Injuries throw starting offense off rhythm

Aug. 17, 2012

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Maybe it won’t matter that the Green Bay Packers’ starting offense has sputtered through the first two preseason games, scoring just once in six possessions.

But that’s not exactly the formula quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the starting offense has followed the last three summers.

Dating to 2009, the Packers have used the preseason to fine tune things for what would go on to be some of the most prolific offensive production in team history. The last three exhibition seasons have seen Rodgers combine for 16 touchdown passes without a single interception. He completed 71.8 percent of his passes and had preseason passer ratings of 147.9 in 2009, 141.2 in 2010 and 130.1 last year.

Against San Diego and Cleveland the last two weeks, Rodgers and the No. 1 offense have managed just one score — a 20-yard touchdown from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson on Thursday against the Browns. The other five possessions were: a lost fumble by running back James Starks, a three-and-out, an interception, a lost fumble by receiver Randall Cobb and a turnover on downs. For Rodgers, it adds up to a preseason in which he has completed just eight of his 19 passes for 75 yards and a passer rating of 49.2.

So far, Rodgers has played behind two different left tackles, has had two different starting running backs and has been without top receiver Greg Jennings (concussion) and top tight end Jermichael Finley (quad).

“Obviously you want to score every possession,” Rodgers said after Thursday’s 35-10 loss to the Browns. “We had a couple of runs the last couple of preseasons of doing that, but sometimes things happen that prevent you from doing that. We don’t want the turnovers, obviously, but I think we’re happy with where we’re at. It’s preseason.”

Indeed, Rodgers has looked sharp in practice, but it has to be concerning that he has been without some of his top weapons. Jennings has been out since Aug. 3 but my be cleared to return to practice on Sunday, coach Mike McCarthy said. Finley, who has been out since Aug. 7, is “getting close,” according to McCarthy.

This is an important week, considering McCarthy typically uses the third preseason game, which comes Thursday at Cincinnati, to give his starters their most extended action of the summer.

“It would be nice to have Jermichael and Greg in the mix as well, see what those can do, get on the same page timing-wise,” Rodgers said. “Having those two guys and Jordy on the field presents some really interesting matchup issues for the defense. Cincinnati’s got a real good defense, and it would be nice to have all those guys.”

Still, McCarthy said even if Jennings and Finley return to practice this week, their snap counts against the Bengals might not be as extensive as the rest of the starters.

“We’ll let the week determine that,” McCarthy said Friday. “We need to improve as a football team. We met with the players. We’ve watched the film, went through the grades, went through the corrections. It’s important for us to get on the in-season schedule this week. This is always a big week for a number of different reasons. It’s not just about the (starters). It’s about every player that has the opportunity to play in the Bengals game that he takes advantage of that opportunity to be part of our 53.”

Though McCarthy said the No. 2 offensive line “needs to play better,” the first group seems settled again now that Marshall Newhouse, who missed the Chargers game, was back as the starting left tackle against the Browns. Herb Taylor struggled against San Diego in Newhouse’s place, but pass protection wasn’t an issue against Cleveland.

However, the running game still hasn’t gotten on track. Starks, who started against the Chargers, didn’t play on Thursday because of a turf toe injury. Alex Green started against the Browns but remains on a strict snap count because he’s coming off reconstructive knee surgery. Rodgers and backup Graham Harrell were the top-two rushers against the Browns with 24 and 23 yards, respectively.

In the two preseason games, the trio of Starks, Green and rookie Marc Tyler have combined for just 73 yards on 33 carries, a 2.2-yard average.

Perhaps Cedric Benson, who was signed last Sunday, will provide a boost. Benson practiced twice last week but couldn’t work in pads, per the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. His first padded practice will be on Sunday.

“You’re just not going to do the things you want to do on offense if you can’t win the down, as we like to say, in those rushing attempts,” Rodgers said. “So we’ve got to do a little better job of that. Maybe with Ced being in the lineup next week, (they can) get him some carries.” and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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