Packers' starters exit exhibition finale early; reserves fare most poorly

Sept. 4, 2009

 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Green Bay's 3-1 record in the preseason will be forgotten almost overnight, but the favorable impression that the Packers left on NFL personnel people this summer will hang with them into the regular season.

Two scouts watching the Packers fall to the Tennessee Titans, 27-13, on Thursday night in a dreary exhibition finale at LP Field predicted Green Bay would be an improved team from its 6-10 finish a year ago.

"If they stay healthy, they've got a chance to go far in the playoffs," one personnel man said. "Mainly because their quarterback is playing good. They're a solid, steady football team. Greg Jennings is a Pro Bowler, but they don't have a lot of them. They're New Englandish."

The Patriots, three times Super Bowl champions this decade, always did more with less when it came to flat-out talent.

"I see Green Bay as a winning team," said Blake Beddingfield, the Titans' scouting coordinator. "It will be a tough division. Minnesota and Chicago will be good teams. It's true with any NFL team, but with them staying healthy is No.1."

The Packers pulled their No. 1 offense after three plays and a punt and their starting defense after one six-play series that led to a field goal by the Titans (3-2).

It was a dull conclusion to what had the makings of being the finest exhibition season by the Packers in a generation.

"I wanted to play a lot of these younger guys," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Unfortunately, we had some injuries that put some guys in a tough spot. The second quarter was not the type of football we're looking for."

In all, Green Bay's starters played 13 series against Cleveland, Buffalo, Arizona and Tennessee, rolling over the four foes by a combined score of 66-13.

On offense, the Packers' starters ran 74 plays for 646 yards, an 8.7-yard average and 34 first downs.

On defense, the Packers' starters yielded 343 yards in 67 plays (5.1 average) and 17 first downs.

"If you're scoring now, that will carry over into the season," said Beddingfield. "They're efficient."

Green Bay finished plus-8 in turnover differential. The Packers took the ball away 13 times, more than they have in any of their last 25 exhibition seasons.

Probably the best player on the roster this summer was Aaron Rodgers, who finished with a rating of 147.9 (the maximum is 158.3). After posting a 53.0 mark as a rookie in 2005, Rodgers had exhibition ratings of 101.1 in 2006, 98.3 in '07 and 103.6 in '08.

It's interesting to note that Rodgers' passer rating in his last four exhibition seasons all surpassed the best summer rating by his predecessor, Brett Favre, in his 16 seasons for Green Bay. Favre's all-time best was 93.5 in 1997.

"Green Bay looks like a good offensive team," Beddingfield said. "The quarterback is playing really well. Their offensive line is solid enough. They have the receivers on the outside. Getting the running game going will be so important."

Asked if the change from Mark Tauscher to Allen Barbre at right tackle was a drop-off, one scout said: "I think that's fine. There's not a drop-off by any means. They're probably better at that spot."

In its 13 series, the Packers' No. 1 offense had nine touchdowns and a field goal, one missed field goal, one punt and one failed fourth-and-one.

The 13 series in which the No. 1 defense played ended in seven takeaways, three punts, one touchdown and two field goals.

"The transition to the 3-4 looks like it's going pretty well," Beddingfield said. "Their personnel matches up pretty well for that."

The two teams closed the exhibition season for the eighth year in a row. Tennessee is 6-2 in those finales.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who typically uses the final game as a dress rehearsal, pulled the plug early to prepare for his regular-season opener next Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Tennessee's No. 1 defense departed after the first series, and most of its No. 1 offense exited after the first series. Three of the Titans' regular offensive linemen did play into the middle of the second quarter, leaving after they spearheaded a 14-yard, 80-play touchdown drive, staking Tennessee to a 10-3 lead.

Linebacker Nick Barnett played in his first game since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery Nov. 26. He lined up on the weak side and played about 28 snaps.

"Barnett looked good coming off that knee," one scout said. "Didn't look bad at all. Looked active. He's always been kind of an athletic guy."

Rookie linebacker Clay Matthews, who sat out the first three games with a recurring hamstring injury, replaced Brady Poppinga after one series and played about 22 snaps. He was frequently matched against Michael Roos, the Titans' Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle.

"He got stoned a couple times by Roos but he's just getting his feet wet," one scout said. "But what he showed he showed in college. The high energy, the chase downfield. He's going to be fine."

The Packers were so thin at cornerback that the ridiculous happened late in the third quarter. Wide receiver Brett Swain, who hasn't played on defense since he was a safety at Carlsbad (Calif.) High School, finished the game at cornerback.

Another question coming out of the summer is whether the Packers will have enough pass rush. Coordinator Dom Capers showed almost nothing in the finale, but in the first three games most of the pressure was more the result of scheme than individual performance.

"But I do think they have enough," one scout said. "Standing up or putting his hand on the ground, (Aaron) Kampman is a relentless pass rusher with pass-rush skills.

"(Jeremy) Thompson has a little bit of that. Clay Matthews has to come on. (Brady) Poppinga is a high-energy kind of guy who plays with great effort."

Rookie defensive lineman B.J. Raji played extensively and also will be expected to contribute significantly to the rush.

"He's a force," one personnel man said. "He showed it tonight. He gave their first-team guard (Eugene Amano) fits."

And then there was quarterback Brian Brohm, who followed up a solid outing in Arizona and a good week of practice with a respectable showing (84.5 rating) against the Titans.

 

 

 

Associated Press