The Packers erased a few doubts on Saturday night at the Edward Jones Dome with a convincing 19-7 win against the St. Louis Rams. After being shut out at home against the Arizona Cardinals last week, the Packers offense was able to establish a running game behind rookie Eddie Lacy and some big plays in the passing game between Aaron Rodgers and Jermichael Finley.
The defense responded well with a few turnovers and better pass coverage, but the pass rush from the starting defensive line still didn't produce much pressure.
Let's take a look at the game tape again, and pass out some position grades.
Aaron Rodgers finished 10 for 12 for 134 yards (113.2 Passer Rating), and was able to create some big plays to Finley and Boykin. Graham Harrell was bailed out by a pass interference call on a potential interception on his first pass attempt, when he forced a pass into tight coverage. He was a little sporadic on some of his throws, but also made a few nice throws that were dropped (D.J. Williams seam route in the second quarter). Harrell finished five for 10 for 44 yards (62.1 Passer Rating). Overall, Harrell took a step forward with his decision making, but needs to be sharper with his accuracy.
Vince Young finished five for nine for 26 yards (60.9 Passer Rating), and should have had at least one touchdown to Myles White (one overthrown, one out-of-bounds). Young's unorthodox release is hard to get used to, but he continues to get more comfortable throwing the ball deep within the Packers offense. Time is Young's biggest enemy right now, as he must gain a grasp of the playbook in the next two weeks if he is going to make the team.
B.J. Coleman finished eight for 13 for 86 yards and one touchdown (106.6 Passer Rating). Coleman took a big step forward after struggling in recent weeks. He extended plays with his legs, made quick decisions on his shorter drop backs, and didn't make any glaring errors in his limited snap count. He may still end up on the practice squad, but he improved his stock on Saturday night.
Running Back: B
Eddie Lacy made his Packers debut, and looked like a game changer in his limited carries. Lacy finished with 40 yards on eight carries, and also added an impressive first down catch out of the backfield on the first play of the second quarter. If Lacy can continue that level of play, he will be the feature back for the Packers in 2013.
Alex Green finished with 15 yards on five carries, and showed some assertiveness when reading his running lanes and making the first man miss. Green was again hobbled by the fact that he was working with the second string line, but had a more promising outing than last week. Johnathan Franklin finished with nine yards on three carries, and seemed to hesitate on his initial cut on his first two runs. His stats would have looked better if Graham Harrell wouldn't have sailed a screen pass over his head in the second quarter.
James Starks looked explosive on his first run of the game, but then fumbled the ball on his very next carry (even though it was ruled to have been recovered out of bounds). Angelo Pease recorded -8 yards on two carries to round out the group.
Wide Receiver: C
Besides a big play to Jarrett Boykin (two receptions, 33 yards), and a few nice receptions for Myles White (five receptions, 48 yards), the wideout group was pretty quiet on Saturday. Jeremy Ross did not take advantage of his extended playing time with the first-string offense, only tallying a one-yard reception. Tyrone Walker added one reception for 15 yards, Alex Gillett added two receptions for 13 yards, James Jones added two receptions for 11 yards, and Omarius Hines added one reception for seven yards.
Tight End: A
Jermichael Finley had one of his better outings in recent memory, tallying four receptions for 78 yards. Finley's holding penalty on a potential first down run by Lacy is the only noticeable error on an otherwise excellent night. Brandon Bostick added three receptions for 29 yards, while Jake Stoneburner added two receptions for nine yards, including the Packer's only touchdown of the preseason on a pass from B.J. Coleman.
D.J. Williams had two receptions for 17 yards, and should have had more yards if he could have held on to a beautiful pass from Graham Harrell in the second quarter on a seam route. If the Packers can get solid run blocking from this unit to go along with its play-making ability in the passing game, the Packers will be a match-up nightmare in the regular season.
Offensive Line: B+
Don Barclay took advantage of his opportunity at Right Tackle, logging 34 snaps and showing good footwork in both run blocking and pass protection. Barclay's competition, Marshall Newhouse logged 24 snaps, and struggled with his footwork in spots. The most noticeable play was on Graham Harrell's first drive, in which Newhouse nearly gets pushed into Harrell, and then short-arms his attempt to seal the rushing defensive end, forcing Harrell to get rid of the ball early and force a punt.
David Bakhtiari was beat for a sack in the second quarter on a quick swim move by Robert Quinn, and had one false start penalty. Bakhtiari was solid besides those two errors, and finished with another promising outing for the rookie left tackle. The interior lineman created some open lanes for Lacy in the first few drives, but the second and third string linemen weren't as successful at establishing the run. All four quarterbacks appeared to have time to deliver the ball in open passing lanes, and with only one recorded sack, the pass protection took a step forward as well.
