After a lackluster performance against the Titans in week 1, the Packers rebounded in a big way on Saturday with a 21-7 win on the road against the St. Louis Rams. Aaron Rodgers made his preseason debut, and didn't disappoint. The first-string offense looked borderline unstoppable, while the first-string defense showed a solid pass rush and made important stops when it needed to. There are plenty of position battles still up for grabs, but Saturday's performance was a huge step forward for the entire team.
Aaron Rodgers, who would receive an A++ individually, finished 11 of 13 for 128 yards, including a three-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on the opening drive. Rodgers couldn't have looked much sharper in his preseason debut, delivering passes with systemic accuracy to a multitude of different receivers, while buying time with his legs to find the open man.
Scott Tolzien finished 10 of 15 for 107 yards, while Matt Flynn was 2 of 3 for 44 yards and a touchdown. Chase Rettig saw mop-up duty on the final drive and did not attempt a pass.
While Tolzien got the no. 2 reps this game, I would say the battle for the back-up job is far from over. Both quarterbacks have a tendency to hang on to the ball too long, but Tolzien appears to have more poise when a play is breaking down around him.
My guess is whomever starts week 4 of the preseason (assuming Rodgers doesn't play) will likely earn the back-up role for the regular season.
Running Back: B
Eddie Lacy recorded five carries for 25 yards on the opening drive. Lacy ran with power and agility, and showcased both on his 13-yard scamper for a first down. He broke an arm tackle, pulled out his signature spin move, and grabbed a few extra yards while falling forward. This offense is scary good when Rodgers/Lacy are both healthy.
DuJuan Harris added 32 yards on seven carries, but also had a costly fumble. I've been a firm believer that DuJuan would be a contributor on this team after Johnathan Franklin's career-ending neck injury; however, if he continues to make ball security an issue I could see the team giving someone like Neal or LaDarius Perkins a shot.
Perkins recorded 25 yards on seven carries while Michael Hill had 17 yards on four carries.
The biggest surprise of the group has to be that James Starks only received four carries (nine yards), but it's understandable considering the workload he received in week 1 and his likelihood of earning the back-up running back job.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A
Andrew Quarless led the offense with 58 yards on four receptions, while Randall Cobb added 34 yards on three receptions. The team needs Quarless to be a playmaker in the passing game for the offense to reach its full potential, and he stepped up in a big way on Saturday (although he did commit an offensive pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-goal). Cobb continues to be Rodgers' favorite target on crossing routes on third-and-medium.
Rookie Jeff Janis had arguably the play of the game, when he turned a simple drag route into a 34-yard touchdown reception from Matt Flynn. Fellow rookie Davante Adams finished with 28 yards on two receptions.
Jarrett Boykin caught three passes for 21 yards, while Kevin Dorsey caught one pass for 18 yards. Alex Gillett recorded one reception for 13 yards, Brandon Bostick caught one pass for nine yards, Myles White caught one pass for two yards, and Chris Harper caught one reception for one yard.
While he didn't record a reception, it was interesting to see rookie Richard Rodgers out there on the opening drive in multiple looks as a blocker. It's clear to see the staff already has a lot of trust in the rookie, and he might be the long-term answer at the position. It's a loaded unit at wide receiver, but Adams and Janis continue to improve their stock with the coaching staff as well.
Offensive Line: C+
Derek Sherrod and Corey Linsley had less-than-stellar performances on Saturday. Sherrod was burned numerous times for sacks and looked stiff in his mechanics, while Linsley was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty that negated a Packers touchdown. David Bakthtiari was also called for a touchdown-negating hands to the face penalty.
The first-string offensive line, led by JC Tretter, looked dominating and cohesive, as the offense continually changed pace with no-huddle spurts along the way. The only problem is that there appears to be little to no depth behind them. Let's hope for a healthy season for the starters in the trenches, because Sherrod protecting the edge is a terrifying proposition with his performance from Saturday fresh in our minds.
Defensive Line: B+
The run defense was stout against Zac Stacy and the Rams. Mike Daniels wreaked havoc on the Rams offensive line, and B.J. Raji appears to be playing with a lot more fire than he did last season. Datone Jones hasn't really stuck out in either preason games thus far, and that is a little worrisome. He doesn't make glaring mistakes, but he doesn't get past the initial block much either.
Josh Boyd led the unit with three tackles, while Khyri Thornton had two tackles and Mike Pennel added one sack.
The linebacker unit was probably the biggest improvement from a week ago. The biggest story here had to be Jayrone Elliott (destroyer of worlds) recording three sacks on one drive, albeit against a pretty atrocious Rams back-up offensive line. It's splashes like that that will make the difference in making a team or getting cut.
Sam Barrington also added a sack, and played with high intensity for the majority of the game. Andy Mulumba led the unit with four tackles, including two for a loss, while Brad Jones added four tackles as well.
Korey Jones added four tackles, while Nate Palmer added three. Jamari Lattimore, Nick Perry, A.J. Hawk, and Jake Doughty each recorded two tackles.
Clay Matthews continued to look more comfortable since returning from his thumb injury, and Julius Peppers had a much louder performance on Saturday than he did in week 1 against the Titans.
Anyone judging Peppers on his preseason performances is going to be disappointed, and the reasoning is twofold: 1) Peppers is in his 13th year as an NFL player. He isn't in jeopardy of losing a roster spot, so he can afford to play at 75-80% without putting too much pressure on his gas tank. 2) Dom Capers isn't going to run anything advanced in the preseason. Anything Peppers would hope to pick up on as far as advanced schematics of the system, aren't going to happen in two drives of a preseason road game.
The safety play was mediocre. Sam Bradford finished 9 of 12 for 101 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 127.4. Throw in the fact that the Rams don't really have a lot of weapons at wide receiver, and that makes Bradford's efficient day look even more impressive.
Rookie Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix did record a sack, but also made a few mistakes in coverage as well. Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Ryan White, and Morgan Burnett each added two tackles.
Crosby continues to build on his successful 2013 season, connecting on both of his attempts on Saturday (31, 49).
The Ginger Wolverine should be under strong consideration for Game MVP. Masthay averaged 47.8 yards per punt on five punts, including three inside the Rams 20-yard line. That kind of effect on field position can win or lose games, and Masthay appears to be a special teams weapon for the Packers.
The team now prepares to host the Oakland Raiders at 8 p.m. EST on Friday in a nationally-televised game on CBS.