Rodgers near perfect in debut as Packers beat Rams
ST. LOUIS — As bland and generic as the St. Louis Rams' defensive game plan might have been, the Green Bay Packers' no-huddle offense couldn't have run much smoother than it did in Aaron Rodgers' preseason debut Saturday night.
There were obvious caveats — the Rams were without three key defensive starters and rarely dispatched more than four rushers to the quarterback — but Rodgers was surgical in the first two series of a 21-7 victory inside the Edward Jones Dome.
Both of Rodgers' drives ended in points, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Randall Cobb to cap off a 12-play, 86-yard opening drive. His 11 completions on 13 attempts for 128 yards were a pillar of consistency.
The Packers called the first 12 plays without substitution and only brought in tight end Andrew Quarless on the second series when Brandon Bostick left with a lower-leg injury.
Otherwise, it was one quick reset after another. The call of Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was purposely vanilla, but the efficiency of the no-huddle offered a brief glimpse of what the Packers feel is possible in 2014.
"It's tough to simulate unless you're in a game situation," Rodgers said. "You can do it for a time in practice, but usually you don't simulate 12-play drives, calling that many plays. I think we had a couple of them. That was good for us. I know some of our guys were a little winded, myself included at times during those two drives, but that's what you want."
The Rams didn't play defensive tackle Michael Brockers, linebacker James Laurinaitis or cornerback Janoris Jenkins, but Rodgers had his full assortment of offensive weapons at his disposal with running back Eddie Lacy and receiver Jordy Nelson making their preseason debuts, as well.
Lacy looked fresh and able in his only series of the night. His five carries for 25 yards kept down-and-distances reasonable and allowed Rodgers to keep the pressure going.
Lacy didn't shy away from contact, either. He could have ducked out of bounds on his first carry, but instead turned back inside and accepted the contact to extend the 13-yard carry.
Between Rodgers' fractured collarbone and Lacy's Week 2 concussion and late-season ankle sprain, the Packers rarely had both on the field at full strength at the same time last season.
The Packers ran five consecutive plays through Lacy leading up to Rodgers rolling right on second-and-goal and finding Cobb in the back of the end zone for the first score. Along with his two catches for 22 yards, Lacy contributed more than half of the yardage on the series.
"You definitely get winded out there, but it's what we train to do," Lacy said. "We looked smooth out there whether it was a run or a pass. There's big things to come in the future."
Even after veteran James Starks relieved Lacy on the second drive, the Packers still managed to move the ball with relative ease. Rodgers hit Cobb for 22 yards on a short drag route and then Quarless for 35 a few plays later on an extended play.
It appeared Rodgers had led the offense into the end zone again following a 10-yard pass to Nelson, but it was waved off because of an illegal hands to the face penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari. It was one of 22 penalties called on both teams totaling 171 yards.
Rodgers didn't have any problems with new center JC Tretter, who followed up last week's solid NFL debut against the Titans with another clean performance.
Tretter is Rodgers' fourth different starting center in four years but looked like a seasoned pro. It was his block of defensive end Eugene Sims that enabled Rodgers' deepest completion to Quarless with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
"It's pretty seamless," Rodgers said. "He's doing a great job. He's very intelligent, knows the checks. He's made a lot of good plays. He's not somebody you worry about, which is good for him being his first year."
The Packers continued to work the no-huddle after Rodgers and the first-team offense exited. Backup quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn didn't run it as flawlessly as Rodgers, but the three quarterbacks still combined for a 122.9 quarterback rating.
The plan for the past few years has been for Green Bay to work the no-huddle as its base offense. Rodgers' collarbone injury last October forced some recalculation. Tolzien was new to the terminology and Flynn wasn't brought back for a second stint with the team until November.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said afterward the no-huddle is an idea the Packers have "invested a lot of time in." Nelson believes Saturday's execution proved it.
"It's what we wanted to come out and do is execute," Nelson said. "That's all we can control no matter who is on the other side of the field. It's on us to execute and we did that and got the tempo going, and stay ahead of the change, which I think is the key thing to keep coach in rhythm and Aaron is rhythm."
Added McCarthy: "That's what every team wants and offensively, we're off to a good start."
The Packers produced 10 first downs in the two series. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he was expecting a lot of no-huddle going into the game, but they also weren't going to compromise their regular-season preparation to fight it.
"We kept things very, very basic on defense," Fisher said. "Our philosophy was to just line up and play. We're holding a lot of stuff for our regular season as well."
Rodgers has spent nine of his 10 years in Green Bay running the same offense. It's that experience the Packers hope to tap into in allowing him the freedom to run plays at his own discretion and audible based on what he sees at the line of scrimmage.
Rodgers should get another healthy dose of reps next week against Oakland. After that, the attention likely will turn to the regular-season opener in Seattle.
If the Packers' goal is to run 75 plays per game this season, Saturday night seemed to satisfy the brisk pace. As for Rodgers, he fashioned a 133.3 quarterback rating to follow up on completing 10-of-12 attempts for 134 yards in last year's 19-7 preseason win over St. Louis.
"We scored and we stayed healthy. That's kind of a perfect preseason game," Rodgers said.
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