ReFo: GB @ STL, Preseason Wk 2
The second week of preseason sees the starters getting their feet a little more under the table. With more extended playing time they get the opportunity to really build a rhythm and re-establish their baseline of performance ahead of the new season. For the Packers their chance came against the Rams in St Louis last night. Even though the touchdowns didn’t come until the third and fourth string were on the field in the fourth quarter, Green Bay will come away happy with the work that they got through.
On offense Aaron Rodgers was protected better than we have become accustomed to and responded with his customary efficiency. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy reminded everyone of the player that his final collegiate performance hinted at him being before an at times trying offseason. Meanwhile, on defense there appears to be some very tough decisions to make in the secondary when it comes time for final cuts in Green Bay.
For the Rams on the other hand their starting defense, after failing to get pressure on Rodgers, struggled to cover in the second level. Their run defense failed to coral Lacy after initially getting disruption early on a number of plays. On offense there were bright spots from Jared Cook and Sam Bradford but overall the unit didn’t click. There still appears to be plenty for the Rams to do ahead of the new season which will come up sooner than you think as the Packers and Rams now prepare for their third, and arguably most important preseason encounter next weekend.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Lacy Lays Down a Marker
This was the first chance to judge Eddie Lacy (+1.9) on what matters, his performance on the field, since his scintillating display in the NCAA National Title game and he did not disappoint. From his first carry Lacy showed a spark cutting away from penetration by Kendall Langford, running out of a tackle by Michael Brockers and drawing in numerous tacklers to bring him down. All of that for a seven yard carry. It was a theme of Lacy’s most impressive runs that he was able to cope with backfield penetration, predominantly from Langford who wouldn’t allow Evan Dietrich-Smith to neutralize him on reach blocks, and turn what could easily have been losses into positive plays. With an offensive line that needs time to gel courtesy of a line flip and the loss of Bryan Bulaga due to injury it won’t be a surprise to see the Packers struggling early in the season. If Lacy can provide runs like this in spite of blocking breakdowns it will be a boon to Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
More Depth at Corner in Green Bay?
Green Bay’s crop of young corners was one of the pleasant surprises last season and though two of their top corners from last season, Tramon Williams and rookie revelation Casey Hayward, are yet to make their first appearances of the preseason. The next batch of young corners look ready and able to fill that void however. Leading that group, in spite of being involved in Chris Givens’ 57 yard reception, was 5th round pick Micah Hyde (+2.4) who outside of that catch surrendered only six yards on five targets. He also broke up two passes and registered four stops including a sack. Adding to the impressive display were Loyce Means (+1.8) surrendering only one grab of 14 yards on four targets, including a pass defense. Also, Davon House (+2.1) didn’t surrender a single reception on three targets. Any team short of quality, and particularly young quality, at corner would do far worse than to circle like vultures around the Packers when they make their final cuts. Can they keep them all?
Jolly Start to Preseason for Johnny
Returning to the NFL after he has turned 30, Johnny Jolly is wasting absolutely no time staking his claim for a spot on the Packers’ final 53 man roster. In his two preseason games so far, Jolly has a +4.6 overall grade and he built on his solid start against the Cardinals last week with an even more impactful display on only 14 snaps against the Rams last night. Jolly crammed in three tackles, one of which was a stop, a hurry, a batted pass which led to an interception for Jarrett Bush and an interception of his own off of a deflection by Loyce Means. That’s a lot of work to be fitting into only 14 snaps, 10 fewer than last week, and Packer fans should be eager to see if and how the defensive coaching staff can slot Jolly back into the defensive line rotation this season.
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
Austin Struggles to Make a Mark
After dropping his only target on debut in Cleveland last week it was clear to see that Tavon Austin (-1.4) was eager to make his mark on his home preseason debut against the Packers. However this was not the night that Austin was hoping for as the player talked up as this Draft’s “X-Factor” is still yet to make his mark on an NFL (albeit early) contest. He did at least get off the mark with four receptions for 28 yards but it was those players covering who stole the limelight as Austin failed to match the impact made by Eddie Lacy for the Packers’ offense. His longest reception of the night, a 15 yarder late in the second quarter, only served to highlight his frustration on the night. On a third and extra-long play, Austin caught a pass near the middle of the field in space against a linebacker (Brad Jones). While looking for space Austin instead gave up ground, running himself into a blind alley as the Packers swarmed on him to stop him well short of the markers. Adding a holding penalty into the mix this was a night of frustration for a player still waiting for his chance to shine.
Playing Under Pressure
One man doesn’t fix an entire unit but the Rams’ pursuit of Jake Long this offseason was a clear signal of intent that that Rams saw the need to get better along the offensive line. Though you have the usual caveat of first, second and third stringers having to find a rhythm within limited snaps the Rams will have been disappointed at the constant pressure their signal callers were under throughout this game. On their combined 44 dropbacks the Rams quarterbacks were pressured on 21 of them, nearly 50%! Of their starters only Joseph Barksdale, starting in Rodger Saffold’s absence, didn’t surrender a pressure and among the backups Barrett Jones (-2.5), Brandon Washington (-2.5) and Graham Pocic (-2.6) had particularly torrid outings. The starting unit is where it all begins but the Rams found out last season that backup linemen have this habit of finding their way onto the field. On this showing their backups offered little comfort that if the injury bug strikes again things will be any better in 2013.
St Louis’ Own Ray-Ray
It’s always nice to be able to pick out fringe players putting in good displays in preseason as they fight and scrap for a roster spot and one of those putting his hand up in this game for the Rams was Ray-Ray Armstrong (+1.1), the Rams’ undrafted outside linebacker from the University of Miami (Fla). The school has a pretty decent heritage of producing good linebackers and Armstrong has put in two solid displays thus far in preseason registering 76 snaps across the two games. Armstrong tied fellow linebacker Josh Hull for the team lead with five tackles, four of which were stops and unlike Hull he didn’t miss one. The young linebacker also added a pair of pressures one of which, beating Angelo Pease to the outside, led directly to an incompletion as he hit the arm of B.J. Coleman as he threw to bring up a fourth down. With first round pick Alec Ogletree ahead of him at weakside linebacker Armstrong won’t be fighting for playing time (barring injury). However, with more performances like this he’ll be building a strong resume for a spot on the Rams’ final 53 man roster.
– The Packers have jury rigged their offensive line to improve things for Aaron Rodgers. In his first extended action of the preseason Rodgers was pressured on only 3 of his 13 dropbacks last night.
– The Rams’ tackling took a step back this week, after missing seven against Cleveland last week the defense missed a dozen against the Packers half of which were missed by starters.
– Last night was the first time Vince Young put the ball in the air deep this preseason and all four of his passes targeted 10 or more yards downfield fell incomplete.
PFF Game Ball
Many were quick to judge Eddie Lacy based on his apparent shape in training camp but where it counts Lacy silenced his doubters with an NFL debut of real quality to whet the appetite of Packer fans for the season to come.
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