Sunday Morning Musings
Preseason games in the National Football League can be an exercise in frustration for fans trying to gain any firm impressions on their favorite teams. Teams and coaches are experimenting with different packages and personnel groupings while at the same time trying not to show too much for the regular season and shielding key players from injury. (Do you really believe rookie quarterback Sam Bradford is going to lead the Rams over the Patriots in a regular season game?)
All that being said, the third exhibition game is traditionally the one that’s played the closest to regular game conditions. And if that’s the case, Green Bay fans have to be encouraged by the Packers 59-24 win Thursday night over the Indianapolis Colts.
It didn’t look good early, of course, as the Colts took advantage of some overpursuit by the Packers defense to punch the ball into the end zone in only two plays on their first possession. After that, the night pretty much belonged to the Packers. Even with wide receiver Greg Jennings sitting out the game and QB Aaron Rodgers a little out of sync, the offense put up 28 points in the first half against the Colts first string defense.
Remember the first half of last year when Rodgers was basically running for his life much of the time? Rodgers has barely been touched this preseason. Gone (from the starting lineup, if not the team) is the overmatched Allen Barbre at right tackle. With rookie Bryan Bulaga pushing left guard Daryn Colledge, if veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher can remain healthy there are no more weak links on the offensive line. Even in the event of injury, the team is better prepared to cope this year with Bulaga and T.J. Lang poised to step in at a moment’s notice.
Rodgers and the Packers have also become adept at using the hard snap count, drawing the Colts offsides a number of times. Not only will that help slow down the pass rush but it could provide the Packers with more chances to go downfield on free plays as they did early Thursday night. They’ve clearly also improved at accounting for the blitz.
That kind of time in the pocket affords Rodgers the opportunity to use the embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Tight end Jermichael Finley presents a matchup nightmare for opposing teams with his combination of size and speed. The two throws Rodgers made to Finley down the seam against the Colts were downright obscene. The biggest thing holding receiver James Jones back was his penchant for dropping passes but so far Jones has caught most of what has come his way. With Jennings, Jones, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson along with Finley, the Packers can spread defenses out in a way that few teams can. Those concerned about the team’s running back situation are missing the point. The Packers are a passing team in what has become a passing league. In such an offense, running becomes almost an afterthought to be used only as a changeup to keep opposing defenses honest.
The question, as always with this team, is the status of the defense and special teams. Even there, there were some positive signs. Yes, the Colts’ Peyton Manning took advantage of the Pack’s young corners but he does that to a lot of teams. The defense doesn’t need to be great, though it would be a bonus if they were. Last year the defense was unable to slow down the better offenses they faced, notably the Vikings, Steelers and Cardinals. If they can show up as they did against Manning, the team will do well. Rookie safety Morgan Burnett nabbed one interception and should have had two, showing great range in the process. Even the special teams put on a credible performance with two scores.
All in all, a fine game by the Packers and hopefully just a glimpse of things to come.
Having already buried the Milwaukee Brewers in yesterday’s post, I come this morning to praise them. Well, at least a little. They had a hiccup against the Dodgers earlier this week but have won 6 of their last 10 games and have a chance to sweep the woeful Pirates today at Miller Park. We’ll see if manager Ken Macha’s lecture on their approach to afternoon games has any effect today.
All season long I’ve taken a wait and see attitude toward rookie shortstop Alcides Escobar and for the first half of the year that stance seemed to be justified. Lately though, it seems as though Escobar is finding his comfort level at the big league level and we’ve begun to see some of the highlight reel defensive plays that scouts have raved about. He even seems to be showing a better approach at the plate. Maybe there’s hope for him after all.
Likewise, rookie catcher Jonathan Lucroy appears to be coming into his own. If he continues to develop, he could end up being the best overall Brewers backstop since Ted Simmons. Lucroy has even resurrected a weapon not seen regularly around these parts since the days of Charlie O’Brien; the snap throw to first base. Lucroy managed to pick off the Dodgers’ Jamey Carroll on just such a play this week. As Brewer pitchers haven’t always been diligent about holding runners on, you have to applaud Lucroy’s aggressiveness.
