ST. LOUIS – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 21-7 victory over the St, Louis at the Edward Jones Dome, which marked quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ preseason debut:
Thumbs up: If the Packers are indeed going to keep the best 53 players, they will at least have to consider keeping both of their veteran backup quarterbacks. The team hasn’t broken camp with three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster since Aaron Rodgers’ first year as a starter in 2008 – when rookie seventh-rounder Matt Flynn was the No. 2 and rookie second-rounder Brian Brohm was the No. 3 – but for the second straight week, both Flynn and Scott Tolzien had strong showings, despite facing adversity.
Last week, it had been the pouring rain in Tennessee that affected the passing game – the rain was hardest when Flynn, who started in Rodgers’ place, was in the game – and on Saturday, it was leaky protection that was especially troublesome to Tolzien, who absorbed most of the Rams’ eight quarterback hits.
Nevertheless, Tolzien went in after Rodgers’ afternoon ended after two series and completed 10 of 15 passes for 107 yards and an 87.4 rating. Tolzien got into his best rhythm on his fifth series, which ended in a fourth-down incompletion but would have ended in a 4-yard Tolzien-to-Myles White touchdown pass if not for a questionable hands-to-the-face penalty on rookie center Corey Linsley.
“I thought Scott had some tough situations,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought his decision-making was good and the management of what he was trying to do out there. We had some pressures there that really hurt us in some of our drives. We’ll look at the video. I thought Scott improved today.”
Flynn, meanwhile went in third and was 2 for 3 for 44 yards, including Jeff Janis’ 34-yard touchdown catch-and-run, and effectively controlled the offense just as he had against the Titans on the opening drive in the monsoon last week.
“I feel good. I’m proud of what I’m doing, proud of what I’ve done,” Flynn said. “I feel like I’m playing fast, I feel like I’m very much in control of what we’re trying to accomplish on offense, getting guys in the right position. And, I feel like physically I’m throwing the ball well. Haven’t really been able to put that out there on the game film, but everything goes into it. Practice goes into it, and I feel like I’ve thrown the ball well.”
Thumbs down: This is why the Packers were so upset by the loss of swing tackle Don Barclay to a season-ending knee injury last week: Because now, they clearly have to be worried about their backup tackle situation.
A week after a solid return to extended action, 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod was terrible Saturday. He spent time at both left and right tackle, and on his very first snap of the day, he nearly got Tolzien sent to the hospital when he was beaten badly by defensive end Eugene Sims, who crushed Tolzien just as he unloaded a quick pass. Four plays later, still working at left tackle, he was whipped by Sims again on a third-and-8 play, resulting in an incompletion.
After moving to right tackle in the fourth quarter, Sherrod was beaten by Rams rookie seventh-round pick Michael Sam for Sam’s first sack. While Flynn might’ve held onto the ball a smidge too long, Sherrod was beaten off the snap and was holding on for dear life before Sam did get to Flynn.
The Packers fourth tackle, Aaron Adams, wasn’t much better. He, too, had played well against the Titans, but he was beaten by defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks – an undrafted rookie from West Texas A&M who is sharing No. 62 with offensive tackle R.J. Dill – for a sack on Tolzien on a third-and-1 play from the Packers’ 39-yard line, forcing a punt. Adams was at right tackle at the time.
Playing indoors on a speedier surface and with theoretical crowd noise – the announced attendance of 55,072 was tickets distributed, with less than half of those tickets having been used, so noise wasn’t an issue – this was supposed to be another test for Sherrod and Adams. While they didn’t’ earn a passing grade, the Packers’ alternatives are limited. They’ll have to hope for improvement in the coming weeks and good health for their starting tackles.
Player of the game: Running back Eddie Lacy appeared to be in midseason form in his preseason debut, carrying five times for 25 yards and catching two passes for 22 more yards. All seven of his touches came on the opening drive, when he accounted for more than half of the 86-yard scoring march.
“Eddie, he’s had a heck of a camp,” McCarthy said. “You’re at practice every day. Eddie is an improved football player from last year. I like what he did today.”
Whether McCarthy saw enough to put his workhorse back on the shelf isn’t clear. Lacy didn’t suit up for last week’s exhibition opener, and given the way he looked on his 13-yard run to start the game and his 18-yard catch-and-run on a checkdown that got the Packers into the red zone, he doesn’t have anything to prove in the final two preseason games. McCarthy did say earlier in the week that he wanted to limit Lacy’s workload.
“That’s definitely not my call, but whatever they decide to do, I’m 100 percent behind them,” said Lacy, who set a Packers rookie record by rushing for 1,178 yards en route to the NFL offensive rookie of the year award last year. “It’s all about getting ready for Week 1.
“Every opportunity is a blessing, and whenever I get to go out and play I take pride in every carry or every catch, every opportunity I’m out there.”
