Aaron Rodgers was better than he had been in his previous performances, especially with his feet. Not only did he run for 54 yards and two rushing touchdowns, but his pocket mobility was stellar and he did an excellent job to buy time and find receivers when his protection broke down.
Green Bay's first drive stalled, partially thanks to a couple of penalties picked up by Marshall Newhouse, but they got things together on their second drive. Rodgers hit Jennings for two big gains and found Tom Crabtree with a nice pass over the middle, though the tight end had to miss the rest of the series after taking a nasty lick from Taylor Mays. On the very next play, Rodgers scrambled 12 yards for the game's opening touchdown.
Rodgers and the first team offense played for the remainder of the first half and scored again on their next drive through the same means, a touchdown run by Rodgers. Unfortunately, the second quarter was less kind to the Pack than the first. Rodgers and James Jones had a miscommunication on a route early in the second, leading to an easy interception for Terrence Newman. The following drive resulted in a field goal, and the first team's final drive resulted in a turnover on downs when Rodgers' pass intended for Jennings was batted down.
It was a solid, though not statistically spectacular game for Rodgers, who finished the game 12-22 for 154 yards and one interception.
The first team defense was also very solid, with Jarrett Bush and Anthony Levine turning into their best performances of the preseason. While Bush still didn't look as good as Davon House did against San Diego before picking up his injury, fans will be satisfied with his performance and their concerns about him having to start in a pinch should have been eased a bit.
Levine was the clear story of the game on the defensive side of the ball, however, even though he didn't register any huge plays. This is preseason, and what's important is what is going to translate to the regular season, not individual flashy plays. During the first half, Levine played mistake-free football as the Bengals' offense was held at bay. It might have been a different game with Jermaine Gresham on the field, but he might have locked up the nickel safety job by turning in a great half with the first team. It should help his case that Andy Dalton finished 5-17 passing, while none of the Bengals backs broke big runs.
The starters were impressive on both sides of the ball, but the backups were a very mixed bag. While the defense was a big of a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs, there aren't too many positive things to say about the second team offense.
Graham Harrell did not look much better than he did against Cleveland, and it's hard to blame any of his teammates for his performance. Mike McCarthy will look at the tape, as will the quarterbacks, and they know what to watch for better than I do, but it appeared to me that Harrell struggled to read the defense on multiple occasions. In one particular instance, on a sack that he gave up during his first series, he looked like he had no idea that a blitz was coming and that he needed to change the protection, get rid of the ball quickly, or both. He took a couple of sacks and finished 5-12 passing.
However, Harrell's poor performance, though mostly his fault, was not all on him. Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel looked nothing like the players that had analysis suggesting that the Packers could take seven wide receivers on their 53-man roster, while the entire second team offensive line looked completely overmatched. Derek Sherrod and Ray Dominguez need to recover from their injuries soon, because the players who played on Thursday night are not going to cut it as NFL offensive linemen, at least this season. A year on the practice squad and another camp might do some of them some good, but they are not adequate backups for a playoff team at the moment.
The second team linebackers were by far the biggest positive out of all of the backup units, with all of them performing well. Dezman Moses, Rob Francois and Erik Walden all look like they're worthy of roster spots, and Terrell Manning finally showed up as well. Vic So'oto and Brad Jones are officially on notice.
In the secondary, there was plenty of good and bad for everyone. Jerron McMillian was not nearly as good on Thursday as he was last week, while Casey Hayward got torched for Cincinnati's only touchdown. Sam Shields had a very impressive interception, but also got beat on a couple of occasions. M.D. Jennings made a few nice plays, but didn't do enough to move back ahead of Levine if the coaches currently have Levine ahead of him in the nickel.
All in all, it was a very solid performance from the Packers, and the coaches probably learned a lot about the players. Over the weekend, a few players will participate in their last practices as members of the Packers before the roster gets cut down to 75 players on Monday.
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