionally, Grant was mainly seen running out of 2-back sets. Dmitri Nance didn't leave a lasting impression. I thought Brandon Saine did some nice things. He looked like a solid practice squad player. I'm interested in seeing more of him this week. He caught the ball well. He was shifty at the line of scrimmage and seemed to have a grasp for finding the hole.
* At WR: Great to see Jennings snatch the ball out of the air and find pay-dirt! How epic was it to watch Randall Cobb? He was sensational. Not only did he grab 3 balls, but he also drew 2 penalties as defenders couldn't keep up with his quickness as he came out of his breaks. Also, in the 2nd Quarter, on 3rd & 6 from the 13, Cobb was WIDE OPEN over the middle. Prior to the play, I thought he should have been the hot read. Flynn looked to the outside and threw incomplete to Chastin West. Had he looked towards Cobb, it would have been 6 points. Speaking of Chastin West, he left plenty to be desired. So did Gurley. Granted, I haven't seen much. Truly, a small sample size. But, from what I watched, both were practice squad material. Kerry Taylor had a couple of nice grabs and should be in competition for a practice squad role.
* To no one's surprise, TE is clearly a position of strength. Pleased to see AQ81 grabbing a couple of Rodgers passes. Crabtree had a solid game as a blocker. Ryan Taylor was dynamite. Fighting for each inch after the catch. Not to get ahead of myself, but wearing #82, he reminded me of Paul Coffman! DJ Williams looked athletic snatching the ball out of the air. On the sack-fumble-TD play, clearly, either he or TJ Lang missed the blitz pick-up.
* McCarthy's desire to have versatility on the OL was ever present. In part, this is why we saw the consistent shifting of Sherrod & Lang from LG to LT. It's also partially why we saw Newhouse playing RT. In the past, as the Packers have declared inactives on Game Day, they often are left with only 7 active OL. Thus, it was a chance for each to display the versatility that they offer. I'm high on Newhouse, but man, he was awful at RT. Sherrod and Lang were both average. At times, Lang did a decent job of getting to the 2nd line of defense. On Starks' 9-yard run, Lang whiffed. Had he made the block, it's anyone's guess as to how long Starks could have run. Ray Dominguez also struggled at RT.
* On the DL, it was nice to see Mike Neal make a play at the line of scrimmage. Raji was also disruptive on 2nd and short when Morgan Burnett stepped up to finish the play. Howard Green goes Johnny Jolly and swats a pass to the floor! CJ Wilson with a nice move to get into the backfield, but he wasn't able to finish the play as B-Jack shed his tackle. Lawrence Guy showed enough effort to keep me enthused.
* At OLB, there were deficiencies as Zombo bit on a play fake and lost containment. Walden got beat down the seam. Brad Jones was non-existent. Ricky Elmore looked like he couldn't play. He might be kept as a practice squad player, but in my mind, he was the worst of the OLB we saw on Saturday night. I was pleasantly surprised with Vic So'oto. I haven't read nor heard much about him at camp. I thought he played well. Gave strong effort. He looked like a solid candidate to make the team, especially if the Packers begin to experiment with Brad Jones at ILB. Lattimore looks to light to make an impact.
* The least amount of depth on the roster is at ILB. Bishop and Hawk must stay healthy. DJ Smith showed promise. Played with passion. He offers hope and appears to have a future in the league. Francois was a non-factor. Peanut Joseph couldn't shed a block. If the Packers could take a look at Brandon Chillar at OLB last year, there is no reason to not sneak a peak at Brad Jones at ILB. The first time I watched Jones play football was when he played for Colorado at WVU. For the most part, he shadowed Pat White all game. He was able to get sideline to sideline. He applied some pressure up the gut. It's worth a look.
* In the non-breaking news category: Pat Lee can't play in this league. Thanks for playing a role in the Super Bowl, Pat, but, your time as a Packer is over. The same can be said for J-Bush. I'm so anxious to see Davon House. This Rastaman needs to get healthy! I'm jonesin' for some Davon House. I also want to see more of Brandian Ross. Josh Gordy making the most of his opportunity with the sack and an interception was cause for excitement. If the Packers are to keep 5 CB - at this stage - I'd hope they would be Sir Charles, T-Mon, Sammy Swagga, Ras-Davon, and Gordy.
* Safety also appears to be a position of depth. Nintendo Nick is a Pro Bowler. Morgan Burnett played well in limited action. While Peprah was not at his best against the Browns, he can play on my team any day after the way he elevated last year. MD Jennings looked like a natural playing the ball in the air. Levine was solid in run support and on special teams. And don't sleep on Bratton. Kid played really well in the box. He was in on the action with 3 solo tackles. I liked the way Bratton stuck his nose into each play. He's a fighter.
* Interesting stat of the day: On August 14, 2010, the Cleveland Browns beat the Green Bay Packers in a preseason opener, 27-24. On August 13, 2011, the Cleveland Browns beat the Green Bay Packers in a preseason opener, 27-17. We know how 2010 ended. Let's hope the same happens in 2011.
This week - it's the Arizona Cardinals. And, this much we already know, the Cardinals cannot stop Aaron Rodgers. In 2009, Rodgers torched the Cardinals in the preseason, in the Regular Season and in the playoffs. Though the Cardinals added Patrick Peterson in the draft, they'll be without the departed DRC and Adrian Wilson, who is injured. Expect Rodgers to go to work.
Early in the game, Rodgers tries Nelson on a deep ball. And connects. 7-0 Green Bay.
Arizona will be fun to follow with the Kevin Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald combination. It's also a make or break year for Beanie Wells. I also like the prospects of Ryan Williams. I feel his talents translate to a solid NFL career.
Look for the Packers to play their full compliment of starters into the 2nd Quarter. With Sammy Swagga healthy and Sir Charles on the field, we get to see the wicked secondary that has tormented opposing QB's in the past. I'll be shocked if the Cardinals have the success that the Browns had last week - regardless of how vanilla the defense is playing.
With Starks ailing and the Packers being cautious, it's Grant who sees early carries. He shows a burst and gets to the 2nd level. With the Packers in the Red Zone and J-Mike seeing his first live action since returning from injury, Rodgers finds him in the corner of the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
As the starters exit, showing consistent effort, Vic So'oto grabs a sack. Lawrence Guy continues to push the pocket with heavy pursuit and consistent determination. CJ Wilson makes a play in the backfield as Ryan Williams tries to spring a play to the outside. Since the Packers will be playing with a lead, Bratton won't be playing as an 8th man in the box. Instead, we'll see his coverage skills. He drops well. I predicted it last week and I was wrong, but I'm sticking with it, this week, he grabs a pick!
On offense, Flynn finds Cobb over the middle. Running a skinny post out of the slot, Cobb is loose and in the open field. We witness his first TD as a Packer.
We see the first of Alex Green in the Green & Gold. Running with a bounce in his step, he finds his way for a double digit gain. Saine gets in on the action and powers into the end zone from 5 yards out.
This one is a blowout.
Green Bay 31. Arizona 13.
Go Pack Go.