The young offensive players had their turn against the Titans. It was the defense’s turn at home against the Steelers. By the time the first half gun sounded, the Green Bay Packers had hung 34 points on the visiting Steelers, Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Graham made their cameos with a beautiful touchdown, and the game was basically over. But that was hardly the whole story in a 51-34 win for the Packers in Week 2 of the preseason, the highest scoring preseason game in Packers history.
Reggie Gilbert, fighting to earn playing time at outside linebacker walked right up to his star and turned it with all the might his 6-foot-3, 261-pound frame could muster. Whether it was coming clean off the edge to force a fumble or turning the corner and chasing down rookie Mason Rudolph, Gilbert wouldn’t be denied by the Steelers front en route to 2.5 sacks in the first half alone.
With Nick Perry still on PUP and Clay Matthews always an injury risk, Mike Pettine’s defense desperately needed someone to step up. It wasn’t likely to be Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel simply hasn’t shown much in his return from injury.
Gilbert has shown enough for all of them.
But he wasn’t the only defensive player to show out. Rookie Oren Burks, after playing well in coverage against the Titans, showed his chops as a run defender against the Steelers, sneaking inside to make a number of plays in the box. Burks topped the team in tackles in the first half after leading the team against the Titans. His ability to get downhill and make plays to go with his coverage ability could make him an extremely valuable asset to this defense moving forward.
And speaking of valuable assets, Tramon Williams kicked the game off with a pick-six on the first play against Mason Rudolph. Early in the second half, rookie Josh Jackson baited Josh Dobbs into a pick he returned for a score of his own. Those ball skills were why the Packers used a second-round pick on the former Iowa star and he may be playing his way into a meaningful role for the Packers in 2018.
Thursday night started about as well as the Packers could have hoped for with that opening defensive touchdown. Then, Rodgers marched the offense down the field for a touchdown thanks to a 27-yard catch-and-run by Davante Adams that set up a scoring toss from Rodgers to Graham on a second-reaction play eerily reminiscent of Jordy Nelson.
For the first time we’ve seen Rodgers and Graham in the preseason, the two looked sharp. Expect that connection to only grow as they play more often together.
But after going up 14-0, the Packer surrendered two quick scores from the Steelers thanks to some sloppy tackling. James Connor bowled over Pettine’s defense en route to a 26-yard touchdown run. A Ty Montgomery fumble on the ensuing kickoff set up another Pittsburgh score to even the game.
From there, the Green & Gold rolled downhill, putting up 27 straight, punctuated by the Jackson pick-six. The defense stiffened, in large part to the play of Gilbert who turned into a one-mack wrecking crew of the Rudolph-led Steelers offense. It was suddenly 41-14 before James Washington skied to take away a pass from Demetri Goodson in the end zone for a touchdown.
But the offense wouldn’t let the defense have all the limelight. Camp star Jake Kumerow took an out from DeShone Kizer 82 yards for a touchdown after making a contested catch and outrunning the Pittsburgh secondary to the end zone.
Rarely is a preseason game over with 9 minutes left in the third quarter, but the route was on and so was the party at Lambeau. Ron Zook even let Josh Jackson return a punt, one he took 41 yards back the other way. It was that kind of night for the Packers’ young defenders.
Pittsburgh didn’t covert a third down in its first seven chances and it took a Dobbs scramble late in the third quarter to finally find a first down. That drive ended in a score that helped make the aesthetics better for the Steelers at 48-28, but the score didn’t reflect how thoroughly Green Bay had outplayed its opponent to that point.
With the outcome no longer in doubt, players still fought hard for jobs in the fourth quarter. Tim Boyle made his bid for the practice squad with some beautiful throws. J’Mon Moore dropped another perfectly thrown ball as his summer struggles slogged along. Lenzy Pipkins had a nice pass break up to prevent a two-point conversion. Mason Crosby, not in doubt of making the team, booted two 50-yard field goals just for kicks (I’m so sorry).
But most of what the Packers needed to see came early. Rodgers and Graham looked Week 1 ready. A pair of Packers corners made the kind of plays this team hasn’t made the last few years under Com Capers. And this team may have finally found a third rusher off the edge. Considering how healthy the team left Thursday night’s game, it’s hard ask for a better week for a team in search of a Super Bowl title.