Patrick Lewis recorded the highest rating on the offensive side of the ball with a +2.8 overall rating according to Pro Football Focus (+1.8 Pass Block, +1.1 Run Block).
Defensive Line: B-
The first-string defensive line didn't produce much of a pass rush, besides a few nice pressures by Mike Neal as a pass rush specialist from the nose guard position. Johnny Jolly was arguably the MVP of the defensive unit on Saturday, recording two solo tackles, two passes defended, and one interception. Jordan Miller added a +1.7 rating overall (+1.5 pass rush, 0.5 run defense).
Andy Mulumba (three tackles, one sack), Robert Francois (three tackles), and A.J. Hawk (three tackles) were the headliners for the linebacking unit. Hawk was beat bad by Isaiah Pead on a wheel route, and Brad Jones took a terrible angle on the Rams' first play from scrimmage that resulted in a 10-yard run by Pead. Jamari Lattimore and Dezman Moses each had a few bad missed tackles, but the group did a better job at creating pressure off the edges than it did a week before. Some of that had to do with the quality of the Rams' second and third-string offensive lines, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Davon House recovered from his nightmare-like performance with +2.1 overall rating (+1.9 pass coverage). Many are quick to blame Micah Hyde for his two blown coverage assignments early on in the game, but I continue to be impressed with his tackling ability, especially in the open field. Hyde's physicality is something the Packers defense needs, and something that cannot be taught. I'll take aggressive mistakes over passive problems. Loyce Means recorded three tackles, while Sam Shields added two.
Brandon Smith had a tough night, giving up a late touchdown pass to Nick Johnson from Austin Davis after a special teams blunder in which Smith didn't get out of the way of a punt, and let the ball hit him on the return. There were too many coverage errors by this unit to be comfortable, but hopefully Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward will return in time for it to be a moot point.
Chaz Powell's dropped interception/punt return should warrant a bad grade for the entire group (I still don't know how he didn't catch that). Jerron McMillian added more ground in the battle for the free safety spot, recording two tackles and a pass defended. While McMillian may be partially responsible for the breakdown that caused Micah Hyde to get beat deep in the first quarter, he recovered nicely with solid run support. Morgan Burnett recorded two tackles, while M.D. Jennings added one.
Mason Crosby is beginning to show signs of gaining some confidence, while Giorgio Tavecchio's missed 49-yard field goal puts him in a tight spot, after it appeared he was pushing Crosby for place-kicking duties. The battle isn't over, but Crosby will get the benefit of the doubt if that battle is even close. Saturday was a big step forward for Crosby and his mentally fragile state. It may have been a huge set-back for Tavecchio's chances of making the team.
Tim Masthay recorded six punts for a 44.8 average, downing one inside the 20 yard line. Masthay continues to be consistent with his accuracy, but will occasionally not put enough hang time on a punt.
The back-up quarterback battle may now be a three-man race (although I still think Coleman ends up on the practice squad), and I think Barclay has officially moved ahead of Newhouse for the right tackle job. Eddie Lacy drastically changes the Packers offense, and allows the Packers to actually be a threat in the play-action game. I hope to see more of that next week against a quick Seahawks defense.
On defense, the lack of a pass rush from the front line is a little discouraging. I would like to see how Datone Jones looks as an every-down player with the first-stringers, but the injury bug continues to plague him. A.J. Hawk should never be assigned to cover a running back, otherwise that wheel route will start becoming a reoccurring theme against teams with a quick tailback. The pass coverage improved, but there is still plenty of room for improvement for some of the younger defensive backs.
The kicking battle is officially Mason Crosby's to lose. There are still two more games left, but Crosby will have to go 1-for-4, while Tavecchio goes 4-for-4 in order for anything drastic to happen.
Hopefully this game will give the entire team confidence moving forward in time to prepare for their Friday Night Showdown with the Seattle Seahawks on CBS. It will be interesting to see how the defensive front seven plays against Russell Wilson and the read-option look, and whether or not the Packers can establish a running attack against one of the NFL's best defenses.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Packers vs. Rams: Winners and Losers
- Packers vs. Rams Final Score: Kickers, Coleman Put up Points in 19-7 Win
- Charles Woodson Disputes Criticism of Aaron Rodgers
- The Packers' Running Game - Part 1: A Look Back at 2012