Play of the day: Rodgers sure looked like himself during his two series of action, but it was on one play in particular where it became crystal clear why he was so adamant in the offseason that he would not be changing his style of play after last year’s fractured left collarbone.
On the final play of the first quarter, Rodgers had first-and-10 from the St. Louis 47-yard line. He took a shotgun snap and, against a four-man rush, initially wanted to go to Randall Cobb in the right slot. He pumped and pulled the ball down, then pivoted to his left to throw a checkdown to running back James Starks. He then pulled the ball down again, danced briefly in the backfield and then went back to his right, finding tight end Andrew Quarless for a 35-yard gain down to the Rams’ 12.
“They played very vanilla on defense. They didn't bring any pressure really other than one snap when we're out there,” Rodgers said. “They didn't have [defensive tackle Michael] Brockers playing. They didn't have [linebacker James] Laurinaitis playing. It was good to run some plays against another [team], but it's preseason."
Inside slant: Rodgers probably didn’t say enough to get himself fined, but he did not hold back on his thoughts about the officiating, as the points of emphasis the league has instructed its officials to focus on in preseason – illegal contact/holding on pass plays and illegal hands to the face – were on full display. The teams combined for 22 penalties for 171 yards, and the Packers had a pair of touchdowns – Rodgers’ 10-yarder to Jordy Nelson and Tolzien’s 4-yarder to White – wiped out by hands-to-the-face flags.
“It's way over the top. It's too much,” Rodgers said. “The game is too choppy if they're going to call it like that. I don't know how many penalties [there were]. I'd guess excess of 30. That's what it seemed like.
“I know there's some issues in some of the other games with the amount of penalties called, but we had two touchdowns taken off the board. It's tough. I don't know how they can continue to ref it that way. I know they have a tough job. They're trying to make the right calls all the time. We know what they're emphasizing. We had some of this crew actually in our camp and talking about defensive holding, illegal contact, hands to the face and offensive pass interference. You saw it [today]."
Rodgers' ballpark figure was actually pretty close. There were eight other penalties that either were offset, wiped out or declined.
“It makes you, especially after a big play, you're always looking back to see if there's a penalty out there," Rodgers said. "We don't want to get down that road too far. Hopefully, it's the preseason and they're working their kinks out as well.”
Quote, unquote: “Winning’s great.” – McCarthy, on the outcome.
Injury report: The only injury reported was a leg injury suffered by tight end Brandon Bostick, but McCarthy had no further information about Bostick’s condition. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion, who remains on the non-football injury list with a hamstring injury, made the trip and went through what appeared to be a very rigorous workout before the game with strength and conditioning coordinator Mark Lovat.
Five players did not make the trip for the Packers: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee); tackle/guard Don Barclay (knee); tight end Colt Lyerla (knee) linebacker Joe Thomas (knee) and running back Rajion Neal (knee).
> For the second straight week, first-year starter JC Tretter played well at center. His performance appeared to affirm all the positive things he did in the rainy opener against Tennessee, as he transitioned to the faster surface and didn’t seem to have any mistakes during his two series.
“It's pretty seamless. He's doing a great job,” Rodgers said. “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.”
> Outside linebacker Clay Matthews played 22 snaps by unofficial count and was credited with one tackle. But after missing six games last season with a thumb he fractured twice, it’s more about getting back into the mix than actual production at this point for the four-time Pro Bowl pick.
“This preseason is probably, in my terms, more important than any of the others,” Matthews said. “Physically, getting back into shape and knowing what I’m doing, that’ll come, that’s there, that hasn’t left. At the same time, a lot of it’s mental, too, having injured the hand twice and putting it to the test out there.
“It feels good. I felt like I did some stuff that I didn’t do last week as well as just getting back into the routine of things and knowing that everything’s all right. So I feel good, no setbacks, and I’ll continue to improve upon the plays that I need to.”
> While they may need an asterisk because they came against Rams No. 6 offensive tackle Sean Hooey, you can’t completely discount the impressive showing of undrafted rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, who had three sacks in a four-play span in the second half. Later, outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard added a sack of his own, also against Hooey.
“What could you say? The young man gets a chance [and does] that,” McCarthy said. “We wanted to make sure he got more reps this week. Hubbard also. And then just the production … once again that would fall in the big-play category and on top of it, to see the sideline get behind the young guys, that’s what good teams do. We’re growing. We improved today.”
> Speaking of improving, veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers had a much greater impact than he had in the 10 nondescript snaps he played last week. He recorded a tackle for loss when he stopped running back Zac Stacy for a 2-yard loss on the opening series and added a quarterback hit on Sam Bradford to force an incompletion on his second series.
“It’s great to see,” Matthews said. “For myself, playing opposite of him, and just in general. We’ve been looking for a guy on defense that can help get after the quarterback.”
Said McCarthy: “Julius was impactful and obviously that was a big play on the [pressure]. I’m sure it will be good video.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.