Packers 24, Rams 10: Running game takes back seat to Hundley in exhibition win
GREEN BAY – Two years removed from his last extended playing time, it’s easy to understand why the Green Bay Packers emphasized backup quarterback Brett Hundley’s development this preseason.
The Packers prioritized nothing more than providing the NFL a large film sample of Hundley during their four exhibitions. After lasting the final 3 1/2 quarters in Denver, Hundley played through the first half of Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams, a 24-10 win at Lambeau Field.
Yet Hundley’s growth wasn’t the offense’s most pressing need for the coming season. The third-year quarterback will all but disappear now, reemerging only in the event of two extremes: catastrophe (injury to Aaron Rodgers) or blowout victory (fourth-quarter garbage time).
In all likelihood, Hundley will next become relevant in the spring, when ideally he’ll provide the Packers an enticing trade chip. Their rookie running back trio could play meaningful snaps much sooner. Each received his final preseason audition against the Rams.
BOX SCORE: Packers 24, Rams 10
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Their light workload matched the previous three weeks.
“I wish I would have ran the ball more in the first three preseason games,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Tonight is what we needed to do.”
Aaron Jones led the Packers with 48 yards on eight carries against the Rams. Jamaal Williams had 31 yards on 11 carries, while Devante Mays had 18 yards on six carries.
Jones said he believed his final outing in the preseason was enough to earn a spot on the Packers' roster.
“I feel like I did everything in my power to show that I belonged,” Jones said.
Hundley, meanwhile, threw 21 times while playing through the first half. He finished 11-for-21 for 99 yards, one touchdown and a 81.2 rating against the Rams, adding a 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
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In four weeks, Hundley completed 48 of 76 passes (63 percent) for 482 yards, three touchdowns and one interception with a pair of rushing touchdowns.
For the fourth straight week, the Packers did not emphasize the run game. This time, it was offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett calling plays, as is customary in the Packers' preseason finale. Jones led the Packers with four carries at halftime. Williams had two carries and lost 3 yards. Mays had not yet carried the football, though he had two catches for 36 yards.
It wasn’t until Hundley exited at halftime that the Packers' rookie tailbacks took center stage. Williams had nine carries on the second half’s opening drive, including a 5-yard run on fourth-and-1. Mays had his first four carries of the exhibition on that drive.
“I think if you watch closely,” McCarthy said, “it was obvious what we were trying to do in the first half. We gave Brett the ball in the first half. We ran the ball more in the second half.”
Whether the Packers keep three or four running backs on their 53-man roster past Saturday’s cut-down deadline, they’ll enter the regular-season opener against Seattle with almost certainly the NFL’s least-experienced backfield. Other than presumed starter Ty Montgomery, whose 10 regular-season games last season were his first full-time backfield exposure since high school, the Packers will have no NFL experience in their backfield.
Montgomery was among the 28 players who did not dress for the Packers against the Rams. He played only two exhibitions and finished the preseason with six carries for 31 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown plunge in Denver. His was the lone rushing touchdown for a Packers running back this preseason.
There could be any number of reasons beyond Hundley’s development for why the rushing workload fell the way it did. With a shaky offensive line, it wasn’t easy getting the running game in rhythm. The Packers also were tasked with evaluating three rookies in the backfield, meaning opportunities would be more scattered than usual.
“Being so many running backs,” Mays said, “we don’t get that many opportunities. So when we do, you just have to make the best of it. … You just have to do the best you can with what you get.
“It’s pretty different, but it’s expected coming in as pretty much one of the last backs on the roster, and then having so many running backs at the same time.”
Jones led the rookie trio this preseason with 105 yards on 19 carries, averaging fewer than five carries each week. Williams, who figures to be Montgomery’s top backup, started twice in the preseason and finished with 61 yards on 25 carries.
After not getting a single carry in the Packers' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mays finished with 43 yards on 16 carries.
Together, the trio had fewer carries (60) this preseason than Hundley had passes. Signifying how heavily the Packers' offense focused on the passing game in August, each of the Packers' rookie tailback trio showed more as receivers than runners.
Jones, the only rookie running back to find the end zone, had a pair of touchdown catches this preseason. He was drafted in part for his receiving ability, so he said it wasn’t surprising to have two touchdown catches without rushing into the end zone.
“You want to be able to catch the ball as a back,” Jones said, “and that definitely helps your game. It helps you be versatile.”
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Williams’ best game came in Denver, where he had only 4 yards on three carries but his three catches for 46 yards showed he was a capable receiver. Mays had a 20-yard gain off a screen pass against the Rams.
It’s arbitrary to determine how much preseason preparation a rookie running back needs. Each player is different. But none of the Packers' three rookies handled what could be confused for a workhorse’s share.
“I feel like I got little snippets of how it feels being in a situation like fourth-and-ones and third-and-shorts,” Williams said. “Or just being back there and getting off runs, following your fullbacks. So it’s really just feeling the flow of how the game is going, but I know once it’s real season, a lot more people are going faster. But I feel more comfortable than I did when I first started.”