9

August

Packers – Chargers Preseason Preview: Answers Are Coming

Aaron Rodgers

The Packers open up the 2012 preseason tonight against the Chargers

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re here.  Green Bay Packers football is back.

Yes it’s only the preseason opener, but after a long offseason and a few weeks of the Packers playing against the Packers in training camp the Green and Gold finally get to face off against someone in a uniform of a different color.

Tonight the Packers face off against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in the first of four exhibition games.   Last season, the Packers beat the Chargers 45-38 in Week 9 to move to 8-0 on the year.  The Packers nearly blew the game in the fourth quarter but hung on for the win.

With starters for both teams only expected to see only a few series of action, this is a game in which the second and third string units get a chance to shine and prove that they belong on the roster when the regular season kicks off in earnest on September 9.

The Packers face a plethora of questions as they begin to shape their opening day roster.  Will they keep six wide receivers? How about the tight ends?  Who will be starting at cornerback opposite Tramon Williams with Charles Woodson now at safety in the base defense?  Will the pass rush be improved?

Those questions and more have been at the forefront of Packer fans’ minds all offseason and tonight’s game is only the first small step towards answering them.

Here are some things to watch as the Packers open the 2012 preseason:

The corner battle:  Many a fan shuddered when the Packers released their initial depth chart and showed Jarrett Bush as the starter opposite Williams.  Bush is known as a decent special teams player but has been shaky to say the least in pass protection.  After Sam Shields’ well documented struggles in 2011, Bush is the next man up to take a shot at the starting job vacated by Woodson’s move to safety.

The questioning entering this (and the following) preseason game is how Bush will hold up.  He faces a challenge in Philip Rivers and his cast of receivers.  Even though Vincent Jackson is no longer on the roster, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal should give Bush a chance to show off his skills in pass coverage.

The same goes for Casey Heyward and Shields.  Shields no doubt wants to get the job back that he held the previous season and Heyward has been impressive so far in camp.  Shields is out for this game so this is a big opportunity for Heyward.

Is Graham Harrell worthy?: With Matt Flynn having gone to Seattle in free agency, Harrell naturally has moved up to the number two spot behind Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ quarterback depth chart.  Harrell played decently in the preseason last year including leading the Packers to a last minute win against the Colts but once again found himself on the practice squad until late in the regular season.

Harrell has had an up and down camp so far this year.  With the Packers adding BJ Coleman in the seventh round pick of this spring’s NFL Draft, Harrell is by no means guaranteed to be the backup behind Rodgers although it seems like it is his to lose.

Rodgers will likely only see a series or two against the Chargers, so this is Harrell’s first big chance to prove he has what it takes to lead the Packers’ offense should something catastrophic happen to Rodgers during the regular season.  Harrell’s experience gives him a leg up over the raw Coleman who has shown good arm strength but has struggled with accuracy during camp.

Return of the blitz: It’s no secret that the Packers struggled defensively in 2011.  It also became apparent that GM Ted Thompson though the defense held the team back from achieving its ultimate goal last year and took steps in the draft and (GASP!) free agency to address the issue.

The Packers used their first round pick on Nick Perry out of USC to help bring in some pass rush relief for Clay Matthews and then selected Jerel Worthy out of Michigan State in the second round to help the defensive line become more disruptive.

Thompson also signed Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir in free agency although Hargrove may or may not be available for half the regular seasons thanks to his supposed role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. Muir returns to the Packers after spending the past four years in Indianapolis and it’s hoped that he can help keep Raji’s snap count down which may have contributed to The Freezer’s lackluster 2011 campaign after a stellar 2010.

This is perhaps the area most fans will be interested in.  If the Packers can restore some semblance of a blitz and even if the offense has a slight drop in point production, then the Packers should be ready to roll in 2012.  Against the Chargers, the defense gets a chance to face Rivers who is still considered an elite quarterback despite his worst season in 2011. It should be a good measurement to see where this unit stands exactly as the 2012 regular season creeps closer.

They say no impression is quite like a first impression and if the Packers show enough promise against the Chargers, even in defeat in a meaningless game, then that could go a long way towards quenching the fears some fans have had about the defense since the abrupt conclusion to the 2011 season.

Prediction:

Packers 20, Chargers 17

It says here Rodgers performs well in his one or two series then gives way to Harrell and Coleman who will struggle initially to put up points.  The defense shows some baby steps to give some hope to fans that the unit will be improved enough in 2012 that they can hold their own should their high octane offense ever experience an off day like they did against the Giants in the playoffs.

Keep in mind it is only one game and a preseason game at that.  No conclusions should be drawn, but some paranoid fans will.  The team likely will be rusty so keep this in mind as the preseason goes on.  Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers never show their full hands during the four exhibition games.

If something seems off, relax.  It’s preseason.

Regardless, Packers football is back. Oh, how we have missed thee.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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12 Responses to “Packers – Chargers Preseason Preview: Answers Are Coming”

  1. Ron LC says:

    That’s a comprehensive list of things to watch, Kris. Two things I want to see are tackling in the open field (especailly Tramon Williams with his apparently still recovering nerve in his shoulder) and the play of the Oline fill-ins. Both will be critical to a successful season.

    This will be the first time anyone, including the reporters, will see live game conditions. Let the judgments on talent begin now. Disregard everything you’ve heard to-date.

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  2. Mr. Bacon Mr. Bacon says:

    San Diego should have fired A.J. Smith and Norv Turner, but that doesn’t matter now cause it’s the Packers that are important. Aaron will probably do 2 Drives and then be done for the day.

    I suppose Harrell will do alot of throwing because the RB’s are pilling up the injuries.

    What I want to see tonight is pure Defensive Line pressure. I want to see the OLine pushed back by Worthy and Raji. Make me believe that we can actually put fear in QB knowing that he can’t always just fear Clay Matthews.

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  3. CSS says:

    What I’m looking for:

    *Are the young receivers/tight ends willing blockers down the field?

    *Very interested to see how the young linebackers attack the line of scrimmage, particularly Lattimore and Manning.

    *Can Perry and Moses turn the corner and show a variety of moves, not overly concerned about getting tot he QB now, want to see a baseline for growth.

    *Can Harrell (more importantly, is he willing) to drive the ball down the field, especially outside the hashes?

    *How does the young defensive backfield break down in space? Deep speed and athletic ability are not a concern, how do they transition against double-moves and break on the ball?

    *Most importantly, who generates the optimum butt-sweat at center?

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    • Turophile says:

      I project the overall strength of the DB unit as something special going forward.

      Williams is recovering from the shoulder nerve damage and should be like his old self, Shields has had starter experience and great speed, but is still a project to be a complete player. We must remember he used to be a WR, so he still has upside. House and Hayward are having a gripping camp competition as they battle for maximum playing time, once the regular season starts.

      M.D.Jennings and McMillian look to be quality backups this year and one of them will likely take over from 15th year vet Woodson, in 2013. Burnett is still improving and has gained confidence as his understanding becomes deeper.

      I also love the competition for ILB.

      A.J.Hawk seems to be vulnerable to being surpassed by D.J.Smith and I hope the coaches learned from having waited too long to plug in Bishop as the starter over Barnett. It is easy for coaches to be too cautious replacing a guy, because the final steps to honing talent come with playing. So, you may need the cojones to put in a (temporarily) slightly less reliable player, with more talent and upside than the incumbent. I want to see D.J.Smith playing more this year and Francois, Lattimore and Manning appearing in spot duty, too. You cannot learn defense if you are only on ST.

      I do believe every player I mentioned makes the final 53. Zombo, Brad Jones, Turner, Ross, Merrill, Richardson, Pellerin, Levine, will all have to fight like mad to make the final cut.

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      • CSS says:

        The only part I’ll quibble with a bit is the Bishop thing. It feels like fans are looking at his rise to become a starter through some rose colored glasses where the product we see now was obviously there his first few years, only the coaching staff couldn’t get it.

        Early in his career he played overly emotional and out of control, he absolutely deserved to ride the pines until he could harness his energy/passion and play within the defensive scheme without being a liability. I would argue the coaching staff played that spot-on.

        Bishop still gets caught guessing on occasion when he presses to make something happen instead of playing under control.

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        • Oppy says:

          What some fans forget is that Bishop was given opportunities to earn more playing time early in his career, and he squandered those opportunities with wildly inconsistent play.

          A defensive coordinator will take a guy who’s perhaps not a splash player but a steady-Eddie type over another player who might make an impact play one down, then blow his assignment the next. Coaches don’t like the feeling they can’t trust a player to be where he’s supposed to be.

          Early on, Bishop was inexperienced and he played like it; not assignment sure. It earned him time on the pine. He eventually came into his own, found consistency, and became a starter. Count me as a fan who think the Packers played the timing with Bishop perfectly.

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      • Kris Burke Kris Burke says:

        A few beat writers have even put Hawk in danger of being cut. I’m not sure how likely that is given the cap hit the Packers would take, but it shows how enamored the coaches are with DJ Smith

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  4. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor12 says:

    Like TT,I don’t like Packers against Packers as you don’t get a true read on the effort on either side of the ball.

    The only way to see what a player has is in actual contact against another who wants a job on a team that isn’t the same as yours.

    But,for what I expect to be very little playtime for DD,I want to see him shake the LBs as easy as he has our own and get those down field opens as he has against our DBs in practice so to justify why he should be on the team at the expense of our’young hopefuls’.

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  5. Mojo says:

    Normally in the first preseason game the starters go a series or two before the backups come in. But for the Pack, their are so many scrubs injured I wonder if they keep some of the starters in longer than normal. Greg Jennings and Marshall Newhouse are the only starters scheduled out right now. The others besides Jennings and Marshall, ruled out for Thursday are running back Du’ane Bennett, running back Brandon Saine, fullback Jon Hoese, cornerback Sam Shields, tight end Eric Lair, linebacker Frank Zombo, offensive tackle Mike McCabe, defensive end Johnny Jones, guard Jaymes Brooks, guard Ray Dominguez, Newhouse, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, tight end Andrew Quarless, tight end Ryan Taylor and wide receiver Tori Gurley. Also Mike Daniels might not play.

    Good thing they went with 90 man rosters.

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    • Kris Burke Kris Burke says:

      Exactly why I think more starters may be held out than anything. I’d give Rodgers a series or two, but I also understand why some wouldn’t want to risk Rodgers to injury in a preseason game.

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  6. CSS says:

    Nice summary from Matt Bowen over at NFP related to rookie expectations during this first preseason game:

    http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/NFL-preseason-My-advice-for-rookies.html

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  7. Oppy says:

    BTW, I think Perry had a very positive first outing.

    His bull rush was consistently winning.

    He got off blocks and made some plays, including one where he split a double team and fought through traffic to ankle tackle the ball carrier in the middle of the field for a short loss or no gain.

    He perhaps got too wide at times, and occasionally got too deep in the backfield on a run play, but overall, I was very happy to see him compete and be a physical force versus live competition. Going head up on Bulaga has paid dividends for Perry, and seeing how he fared against an opposition Tackle, speaks to how good Bulaga has been in camp thus far.

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