Green Bay Packers linebacker Brad Jones sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the first quarter of Friday night's preseason game at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
For the first time this preseason, inside linebacker Brad Jones jumped off the screen in the Green Bay Packersí preseason game against Seattle on Friday night.
Back in April, many of us wondered why the Packers didnít select an inside linebacker relatively early in the draft. They drafted two defensive linemen, and even a cornerback in the fifth round. They probably thought inside linebacker wasnít a great need.
Well, weíre seeing Jones get more comfortable in his move from outside linebacker for most of his career to inside linebacker last season. He played well before he left the game because of a hamstring injury.
It started in the first series, when Seattle had first-and-goal at the 9. Jones shot a gap on a run play going away from him and made the play for no gain. Thatís been missing from inside linebacker, someone who will press the line and make plays in the backfield.
Then in the second series, he sacked Russell Wilson on a first down. The Packers need those plays from Jones, because they donít get them from their other starting inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk. Hawk doesnít overpower anybody and has a tendency to get blocked. Heís good at getting to the ball once itís past the line of scrimmage, but Jones seems able to press the line and make some plays in the run game.
Also, as a pass defender, especially in zone drops, Jonesí extra height at 6-feet-3 (Hawk is 6-1) is a little tougher to throw over, especially for a short quarterback such as Wilson.
Wilson gets it done
A guy quietly having a nice preseason is defensive lineman C.J. Wilson. He was all over the field against the Seahawks.
Take, for example, the fourth play of the game. The Seahawks were moving the ball and faced second-and-9 from their own 45. Wilson stayed low, great pad level, jammed the guy back and tackled Marshawn Lynch for no gain.
When camp started, I thought Wilson looked a little bigger than last year. Not fatter, but stronger. His motor looks good. I donít know if drafting defensive linemen Datone Jones in the first round and Josh Boyd in the fifth lit a fire under him, but Wilson seems to be pursuing plays away from him better. Itís going to be tough for Jones to knock him out of the starting lineup in the base defense.
Another defensive lineman who doesnít show up in the stats but is playing well is B.J. Raji. Heís getting push up front.
You canít blitz quarterbacks like Wilson and the 49ersí Colin Kaepernick, who are great scramblers, because that creates holes for them to run through. Instead, your rushers have to get push and keep their feet.
You saw why on the gameís first play. Raji fell down on his rush, and Russell Wilson ran through the gap for 13 yards. Against these super-mobile quarterbacks, the rushers have to drive the pile back and keep their feet. Let the rush come from the outside and give the quarterback nowhere to run up the middle.
The Packers, in fact, contained Russell Wilson well, and the score proves it. Three points at half against a dynamic guy like him is pretty good. They took Wilson out of the game. Seattle is dangerous because it can run the ball, and Wilson doesnít have to make all the plays, just a few plays. When he canít make the play with his arm, he relies on his feet. The Packers kept him in the pocket.
Wilson and Kaepernick and even Robert Griffin III of Washington might make a few plays from the pocket, but not the plays that will beat you. Theyíll beat you more by keeping pass plays alive outside the pocket and running the ball.
ē Having cornerback Casey Hayward back against the Seahawks made a difference for the Packersí defense, at least until he left the game after aggravating his hamstring injury.
Hayward showed why heís a good player on the third play after he entered the game in the second quarter. Seahawks halfback Robert Turbin caught the ball in the flat, and Hayward took him down in the open field. Rookie Micah Hyde can make those plays, too, but he doesnít have the speed to run with a lot of receivers. Hyde was burned again over the top this week, early in the third quarter, though he recovered on the lofted throw to tip the ball out of receiver Golden Tateís hands.
Hydeís been the darling of the preseason, a preseason Pro Bowler. Donít get me wrong, heís a good football player and is making plays. But he has some limitations with speed. Teams will see that and try to isolate him down field. Where heís going to be successful is around the line of scrimmage.
Either way, Hayward showed why he should be on the field in the nickel. Heís around the ball. People might say his interception was lucky because the pass was tipped by linebacker Nick Perry, but it doesnít matter. Hayward was there and made the play.
ē The Packers starters pass blocked well against the Seahawks. When you have a $120 million quarterback, youíre going to protect him, and thatís the lineís strength.
The challenge is run blocking with a power back like Eddie Lacy. He can make things happen, but he needs the offensive line to get him to the linebacker level. The run on the Packersí second series that was called back for a holding penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari was a good example of how it should look.
The penalty was bogus by the way. Bakhtiari ran the guy over and they called holding. Anyway, Bakhtiari ran over his guy, left guard Josh Sitton got off the line free and got the linebacker, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith got his hips around and kept the alley open. So Lacy was able to plant his foot and shoot through the hole even though he got hit. Some backs would have been knocked down at the line, but the only way youíre going to tackle Lacy is with a clean hit. You canít trip him up, heís just a powerful running back.
But those plays are happening too infrequently.
ē I thought Vince Young secured the backup quarterback job against the Seahawks. If Aaron Rodgers gets injured, Young gives them the better chance to win. Youngís chances got even better Saturday, when the Packers cut Graham Harrell.
Those passes that Harrell missed high Friday, that happens when a quarterback doesnít have a great arm and has to put everything into his throws. A stronger-armed quarterback can just use his wrist and put the ball where it needs to be.
ē Tight end Jermichael Finley still has to figure it out. He has all the talent in the world, but he just has to hang onto the ball. That ball in the end zone from Harrell on fourth down in the second quarter, thatís not an easy catch but itís still a drop. You have to make that play.
With receiver Greg Jennings gone, Finley will have to play a central role in the offense, and he has to catch passes like that. If he wants to be mentioned with Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, he has to make those plays.
ó Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.