The Green Bay Packers suffered a humbling home loss Saturday night to their hated next-door rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
Their performance on offense was nothing short of awful in a 16-0 defeat.
But the game allowed for a look at some younger players who otherwise might not have played, whether it was because of injury or because with the playoffs out of reach the Packers are getting a jump start on evaluations for 2018.
So here’s a look at what the Packers learned about some of them:
Michael Clark: His 28 snaps confirmed he’s dripping wet with talent but remains a raw receiver as he nears the end of his first season in the NFL. He’s in only his third year playing football since early in high school – he was a Division I basketball player who transferred to Marshall to play football for two years, including one as a redshirt.
Clark’s best catch of the night, a diving, fully extended 19-yarder early in the fourth quarter, was one few receivers could have made. He was able to because of his height (6-feet-6), long arms and all-around athleticism. That’s what makes him an intriguing prospect.
But a couple of other targets showed that Clark needs a lot of work this offseason if he’s going to help the Packers next year.
One was a back-shoulder throw in the end zone in the fourth quarter. You can make a good argument that quarterback Brett Hundley should have just thrown this one over the top and let Clark use his height and length to go get it, regardess of who was covering Clark and how he was covered. Clark’s play in camp suggests he can go over any defensive back for a jump ball, so there’s no need to worry about whether the cover man is even with him, and no need to throw it to the back shoulder. Going and getting the ball is his thing.
But the throw still was well placed on his back shoulder, and he has to come up with it. It’s a catch Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson make routinely. Clark was late getting his head around and hands out, and he fanned on the attempted catch even though the ball was right there. If he’s going to be a good player in this league, that’s a play he has to make.
Then there was a deep ball to Clark along the sidelines later in the fourth quarter, on a fourth down. For some reason he slowed for a couple of strides in the middle of the route, and when he turned it back on he couldn’t catch up to the ball. That was a makable play if he’d run hard all the way through.
Lenzy Pipkins: The undrafted rookie cornerback played one more snap on defense Saturday night (19) than he had all season coming in and showed he should be in the running for a roster spot and perhaps playing time next year.
Pipkins displayed a physical element as a tackler near the goal line late in the third quarter when he brought down running back Latavius Murray in the open field on a third-and-goal from the 2. It was the kind of play in which the running back often runs over a cornerback or beats him to the pylon. But Pipkins stayed with him and made a good, physical play by dropping him for no gain.
In coverage earlier in the third quarter, Pipkins stayed with Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell on a double move and got ahead of Treadwell and was in better position to catch the ball than the intended target.
Pipkins has some physical assets (4.46 speed, 31 ¼-inch arms) to play in the league. He has enough arm length to stun receivers at the line of scrimmage if he can learn to get good arm extension on jams, and also to help defend 50-50 balls downfield.
Trevor Davis: The third-year receiver is as fast as anyone on the Packers’ offense but hasn’t been able to get on the field (14 snaps total going into Saturday night). We might have seen a glimpse of why in his 16-snap stint against the Vikings.
In the third quarter Hundley overthrew him slightly with a deep ball along the sideline, and for some reason Davis didn’t lay out for the catch. It sure looked like he would have had a shot at the ball if he’d dived, but he didn’t even reach out for it. That was inexplicable.
The next play was basically the same throw to the same spot to Randall Cobb, though this one was probably even a touch more overthrown. Cobb laid out for the ball but was unable to make the catch. Davis is playing these next couple weeks for next year, and he needs to show the coaches and scouts he should be on the field in 2018. He didn’t do that Saturday night.
Clark on the rise
Kenny Clark has made giant strides this season and is on a trajectory to possibly become a better player than the accomplished teammate he lines up next to at defensive tackle, Mike Daniels.
Clark has been a consistent run stopper all season and now late in the year is becoming a pass rusher to watch. In the last four games he has had 4 ½ sacks, including two against the Vikings.
His first sack Saturday night was a hustle play where he looped around Daniels and outside rusher Kyler Fackrell, and dropped Case Keenum for a nine-yard loss. That’s the kind of motor he has displayed all season in chasing down plays.
His pass rush has improved because he has gotten better at using his hands to swat away offensive linemen’s hands, and then using his athleticism to flip his hips around the blocker and get through the gap. For the first half of the season he was almost exclusively a bull rusher, but now he has another way to get to the quarterback.
Clark has a couple of important things going for him. He’s only 22, and while he’s a big man (6-3, 314 pounds) he’s not carrying extra weight. That helps with his motor. The thing you worry about with high-motor defensive linemen is that they’ll add weight as they get older and lose some of that motor.
» Justin McCray had a good game in adverse circumstances after he had to move from right guard to right tackle on the second play of the game. McCray, who was starting for injured Jahri Evans, became the right tackle after Jason Spriggs sustained a serious leg injury on the Packers’ first snap. For most of the night McCray went against Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (seven sacks coming in), who’s an up-and-coming outside rusher. But Hunter was mostly a non-factor (no sacks or quarterback hits). McCray has elevated his game as the season has gone on and at this point is probably a better straight-ahead run blocker than Evans.
» In an indication of what kind of season the Packers have had, one of their best rookies has been punter Justin Vogel. Vogel, who was an undrafted free agent, functioned pretty well in his first true cold-weather game. He had a higher net average (36.7 yards) than the Vikings’ Ryan Quigley (35.4 yards) and pinned the Vikings at their own 11 on a 43-yard punt in the second quarter.
Quarterback: Brett Hundley (30.2 rating) made horrendous decisions on his two interceptions and missed a chance at an easy big play when he threw an out at Jordy Nelson’s ankles after the cornerback had fallen down. The receivers and tight ends dropped seven passes. Grade: D-
Offensive line: Justin McCray did a fine job at right tackle replacing injured Jason Spriggs after the game’s first play, and Lucas Patrick was just as solid filling in for McCray at right guard. David Bakhtiari shut down Pro Bowler Everson Griffen. Grade: B
Tight ends: Lance Kendricks had two big third-down drops and Richard Rodgers left the game with a shoulder injury. Grade: D-
Running backs: Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones didn’t get many carries (18 for 71 yards) on a cold night that called for running the ball, and had no receptions. Grade: C
Wide receivers: In his first NFL game, undrafted rookie Michael Clark had two drops, as did Nelson. Trevor Davis failed to lay out for a deep ball he might have caught. Grade: D+
Defensive line: Kenny Clark provided some badly needed pass rush (two sacks) and had two tackles for a loss. Grade: A-
Linebackers: With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry out because of injuries, Reggie Gilbert showed he improved after two years on the practice squad with a couple of pressures in his debut. Kyler Fackrell had a chase-down sack. Vince Biegel didn’t flash as a rusher. Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez had 11 tackles each. Grade: B-
Cornerbacks: Davon House broke up a pass along the sidelines and Lenzy Pipkins made two plays – he had good coverage on a deep ball to Laquon Treadwell and a big tackle on Latavius Murray in the open field at the 2 that saved a touchdown. Josh Hawkins had a pass-interference penalty and gave up a short touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. Grade: C+
Safeties: They came out amped up but couldn’t sustain it for 60 minutes. Morgan Burnett didn’t show much as a blitzer; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made only one play, a pass breakup that probably should have been an interception. Grade: C+