Forty five minutes before the Packers took on the Ravens in their second exhibition game, the air spiraled out of the collective excitement balloon. Green Bay announced Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t, in fact, make his preseason debut as originally expected due to back tightness. Perhaps Matt LaFleur looks to be following in the footsteps of his former boss Sean McVay in at least one way: he doesn’t think preseason reps matter that much.
Don’t tell that to Curtis Bolton, who starred Thursday night and looks to be in solid position to replace Oren Burks at inside linebacker next to Blake Martinez. The undrafted rookie led all tacklers in the first half with five, made a handful of plays in the Ravens backfield and snagged a pick off a Tony Brown deflection. For a player who looked like a longshot to make the team, the man they call Buzzy positioned himself to be a legitimate player on this defense.
It was the offense in particular that struggled to hold up its end of the bargain in a 26-13 loss in Baltimore.
Without Rodgers, Kizer started the game with many of the projected Week 1 starters. The last backup quarterback to face this Baltimore Ravens defense was Brett Hundley in one of the worst regular season performances at Lambeau Field in modern Packers history. A week after the Jaguars never got into Ravens territory, the Packers accomplished that feat on their very first drive thanks to a 38-yard return from emerging rookie Darrius Shepherd. Kizer missed Davante Adams on a slant to try and convert a fourth down and Green Bay’s first drive ended fruitlessly.
But Kizer came back with some impressive throws on the next drive with a hot read to Jake Kumerow on a slant for a first down, and another strike to Kumerow on the outside. Against a Wink Martindale blitz, Kizer stepped up and fired a shot to Geronimo Allison to convert third-and-long to set up a field goal but even that came with caveats. The play that ended that drive was a tight end rail throw to Jimmy Graham where he never gave the big fella a chance to make a play with a ball well over his head.
Kizer has to show better consistency to solidify the second quarterback spot, but the impressive throws can’t simply be ignored, particularly against such a quality defense. He did, after all, lead the first drive of the preseason to end in points against the Ravens defense. But he finished the game just 5/10 for 70 yards. Considering one of those passes was batted down, his numbers didn’t finish any less impressive than what we saw from Jackson.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense present myriad problems for defenses with Jackson’s legs, a unique run game, and a host of play action looks to stress a defense. Mike Pettine’s unit struggled to stop Baltimore’s powerful ground game on the opening drive, giving up a field goal, but the secondary held its own. Darnell Savage ran step-for-step with tight end Hayden Hurst on a shot play and Jaire Alexander nearly picked Lamar Jackson’s third-down throw to end the drive. With limited snaps for the starters, those are the types of plays that stand out, inspiring confidence in the young defensive talent.
A week after Joe Webb caused fits for the tackling of Pettine’s unit, Jackson created similar issues. The slippery second-year quarterback slid out of a number of tackles, including a sure sack from Za’Darius Smith. A blindside block penalty erased a scintillating Jackson touchdown run in the red zone where he run around and over a handful of Packers defenders. Darnell Savage, who had blocked on the penalty, may have made the play, but considering Jackson’s ability, that’s far from a guarantee.
Greg Roman’s offense, a mix of modern and anachronistic concepts, gave Green Bay fits against a defense with nine of 11 starting defenders. Curtis Bolton, in for the injured Oren Burks, once again found himself around the ball constantly, finishing with six tackles, a TFL and an interception. Our first glimpse of the Acme Sackers also bore fruit, with Za’Darius Smith in particular showing the kind of impact presence he’s shown in practice. Fronts with Mr. and Mr. Smith and Rashan Gary also showed promise. Expect Pettine to go to these fronts in base and dub-package situations given the size and pass rush they can bring.
Jackson finished his night early in the second quarter 6/10 for 58 yards along with 2 runs for 14 yards and that touchdown called back. His legs should be a major factor this season, but the passing game still leaves plenty to be desired. All things considered, in a game where teams don’t scout hard, the Packers defense handled him well, but Green Bay still trailed 13-6 at halftime.
Tim Boyle, taking over for Kizer, struggled for most of the third quarter, as did rookie running back Dexter Williams. The two combined for a flubbed handoff, resulting in a fumble to set up a Ravens touchdown. It was a night to forget for the second year quarterback, who missed too many open throws and turtled against pressure en route to a 12/21 night for 107 yards and a touchdown. If he was going to push Kizer for the No. 2 job, this was not his best effort.
But Boyle brought the laser show for one fleeting moment the next drive and found Allen Lazard for a pair of big plays before floating a gorgeous ball over the head of the cornerback in the waiting arms of Darrius Shepherd for the touchdown. That play cut the Ravens lead to 20-13. Shepherd and Lazard, along with Bolton, represented the few bright spots on a night of struggles for the Packers.
Speaking of struggles, it was a night of them for a number of Green Bay rookies. Rashan Gary failed, once again, to make an impact despite playing heavy snaps and allowed an easy fourth down conversion when he was fooled badly on a naked boot by Trace McSorley. Elgton Jenkins was on the receiving end of two questionable penalties, but no one should expect referees to be any more consistent in the regular season. Ka’Dar Hollman left the game with an injury. Ty Summers picked up where he left off in the second half missing tackles, punctuated by a fourth quarter drive where he missed at least three on one drive alone. And Dexter Williams had a nightmare night with the aforementioned fumble and a bad drop on a well set-up screen play.
On a night when we expected to get our first look at this new Matt LaFleur offense, we got instead struggles, penalties and sloppy play. This gives LaFleur an opportunity he’d rather not have: a chance to set the standard amid sub-optimal play from his team. No one should overreact to what we saw Thursday night, but it was an unacceptable execution and effort.
To be sure, the Ravens’ unique personnel and offense present odd matchup problems for defenses. Wink Martindale’s defense should be one of the best in football and failing to light up the scoreboard with DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle should be no real shame. But the sloppiness can’t be tolerated.
We were supposed to learn about this new team featuring the majority of the Packers starters in Maryland Thursday night. Instead, it’s time for Green Bay to go back to school in order to try and get back on track.