It was always wet and at times it was wild as the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans got their preseason started with rain clouds aplenty. It made for some uneasy viewing at times as passes were dropped and kickoffs and punts were muffed like it was going out of fashion.
But in amongst all that we saw some flashes of what we came to see; talent. Whether it was a running back finding the cutback lane, a quarterback beating some tight coverage or a pass rusher beating a blocker, there was enough there that we could form some initial evaluations regarding both teams.
So it only seems fair to share them right?
Green Bay Packers — Three Performances of Note
Missing arguably their top four skill players on offense it would have been easy for the Packers to be swallowed up by a transitioning Titans defense looking to make some immediate noise. To say that didn’t happen would be an understatement.
It took just eight plays for Green Bay to waltz into the end zone, riding the coattails of the impressive James Starks (+1.9 grade on nine snaps) and an offensive line that had no problem opening up holes for him to burst through. Of course Starks ability to make things happen when given some room has never been in question. And I was (perhaps along with some Packer fans) more interested in how new starting center J.C. Tretter would cope.
Now it certainly wasn’t perfect and it most definitely didn’t jump out and hit you how well he played in his 16 snaps (he featured for eight more once the first stringers left the field). But there was enough to be encouraged he can fill the hole left by Evan Dietrich-Smith as evidenced by a solud +1.0 grade. He also highlighted what could prove his strengths and weaknesses as the season go on in his duel with Sammie Lee Hill. First Hill got the better of him, standing him up to force a cut before shedding him and making a tackle (Q1, 13.46). But it wasn’t long before Tretter had even the tables, working Hill down the line and controlling him throughout to set up a cutback lane before leaving him on the ground (Q1, 12.44). That was indicative of where he looked good, making plays on the move (like a well executed reach block with 3.39 left in Q1), and I for one will be paying particular attention to how this translates when the regular season kicks off.
First Round Impressions
It didn’t and does not take a genius to realize the Packers sorely lacked some playmaking from their safety department in 2013. So they made a statement of intent when they used their first round selection on Crimson Tide product Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (+0.4). He was brought into add a game-changing element, having the attributes that could supply another dimension to the secondary. And on first glance he’s certainly capable of doing that, just don’t expect it to be plane sailing all the way.
There were definitely some highlight reel plays that would have Lambeau whooping and hollering, like his pass break up with 2.06 to go in the first half or how he ran through Derek Hagan to bring Bishop Sankey down for a short gain at the start of the second quarter. But there were some lowlights as well like losing a physical encounter with Dexter McCluster or, on the aforementioned pass defense, letting Taylor Thompson breeze past him to the point where a perfect throw would see a big completion.
So he’s far from the finished article, but even in just 29 snaps there was enough to suggest change is coming at the safety spot. And Clinton-Dix is the man bringing it.
A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
One man looked like he didn’t want to be there. With the rain beating down and the ball hard to keep hold of Matt Flynn (-3.8) forced a number of ill-advised balls and didn’t leave anything on tape that would have you overly confident if Aaron Rodgers succumbed to an early-season injury.
The other looked desperate to take a chance to push himself up the depth chart. Working in better conditions Scott Tolzien (+2.3) was an extremely efficient 8-of-12 with three of those incompletions coming via dropped passes. What’s more he wasn’t just dinking and dunking, with five of his completions at least 10 yards in the air. Indeed, the only real black mark on outing was when he sacked himself with 9.53 to go in Q3 as the conditions did what the Titans secondary failed to in slowing him down.
A quarterback who is third on the depth chart is rarely assured of their place on a roster but it’s hard to see the team letting Tolzien hit the waiver wire when his development looks like something worth investing in.
Tennessee Titans — Three Performances of Note
The Battle Inside
One of the most intriguing areas in Tennessee is trying to figure out what they’re going to do at the inside linebacker spot. It seems a cert that Wesley Woodyard (-0.4) is going to start and it’s easy to see why with him comfortably the most complete ‘backer they have available? But who goes next to him?
Zaviar Gooden got the nod with Zach Brown earning a benching for what are believed to be off the field issues, and he didn’t put forward the kind of showcase that had you screaming for him to be on the field every down. Flagged for a defensive hold with 8.47 to go in Q2 he was initially part of a unit that got gashed on the ground. By no means was he solely responsible, but he did miss a tackle (11.56 in Q1) and was sealed off by John Kuhn on the opening touchdown run.
His saving grace, though, may be that while he didn’t lock down a starting spot, nobody else impressed. Brown made one nice play with 3.04 left that resulted in a tackle for no gain but little else, while Colin McCarthy (-1.3) will do well to make it through roster cuts after earning just six snaps that saw him miss a tackle and then massively over pursuit a runner on his first two plays.
Right now there are more questions than answers at the linebacker spot.
Time to check in with first-round pick Taylor Lewan and as his +3.2 grade would suggest, his initial outing was a huge success. Sure not a lot was asked of him as he played with the second string unit but he did draw some one on one time with Nick Perry and kept him quiet as he was perfect in pass protection. In the run game he again was largely quite, rarely putting a foot wrong as he chiefly worked double teams before moving to a second level the team all too rarely got to. There’s not exactly a laundry list of plays that will get Titans fans thinking they’ve hit the jackpot with him, but there’s very little out there that showed him out of his depth. And for a player likely to be used in a limited fashion this year, that doesn’t hurt.
Quiet Day For Sankey
It’s always hard to evaluate a running back when he’s playing with reserves, but it wasn’t the kind of breakout game the Titans would have been hoping for from Bishop Sankey (-1.6). He wasn’t helped with the average point of first contact with a defender being 1.6 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage but he was often a little too quick to try and bounce things outside without having the burst to make it work. Factor in a pressure he allowed as Jumal Rolle beat him on a blitz and it became a little clearer why we can’t expect a healthy dose of Shonn Greene this year.
Still I for one would like to see what he could do running behind Chance Warmack and co because it’s an awful lot easier to run a power based rushing attack with premier players, than guys fighting for a roster spot.
– Julius Peppers sported the Packers #56 jersey and managed 10 largely underwhelming snaps. Perhaps of more interest though was seeing the normally static Packers flipping their outside linebackers from side to side.
– Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger would attempt seven passes, with four completions and one drop (that would go onto be intercepted). He’s a long way from supplanting Charlie Whitehurst but did give glimpses of a talent who could be developed.
– It was good to see Derek Sherrod (+2.1) get on the field and manage 46 snaps after his injury troubles. It was even better to see him look up to the task. His journey may have a ways to go but it’s good to see it progressing.
PFF Game Ball
In tough conditions Scott Tolzien was the man who really caught the eye, and while his team suffered a shoulder shrug inducing defeat, he’ll have left feeling very happy about what he did.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled