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Packers vs. Steelers Preview: Top storylines to watch for Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers’ connection with his new targets is among our big items to follow in Thursday’s game.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers’ second preseason game is nearly upon us and with sixty minutes of football to look back on, it’s time for fans to look ahead to tonight’s exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Green Bay defeated the Tennessee Titans 31-17 last week at Lambeau Field, and the storylines coming out of the game were numerous. However, among the biggest were the performances of the team’s young receivers and the absence of most of the starters. Those two items play heavily into the expectations for this evening, so let’s preview areas to watch in tonight’s game.

Aaron Rodgers’ chemistry with new pass-catchers

We know Rodgers won’t have any issues throwing to Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, or Geronimo Allison. Practice reports also suggest that Jimmy Graham has clicked well with Rodgers early, but we have yet to see that in game action.

Then there are all the young wide receivers, who will presumably rotate through a few plays with Rodgers under center. If any can demonstrate some good reliability and playmaking ability with #12 throwing them the football, that will bode well for their chances.

Can the young WRs ‘stack success’?

Speaking of the wideouts, one of Mike McCarthy’s favorite clichés comes into play here, as many of them are continuing to fight for roster spots. Last week featured impressive moments for three of these players in particular: fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the star with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown, sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown looked smooth and consistent on his way to a four-reception, 61-yard day, and undrafted journeyman Jake Kumerow hauled in a 52-yard touchdown bomb late in the game. Fourth-round rookie J’Mon Moore was the one who failed to impress, with a couple of drops despite some solid route-running.

Now these players need to carry last week’s impressive debuts over into a solid second outing to ensure that they continue to show up on the coaches’ and front office’s radar come cut-down day. If they can make the kinds of plays that they made with reserve quarterbacks with Rodgers, then that’s even better.

How much of the starting defense will we see?

Mike Pettine’s defense was pretty vanilla in the preseason opener, and it’s not hard to see why. He was missing six likely starters and his potential top slot corner, so the entire game was likely focused on evaluating the individual performances of the second and third stringers.

However, he should have a nearly-full complement of starting players at his disposal this week, with only Nick Perry (who is on the PUP list but appears to be making progress) remaining out of practice. Will we see a couple of series from Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, and Muhammad Wilkerson? And if so, will Pettine show us glimpses of the aggressive scheme that he’s known for?

Meanwhile, the secondary looks to be getting healthier — but we are still less than 100% sure about the availability of cornerbacks Kevin King and Jaire Alexander. If they play, Packers fans should be watching them eagerly to see if they can impress like Josh Jackson did a week ago.

The return game

Last week, Valdes-Scantling was the sole kickoff return man, while Quinten Rollins (ouch) took punts while Trevor Davis and Jaire Alexander were inactive. This week, there’s a good chance that MVS gets the call again on kicks, so hopefully he can flash a bit of that #83 magic in that role.

On punts, however, Packers fans should hope that Alexander suits up tonight and gets some action in that spot. Special teams coordinator Ron Zook said that he’s hoping to get Alexander in exactly that role as soon as possible. Furthermore, the rookie’s track record as a punt returner in college is impressive; he averaged ten yards per return in college with one touchdown, and if he can show consistency in that role that could very well free up a roster spot that might otherwise have been held for Davis.

The Packers take on the Steelers at 7:00 PM Central Time tonight at Lambeau Field. Click here to our full Game Primer for details on how to tune in.