Packers 4 Downs: Receiver Allen Lazard taking leap forward in playing time
Four observations the day after the Packers' 42-24 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:
Wide receiver Allen Lazard moved ahead of rookie Darrius Shepherd in the playing rotation after his big fourth quarter last week in the Packers’ 23-22 win over Detroit (4 catches for 65 yards and a score). On Sunday against Oakland, he played regularly (51 of 60 snaps on offense) as part of a rotation that also included Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow. Shepherd, in the meantime, played only three snaps on offense. Lazard had one terrible drop when he was wide open along the sidelines in the second quarter, but in the third quarter he used his 6-5 size to make a leaping catch for a 26-yard gain at the Oakland 3 that set up a touchdown. He finished with three catches for 42 yards.
The Packers might need to elevate cornerback Tremon Smith from the practice squad to return kickoffs, because Shepherd just isn’t explosive enough for the role. Like Detroit last week, Oakland kicked off short to force Shepherd to return kickoffs, and on his four returns the Packers started with the ball at their 18, 22, 15 and 22. Smith averaged 26.8 yards on 33 kickoffs for Kansas City last season and 22.7 yards on three returns for the Packers earlier this year. He’d give the Packers a much better shot at starting at least at their 25.
In one sense, it’s hard to blame Raiders coach Jon Gruden for challenging an offensive interference penalty on one of his receivers (Trevor Davis) in the first quarter. It was a weak call that wiped out a 20-yard play. But based on the ridiculously high standard the league has set to overturn PI calls, he should have known it had no chance of getting changed. “I made an emotional mistake, I’m sure,” Gruden said after the game. In the second quarter Gruden surely must have been tempted to challenge a PI call on safety Erik Harris, who was defending tight end Jimmy Graham. In real time there appeared to be no contact between them, but on replay Harris clearly had hold of the bottom of Graham’s jersey as the tight end made a move downfield. Gruden wasn’t happy with the officiating but didn’t say much after the game, presumably because of the fines the league handed out last week to Clay Matthews, among others, for critical public comments about the officiating. “The referees, I wasn’t happy with some of the calls, obviously,” Gruden said.
I won’t know for sure until watching the game video, but it looked like first-round pick Rashan Gary played on defense only on a few goal-line plays and on the Packers’ final, garbage-time defensive series. That was curious and not a good sign, because he wasn’t on the injury report this past week and had been working more into the playing rotation. Over the past few weeks he was getting some snaps at outside linebacker to give the starters a rest, and also as a pass rusher in the Packers’ third-down dime defense in which they line up three outside linebackers and Kenny Clark as their four primary rushers. But against the Raiders, Kyler Fackrell held that role in the dime rush, and starters Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith appeared to play most of the game as the regular outside linebackers.