GREEN BAY WI - AUGUST 26: Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts fumbles the ball as he is hit by Frank Zombo #47 of the Green Bay Packers during a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 26 2010 in Green Bay Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Even if the wins are meaningless in the preseason, at least the Green Bay Packers are doing their best to entertain by scoring 59 points.
The first order of business is to keep everyone healthy. The Colts had the serious injuries, but the Packers had a couple of their own. Mike McCarthy said CB Brandon Underwood, LB Desmond Bishop, DE Jarius Wynn, and RB Quinn Porter were all hurt and none of them returned to the game. The severity of their injuries is unclear.
The yardage in the game was fairly close, the Colts had 389 yards to the Packers 430, but the hidden yards swung hugely in the Packers favor. The Colts surrendered 116 penalty yards to the Packers 25, and the Packers special teams scored two touchdowns. As usual in the preseason, it's really not how the team played but how individual players performed.
QB Aaron Rodgers. Ho-hum. He completed over 70% of his attempts with no turnovers and no sacks. His three TD passes went to three different receivers. And Jon Gruden spent the entire first-half swooning over him from the press box. The only surprise for me was that they didn't give QB Matt Flynn a little more playing time with the first-team offense, but based on Flynn's solid second half performance it appears he's just fine. Even 3rd string QB Graham Harrell looked good in his brief appearance.
Special teams unit. I'm lumping them into one group, and it was a mixed bag. While FB Korey Hall recovered a botched fair catch for a TD, and undrafted free agent WR Jason Chery returned a punt for a TD, the kick coverage sometimes looked good, usually led by S Derrick Martin, and sometimes looked bad when allowing returns of 34 and 58 yards. P Tim Masthay only had one punt, but it had better hang time then either of the punts by P Chris Bryan, which has seemed to have been the case all preseason.
LB Frank Zombo. With both LB Clay Matthews and LB Brad Jones out, and LB Brandon Chillar moved back inside, he got a lot of playing time with the first team and he delivered. He led the team in tackles while recording one sack and forcing a fumble. That alone is a very rare event. QB Peyton Manning hasn't lost a regular season fumble since 2007, and was only sacked 10 times in 2009. In addition, he collapsed the pocket on a couple occasions and is a sound tackler. It's surprising how good he is in pass coverage since he's making the transition from college defensive end. His amazing preseason continues. The only question isn't whether he makes the team, but whether injuries open the door for him to start in week 1.
CB Sam Shields. Now that he's been removed from kick return duties, I no longer have to discuss another drop on special teams (well, at least not from him). With the injury to Underwood, Shields got a long look with the first-team defense. As in his previous attempts to keep up with the Seahawks starting receivers, he looked out of position against the Colts first-team offense. But he recorded another INT against their backups, so the potential on defense is there. He's also looked good on special teams when covering kicks, no need to worry about bad hands then. I'd be surprised if he didn't make the team, but he's not a lock since he's no longer an option as a kick returner.
SS Morgan Burnett. He started off the game by over pursuing which gave RB Joseph Addai a huge area in which to cut-back to on the opening 49 yard run. From that point, he looked great in pass coverage, recording two pass defenses and one INT against Manning. He still isn't good enough with angles and tackles, especially since he's the last line of defense.
CB Pat Lee and LB A.J. Hawk. Their disappointing preseason continues as they are pushed down the depth chart (Lee behind Shields and Hawk behind Chillar) and neither did much with the opportunity they did receive.
TE Andrew Quarless. He showed off full extension as he reached back to grab a TD reception. Over the summer, it was often reported that he dropped a few passes during practice, but he's been solid in the preseason. He's potentially a dangerous receiver, and I can't imagine they'll let him go.
WR James Jones. Speaking of receivers, he's clearly established himself ahead of WR Jordy Nelson and he deserves it. This preseason, he's looked like the guy who showed so much promise in 2007, instead of the player who struggled with injuries in 2008 and for most of 2009.
TE Tom Crabtree. He's done nothing to hurt himself this preseason, but might be caught in a roster crunch. He showed off his blocking skills by dominating Colts rookie 1st round draft choice DE Jerry Hughes on consecutive running plays in the fourth quarter.
LT Marshall Newhouse. With both OL Allen Barbre and LT Bryan Bulaga sitting this game out, Newhouse got an even longer look at left tackle. While he struggled in the first preseason game, he's been solid since then. With Barbre and RT Breno Giacomini looking unimpressive to say the least, it would be a shock if Newhouse lost a roster spot to either of them.
Once again, I didn't mention everyone who made a good play or scored a TD. This was just one of those games where nearly everything went right. The Packers did allow three TD drives: the first two were nicely orchestrated by Manning and assisted by some poor tackling and confusion by the rookie Burnett on the opening drive, while some poor tackling doomed the third one. And the special teams struggled on coverage at times (as I mentioned above). Both RB Brandon Jackson and RB Ryan Grant had fumbles, along with S Will Blackmon on a punt return. But that was about it. As the score indicated, the good plays really outweighed the bad ones on Thursday night.