ReFo: ARI @ GB, Preseason Wk 1
Arizona traveled to Green Bay for a preseason matchup of teams with very different prospects for the upcoming season. The Packers came in as an established Super Bowl contender, while the Cardinals had been rebuilt almost from the ground up, with 51 new players on the roster and the opening of the Bruce Arians era in Arizona.
Aaron Rodgers came out in the hurry-up offense and moved the ball easily on his first and only series. After that, though, the Packers’ offense led by their backup quarterbacks would struggle to find any consistency for the rest of the game. Surprisingly, it was the Cardinals’ offense that looked like it had been playing together for years, as both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton were able to lead first-half touchdown drives. The Packers were able to contain the Cardinals’ running game most of the night, but the secondary struggled, allowing several big plays throughout the course of the evening. The score was only as close as it was thanks to three missed field goals from Arizona. In the preseason, the individual performances are usually more significant than the final score, so let’s take a look at a few notable ones.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Keeping the Quarterback Upright
After last year’s terrible performance in protecting the quarterback, when they allowed a staggering 248 pass disruptions, the Cardinals’ offensive line is sure to be under the microscope in 2013. In their first test, they more than held their own, at least in the passing game. They allowed just one sack and seven hurries to the Packers’ defense, four of them courtesy of Chilo Rachal (-3.5). Subtracting his poor performance from the total, the rest of the line graded out at +3.6 in pass blocking. The run blocking still needs work (-8.9), but regardless it was overall a good start for the most-maligned unit on the team. Center Lyle Sendlein (+0.8), right tackle Bobby Massie (+1.0), and right guard Paul Fanaika (+1.0) all had solid openers.
Battling for Receiver Spots
Although the top three wide receiver spots are set on the roster with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Andre Roberts, it’s wide open after them, with any of five players having realistic chances to fill the remaining spots. Two who stepped to the forefront last night were Jaron Brown (+2.4) and Charles Hawkins (+1.1), as they appeared to spend much of the evening running free in the Packers’ secondary. Brown, who was targeted seven times, made five catches for 46 yards including a touchdown, when he made a nice adjustment to a back-shoulder fade pass. Hawkins caught all four balls thrown his way, totaling 92 yards. Both players will likely be given ample opportunities in the upcoming preseason games to further cement a roster spot on the team, as the Cardinals are likely to keep five WRs.
Return of the Honey Badger
Probably no player in Cardinals training camp has been generating as much buzz as defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. With very little hitting in camp these days, it’s hard to tell if that will translate to the actual games. As it turned out, Mathieu’s long-awaited appearance did not disappoint. In 39 snaps playing slot cornerback (with a little free safety mixed in for good measure), he managed an impressive +2.9, the highest grade among any Arizona defender. He finished with one sack, a pass break-up and a nifty 24-yard punt return. The Cardinals certainly hope he can continue to improve and grow into a true disruptive force in the secondary worthy of his nickname.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Protecting the Franchise
A lot of Packers fans were holding their collective breath when newly-minted starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga went down in practice earlier this week. Unfortunately their worst fears were confirmed when a torn ACL ended his season before it had begun. As a result, rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari had to ditch the training wheels early and is now charged with protecting franchise QB Aaron Rodgers’ blindside. As it turned out, he acquitted himself quite nicely in pass blocking (+1.3) in 39 snaps with the first and second teams. He struggled in the run game (-2.4), an area the Packers would certainly like to improve on from last year to complement their already-lethal passing attack. But given the circumstances of being thrust into the starting lineup much sooner than expected, and the huge responsibilities of the position, the Packers have to be rather pleased with his performance.
With Rodgers playing little in the first preseason game, and the recent signing of Vince Young, this was an significant opportunity for Graham Harrell to show he could be a capable No. 2 quarterback. As it turned out, the Packers were left with more questions than answers at the position. Harrell (-0.5) got the majority of snaps (36) among the QBs, but failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Despite being under pressure on only four of 22 dropbacks, he managed just 76 yards on 12 completions, including an interception he airmailed straight to CB Patrick Peterson, and lost a fumble in the second quarter. He also failed to recognize a blitz from the slot CB to his right side, which resulted in a drive-killing 12-yard sack. Young fared even worse (-1.1), although he hadn’t even been on the team a week and received very limited snaps.
Of Secondary Concern
Green Bay defensive backs struggled for most of the game, seemingly regardless of who was playing. Chief among the victimized were Davon House (-3.3), who gave up 92 receiving yards, despite being targeted only four times in the game. He was victimized by Andre Roberts on the Cardinals first touchdown of the game (38 yards), and was again beaten deep by Charles Hawkins for a 36-yard completion. Micah Hyde also struggled (-1.1) allowing four receptions on only five targets. Jarrett Bush (+1.1) was the one bright spot in the secondary, making the most of his 24 snaps. Overall, the Packers’ DBs allowed a combined QB rating of 117.8 to the Cardinals, surrendering 270 yards through the air and two TDs.
– Packers’ first-round draft pick defensive end Datone Jones managed just one snap before leaving the game with a sprained ankle.
– In the “Don’t Get Used To It” category, Cardinals starting QB Carson Palmer wasn’t pressured a single time in his three series of work.
– Packers’ rookie free agent RG Lane Taylor impressed with a +2.6 grade in 56 snaps.
PFF Game Ball
Given his performance described above, made all the more impressive since he hadn’t played in an actual game in 19 months, our game ball goes to Tyrann Mathieu.
Follow Roland on Twitter: @PFF_RolandB