The Packers’ final preseason game was an opportunity for the 75 players still on the team to show what they can do. While evaluating the younger players, Green Bay simply needed to leave Lambeau Field without any serious injuries. Assuming that the ankle injury suffered by defensive lineman B.J. Raji is not serious, which it does not appear to be, the Packers left in good shape.
With the regular season now on deck, a look at final grades following the Packers’ 24-3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:
Passing offense: A-
Graham Harrell, as far as the passer rating statistic is concerned, was perfect. The Packers’ backup quarterback, who had come under heavy scrutiny for his performance in the first three preseason games, had the game of his professional career against the Chiefs. Harrell completed 13 of 15 pass attempts for 223 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. One of his incompletions was a drop by wide receiver Tori Gurley and the other was a smart throwaway under pressure.
Harrell’s favorite target was Jarrett Boykin, who caught all five targeted passes thrown his way for 82 yards. Harrell’s biggest play was a 54-yard bomb to Gurley that got the Packers down to the 1-yard line.
Aaron Rodgers played the first two series before exiting, completing one of his two pass attempts before giving way to Harrell.
Green Bay’s first-team offense was not as sharp throughout the preseason as it was in 2011. With Rodgers’ 45 touchdown passes and six interceptions leading the Packers to being the highest-scoring team in the NFL last season, it’d be tough to match that level of production. Plus, it was only preseason. But with a huge test in the San Francisco 49ers and their tough defense waiting Sept. 9 in the regular-season opener, Rodgers and company will find out quickly if they can get back to their dominant ways.
Rushing offense: B-
Cedric Benson’s fumble on the opening drive was a sign of one of the biggest risks in signing the veteran running back: He has been fumble-prone. In the past two seasons, Benson has fumbled 12 times. With coach Mike McCarthy preaching ball security as the most important thing for a running back, Benson will have to hope he left his slippery hands in the preseason.
Alex Green had one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown, with the first followed by a Lambeau Leap. Green is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered 10 months ago, so the coaching staff probably told him not to Leap again if he scored another touchdown. On the second one, Green looked into the crowd, gave a nice gesture and ran back to the sideline. The touchdowns were great, but Green’s eight yards rushing on six attempts for a 1.3-yard average is not nearly enough. However, it’s expected that Green will be cleared for full participation by this weekend.
Rushing defense: C-
The Chiefs ran the ball 44 times and threw only 21 passes, and for good reason. Kansas City racked up 246 yards on the ground with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Peyton Hillis, who was let go by the Cleveland Browns after his lackluster 2011 season, ran all over the Packers’ defense for 46 yards on just six carries early on. Third- and fourth-string running backs Shaun Draughn and Nate Eachus combined for 157 rushing yards on just 31 carries.
Raji left the game with an ankle injury during the first drive and did not return. That hurt Green Bay up front, but allowing an opponent to dominate on the ground like that can’t happen once the games are real.
Passing defense: B+
Chiefs starting quarterback Matt Cassel threw one pass, a completion, for nine yards. The majority of the game featured former Notre Dame star Brady Quinn at QB for Kansas City, and he completed six of 12 passes for 83 yards. The Chiefs were far more concerned with trying to run the ball than throw it, so it was difficult to assess the Packers’ passing defense.
However, cornerback Sam Shields had the good game that he desperately needed. Shields’ interception of Quinn in the end zone was textbook. He tailed his wide receiver close from behind, baited Quinn into the pass, jumped the route and made the interception to eliminate Kansas City’s opportunity for a touchdown. It will be interesting to see whether Shields’ performance was good enough to beat out Jarrett Bush as the starter, or at least good enough to keep him ahead of rookie Casey Hayward when Green Bay is in its dime defense.
Special teams: C+
Tim Masthay continues to perform like a near-elite punter, dropping three of his five punts inside the 20-yard line to allow the Packers to play good field-possession football.
However, when rookie safety Jerron McMillian whiffed his blocking assignment while protecting Masthay, a punt was blocked by the Chiefs. McMillian recovered the blocked punt and ran with the ball for a first down. It turned out to be a good thing for Green Bay, but very rarely will a team get that lucky off of a mistake.
Preseason or not, the Packers found a way to keep the opposing team from scoring points. In similar fashion to last year, Green Bay was outgained in total yards yet dominated the scoreboard, winning by 21.
This is it for exhibition games. The true tests begin soon when the Packers find out if they’re ready for an incredibly difficult opening to their regular season schedule. A matchup with the 49ers is followed by a four-day break and a Thursday night game at home against the Chicago Bears. Then, Green Bay has 11 days off before flying to Seattle for a Monday night game, with the high-scoring New Orleans Saints heading to Lambeau Field six days later.
The Packers didn’t look great in the preseason, but if Rodgers and the offense can perform even close to how they did in 2011 and the defense can up its game from last year, Green Bay should be a Super Bowl favorite all season.