Insider: Thumbs up to D's recovery, down to NT depth
The Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 31-21 on Friday night at Lambeau Field. It was mostly a good night for Packers fans.
Here is full analysis from Green Bay's third – and most important – preseason game.
Big plays are bad, even if they're inevitable.
There will be necessary corrections after Raiders tailback Maurice Jones-Drew's 40-yard touchdown run on the opening drive. The long touchdown run wouldn't have been possible without numerous breakdowns from the Packers defense, including a missed tackle from inside linebacker A.J. Hawk. But what had Hawk smiling in the locker room Friday night was the way Green Bay's defense responded.
After the touchdown, the Packers pitched five straight three-and-outs. Excluding that one play, it was their best defensive performance of the preseason. The best part about it was how they responded to the early adversity.
"That's kind of the thing we hadn't been able to do as much these past couple seasons," Hawk said. "When the game can kind of go one way or the other as a defense, we need to take the reins and take control of it. That's something we haven't always done, and tonight I think we kind of did.
"We gave up a big run for touchdown, and you never want to let that happen. But we knew we put that behind us, and we just needed to keep going out there and rolling. Five straight three-and-outs after that is something that we found a way to respond.
"Other teams are going to make plays. We understand that. They all get paid too. There's great players everywhere you look. It was definitely good to respond, and we need to find a way to use that as a stepping stone going into the season."
Injuries are part of the NFL's preseason. Up until Friday night, the Packers had avoided a severe blow.
Maybe Green Bay is still OK, even with nose tackle B.J. Raji leaving the game in the first quarter with an upper arm injury and not returning. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday night Raji was optimistic about the injury. But a report Saturday morning from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport stated Raji is believed to have torn his right bicep.
We'll find out how severe Raji's injury is soon enough, but this would be the severe injury blow the Packers had hoped to avoid. It had been a renaissance camp for Raji, who clearly enjoyed the return to his natural nose tackle position.
Behind him, there isn't much depth. Free agent Letroy Guion is on the non-football injury list with a hamstring and hasn't practiced this camp. That would leave second-year defensive lineman Josh Boyd atop the depth chart. The Packers could seek other options, perhaps reaching out to 34-year-old free agent Ryan Pickett, but nothing would be as good as having a healthy Raji.
DID YOU NOTICE?
— Fans saw a familiar sight on the Packers' first drive, with No. 12 completing a 32-yard pass across the middle to No. 89 on third down. In years past, that would've been Aaron Rodgers to James Jones, but Jones was on the visiting sideline with the Raiders. Instead, rookie tight end Richard Rodgers – who has assumed Jones' old number – came up with some big plays. He caught two passes for 40 yards and seems to be earning his quarterback's trust.
— It was a great night for Packers running backs. The top three on the depth chart – Eddie Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris – touched the ball 29 times for 183 yards and a touchdown. Most impressive, each had a play of more than 15 yards.
— Julius Peppers' night got rave reviews, deservedly so. Peppers led the first-team defense with three tackles. Most promising was his ability to defend the run and pass. Peppers recorded his first sack of the preseason, while also dropping a Raiders running back behind the line of scrimmage, finishing with two tackles for loss.
— One of the weak areas for the Packers offense last weekend in St. Louis was red zone efficiency. The Packers only converted 2-of-4 chances, not good enough in the NFL. On Friday, it was much better. Green Bay converted 4-of-5 red zone opportunities, including three touchdowns in three chances for the starting offense. You'd expect that kind of efficiency from a group led by Aaron Rodgers.
— At this point, you've got to think Jayrone Elliott is thisclose to a roster spot. After having three sacks against the Rams last weekend, the undrafted free agent rookie outside linebacker from Toledo backed it up with another sack and a batted pass. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Elliott is built to be an edge pass rusher. He's shown it for two straight weeks now. It was a long, long shot for Elliott to make the 53-man roster when camp began, but he could be playing his way onto the team.
— Mason Crosby missed his first kick of the preseason, a 53-yarder in the second half. It's worth noting because Crosby has been very good this month. He's now made 4-of-5 field goals, including a 41-yarder against the Raiders.
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