The third preseason game is often called the dress rehearsal for the regular season. While the makeup of training camp and the preseason has shifted over the past few years, this game remains an important barometer for assessing individual players and a team overall.
The Packers took their longest look at the starting offense during Friday night's tilt against the Raiders. Aaron Rodgers and the offense lasted six series, not all of which impressive. But there were still more positives than negatives from the game for Green Bay.
Tolzien is now on equal footing with Flynn for backup job
When Scott Tolzien outgunned Matt Flynn during the Packers' preseason opener in Tennessee, it was easy (and fair) to point to the monsoon that Flynn had to play through as the chief cause for the performance discrepancy. Flynn barely got a chance to showcase his arm last weekend, attempting only three passes as he manned the third string. At that point, it still seemed as though Flynn was ahead in the competition.
But following Tolzien's eight-for-11, 107-yard, one-touchdown smack down of Oakland's defense, the preponderance of the evidence is sufficient to say that he's now on equal footing with Flynn.
Certainly head coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson haven't forgotten Flynn's season-saving performance in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers from last year. While he doesn't possess the ideal physical tools, Flynn is a cerebral quarterback through whom McCarthy can run his offense with minimal alterations. Tolzien, while significantly improved from a mental standpoint, can't command the system at quite the same level.
However, Tolzien's third consecutive strong showing has given McCarthy and Thompson a lot to chew on. If his turnover-frenzy days are indeed behind him, the Packers may prefer his superior arm and athleticism as the primary backup. With Rodgers unlikely to play in the preseason finale, Flynn and Tolzien will each get an extended opportunity to make their case.
While the No. 1 offensive line sputters, Sherrod rebounds
For the first time this preseason, the Packers' starting offensive line experienced a setback. Left tackle David Bakhtiari endured an up-and-down night, allowing pressure on a number of plays. New starting center JC Tretter was flagged for a blatant hold on an Oakland defensive tackle. Even All-Pro guard Josh Sitton gave up a sack to Raiders defensive end Lamarr Woodley. While it wasn't all bad for the starters -- the line played just fine opening up holes for Eddie Lacy on the Packers' opening drive -- there's still room to improve.
Balancing out the day for the offensive linemen was Derek Sherrod who quietly put in some solid work at both left and right tackle. Such is a welcome development for the reserve blocker, who a week ago was repeatedly victimized by St. Louis' No. 2 and No. 3 defensive line. This time around, Sherrod anchored well in pass protection and sealed off defenders on several big runs. While he's no more than a backup at this point in his development, Sherrod appears capable of standing in at tackle if called upon.
Elliott will make some team's 53
When an unproven player has three sacks and a forced fumble in just four snaps, it's usually more of a reflection of his competition than his own capabilities. Such was the case for undrafted rookie linebacker Jayrone Elliott who embarrassed Rams left tackle Sean Hooey last week. While it brought Elliott deserved attention, the performance alone was not enough to ensure him a job in Green Bay come September.
If he doesn't have that job wrapped up now, it sure seems like he'll find one quickly in another NFL city.
Playing with the second-string defense, Elliott beat Raiders left tackle Jack Cornell for a sack and came close to several others on the same drive. He also batted down a pass in the backfield. Unlike the aforementioned Hooey, Cornell will be on an NFL roster Week 1 of the season. Elliott showcased impressive pass rush moves and closing speed, traits that teams tend to pay attention to when making cut down decisions. It's still premature to lock him in for the Packers' 53, but he's done enough to put the NFL on notice.
The Packers should go for two more often and earlier this season
A source of great frustration for yours truly is how fickle NFL head coaches can be when it comes to two-point conversions. Dated ideas about when such attempts are appropriate have prevented teams from utilizing what statistically the smarter option following a touchdown.
Mike McCarthy used Friday's preseason game to practice two-point conversions, attempting three with the Packers' starting offense. They made it look easy, going two for three. On the first attempt, Aaron Rodgers nailed Jordy Nelson on a slant. On their third, James Starks dove through the A Gap and into the end zone.
The Packers aren't about to start going for two on the opening drive, but more liberal use of the two-point conversation would lead to more points and a lot of additional pressure on lesser offenses. Between their well-oiled passing game and the emerging superhuman that is running back Eddie Lacy, the Packers would convert far more than half of their two-point conversation attempts. By settling for a kick, they're leaving points on the field.
There will be no easy cuts at wide receiver
Last week, we discussed how difficult Jeff Janis would be to hard to cut come September. That remains true after the Raiders game despite finishing without a catch. While he's the frontrunner for the Packers' fifth receiver spot, the other wideouts aren't going down without a fight.
It was a night of big plays for the Packers backup receivers. After an early drop, Myles White shook Raiders defensive backs out of their cleats on a successful third-down conversion. Chris Harper had two catches of his own including an impressive 27 yarder. Yet Alex Gillett outdid them all with a contact reception over the middle against Keith McGill and this gem of a touchdown grab:
White, Harper, and Gillett have each had their ups and downs this preseason, but there's enough on tape to at least make the Packers think about retaining one as a sixth receiver. At worse, the new NFL practice squad eligibility rules allow the Packers to consider each of them for a spot on their squad.