With a 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Green Bay Packers finished the 2021 preseason with a 0-3 record, their first winless exhibition slate since 1987. Wins and losses in the preseason aren’t how you would think head coach Matt LaFleur measures the success of the summer, though.
The only projected starters who saw playing time against the Bills were rookie center Josh Meyers and rookie guard Royce Newman. LaFleur’s Rams-like mentality of treating the preseason like a bubble-wrapped junior varsity game to test the depth of his roster is a continued trend through Year 3 of his time in Green Bay. The Bills, meanwhile, kept their starters in on both sides of the ball for the vast majority of the first half.
Yes, on paper, being outscored 21-68 over three games isn’t pretty, but it loses the context of what is being done on the field. Despite falling to Buffalo in a three-score loss, the Packers actually earned more yards per play (5.3) than the Bills (5.1), with the biggest difference in the game being Green Bay’s ability to punch in the ball once the team was in the red zone. Two turnovers on downs at the 1- and 16-yard lines, an interception in the end zone, and a missed 28-yard field goal by Mason Crosby will do that to a game. “The Packers won’t be able to score if their entire second-string offense is in” is hardly a cause for concern.
LaFleur actually didn’t call a single play in any of those four scoring-opportunity drives. He would tell reporters that quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Luke Getsy called the first four series of the game (the first half and first drive out of the second half) while tight ends coach Justin Outten and wide receivers coach Jason Vrable took over the play-calling after Getsy. The point of the preseason? The development of the team outside of the gameday structure that the Packers have already established and know they can lean on in the regular season without the reps of the preseason games.
Now, there were some positive signs, even in a shutout loss. The Packers offense moved like a hot knife through butter against the Bills’ defensive starters until an aggressive fourth-down call led to quarterback Jordan Love just missing receiver Reggie Begelton, covered by Pro Bowl cornerback Tre White, by an inch. Begelton (four receptions, 51 yards) and Malik Taylor (five receptions, 69 yards) made strong cases for roster consideration, despite the fact that Green Bay’s wide receiver room seems to be full to the brim with NFL-caliber players.
A really nice snag here by Malik Taylor. Earlier this week Matt LaFleur said if they do keep 6 WR it will be “a fight right down to the finish.”— Nicole Menner (@NicoleMenner) August 28, 2021
Taylor continues to set himself apart. pic.twitter.com/KhFIaYA8lN
Love, overall, seemed to be under control, a positive, but too often clicked into “make a play” mode, leading to him tossing an interception into the end zone in double coverage after he and Bronson Kaufusi got their feet tripped up on a play-action rollout. LaFleur spoke on Love’s over-aggressiveness when plays broke down, stating, “You can’t ever risk it quite like that unless it’s fourth down and the game is on the line.”
Jordan Love channeling his inner Brett Favre pic.twitter.com/yZsqwdbrJe— Joe Kipp (@joepkipp) August 28, 2021
Love’s preseason, a solid but not great one, would end with a stat line of 24 completions from 35 pass attempts for 271 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and plenty of flashy throws from unique arm angles and launch points. Love clarified after the game that the shoulder injury that kept him out of the Jets game last week was a strained rotator cuff, but that it felt good even after playing against Buffalo.
As far as offensive lowlights go, center Jake Hanson snapping the ball at Love’s ankles in his first rep of the game takes the cake. Hanson not being able to get the snap off before the play clock expired in scoring territory might be second on the list.
Defensively, some usual suspects continued to flash reasons why they may make the Packers’ 53-man roster on Tuesday. Undrafted rookie defensive lineman Jack Helfin continues to make plays that players of his size, let alone investment, rarely do. Sixth-round rookie linebacker Isaiah McDuffie, who missed time earlier in the preseason due to injury, plays fast and aggressive in a role similar to Oren Burks’ this summer. McDuffie, a native of western New York, finished the day with nine tackles and a half-sack that came on a blitz.
The recently-signed cornerback Stephen Denmark also played “sticky” coverage, despite the short turnaround between him joining the Packers and actually suiting up for them in a game. Meanwhile, Kabion Ento, a roster-bubble cornerback, struggled some as a run-fitter against Buffalo’s aggressive spread offensive that also used plenty of hurry-up tempo when their starters were in the game.
The special teams moment of the night, excluding kicker Mason Crosby’s short field goal miss, was when the kicker came into the game for punter JK Scott, who had cramps, to boot a 41-yarder off of the bench.
All in all, the unsexy Packers preseason did exactly what it intended to do: Keep the players they couldn’t afford to lose on ice while gaining clarity on both their roster depth and the depth of their coaching staff. Mission accomplished. See you again next year.