In other news, outfielder Ryan Braun finally seems to be rediscovering his power stroke with 2 home runs and 8 RBI in his last 7 games.
The Brewers also released relief pitcher David Riske this week in order to recall outfielder Carlos Gomez from his minor league rehab stint. It says something about my ambivalence for Gomez that I almost miss Riske, who has done virtually nothing for the Brewers since he was signed as a free agent 3 years ago. Riske’s tenure underlines the perils of signing relievers to multi-year contracts.
For this part, Gomez used the occasion of his return to declare himself the team’s best centerfielder in spite of what rookie Lorenzo Cain has done in his absence. Cain may have tailed off a little after a hot start but still provides the team’s best hope for the future. At least there’s a reasonable expectation that Cain will continue to improve, something that you would be hard pressed to argue about Gomez at this point in his career. Especially since his attitude indicates that he lacks the incentive to do so.
On the mound, Chris Capuano replaced Manny Parra in the starting rotation but his first outing yesterday was a rocky one. It might be unrealistic to expect Cappy to account for any extended innings as he’s worked out of the bullpen most of the season. His best bet may be to build up his arm during the offseason and come back to compete for a rotation spot in spring training.
RANDOM SAMPLINGS: Since I’ve declared a personal moratorium on all things Favrean, I had to rely on my friend and PD colleague Chris to inform me that ESPN covered ’4′s entire post-game ‘presser’ after his opening four play stint against the 49ers. I guess all that’s left for the ’4-Letter’ is to anoint his feet in oil and wipe it with their hair………..Speaking of the ageless one; with all they’ve done for Favre, I’m surprised the Vikings haven’t replaced the uniform patch denoting their 50th year with one recognizing ’4′s 20th in the NFL………..I don’t know how it will work out by the numbers but somehow, some way free agent linebacker Frank Zombo has to be on the Packers final roster. And he has to play………..The biggest thing that concerns me about the Packers defense is that we have yet to see corner Al Harris and linebacker Clay Matthews play. At this point, you have to wonder if Harris will join Atari Bigby on the PUP list to open the season and if that increases Jarrett Bush’s chance of making the team, as the coaching staff might be less inclined to go with a more inexperienced DB………..All summer long, I’ve favored Australian Chris Bryan in the Packers punting duel but, for my money, Tim Masthay won the job Thursday night. The fact that he can also kick off gives him added value. But I wouldn’t be opposed to putting Bryan on the practice squad just in case………..I understand that the coaching staff likes to work on different things but there is no way that they should have Aaron Rodgers using a quarterback sneak in a preseason game………..If ESPN’s broadcast of the Packers/Colts game is any indication, we’re going to hear a lot of whining about the NFL moving the Umpire into the offensive backfield. I’m not buying into it. The way the game is officiated these days provides every advantage to the offense. I see nothing wrong with putting a minor drag on that side of the ball. Good teams and coaches will find a way to operate effectively in the new setup………..Fantasy football players with Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on their roster should hope that Derek Anderson wins the Cardinals QB job. Matt Leinart may have the ability to play in the NFL, but he was coddled at USC and isn’t the leader you need at the pro level………..In the same vein, offensive coordinator Mike Martz was supposed to be a vast upgrade for the Chicago Bears, but their QB Jay Cutler seems to be picking up right where he left off as far as throwing INTs………..It was revealed this week that Washington pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg will have to undergo the infamous ‘Tommy John’ surgery. Strasburg will have plenty of time to recover but you have to wonder whether he’ll ever be able to realize his considerable potential as there were already questions about the stress his pitching motion put on his arm. The Nationals have a lot of hope and money invested in a player who’s never pitched more than 90 innings in a season.
That’s enough for now. Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of the weekend.