GREEN BAY – It was just like old times. James Jones excitedly talking about the offense, Charles Woodson talking in revered tones for his friend and all-time favorite quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
Only the conversations weren’t taking place in the home locker room at Lambeau Field, where the two men had each spent seven years of their football lives with the Green Bay Packers.
No, on Friday night, they found themselves in an unfamiliar part of the building – the visitors’ locker room, taking off the silver-and-black of the Oakland Raiders and getting ready to head not to the parking lot for a short drive home, but to Austin Straubel International Airport for a long flight back to the West Coast.
But their new locations didn’t change how impressed they were by what they’d seen firsthand, or their admiration for what they believe the Packers offense will do in 2014.
“Man, they looked goooooood,” Jones said after watching from the sideline as Rodgers & Co. use their no-huddle offense to score three touchdowns in six possessions during the Packers’ 31-21 victory over the Raiders. “They looked like they were in midseason form. A-Rod is the man in that offense.
“They looked real explosive. They’re going to put that pressure on defenses to line up and be able to get in the right coverage to stop A-Rod – and they can run it now, too, with [Eddie] Lacy and DuJuan [Harris] and James [Starks]. They’ve got a good ballclub. I’m happy for them.”
While Jones, a wide receiver from 2007 through 2013 with the Packers, had to watch the offense from the sideline, Woodson got an up-close on-field look from his safety spot. For the third straight week – and second in a row with Rodgers after he sat out the opener – the Packers marched right down the field on the opening drive, going 73 yards in seven plays en route to Lacy’s 1-yard touchdown dive. Although their next three series ended in punts, including two three-and-out jobs, Rodgers got things firing again on his final two series, leading a six-play quick-strike drive that ended in a Jordy Nelson touchdown catch and a patient no-huddle drive that went 14 plays before Rodgers’ TD pass to tight end Andrew Quarless.
Having watched Rodgers in practice during his time with the Packers (2006 through 2012), Woodson believes it’s all about the guy at the controls – and coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to let him take the controls.
“The no-huddle is a beast. It keeps a defense on its heels,” Woodson said. “When you have a quarterback as smart as he is, he's able to pick up what you're trying to do. They kept us off balance that first drive and went down and scored very easily. It felt like we settled down a little bit [after that].
“It's going to be good for them, especially when you have a guy back there who can get the ball out as quickly as he can get it out. You have playmakers outside, inside. [And] they finally brought in a running back who can do some damage. It's going to be tough for some people.
“You call a defense and you think you have it figured out and [Rodgers] calls a play, the play progresses and he gets the ball out of his hands before sometimes you get a chance to react to it. Special player. Him being able to be in command of the no-huddle offense and command that team, it's going to be great for the Packers.”
With the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at Seattle against the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks less than two weeks away, the Packers (2-1) aren’t perfect at this point, and there’s no telling how the no-huddle will work in the deafening din of CenturyLink Field that night. But against the Raiders (1-2), the Packers ran 39 plays with their No. 1 offense on the field. At the rate they were going when Rodgers called it a night with about 6 minutes left in the first half, they would have run 97 plays in the game.
Last season, the Denver Broncos led the league in average plays per game with 72.25, while the Packers were 11th in the league at 67.125. McCarthy has said he hopes to run 75 plays per game this season. The Packers dabbled in the no-huddle offense in 2012 and ’13 but appear to be going all-in this year.
“I was here four years. They always talked about doing it, but I think this is the first time they really went through with it,” said Raiders defensive tackle C.J. Wilson, another ex-Packer on the Oakland roster. “We did it some last year when I was here, but going against it, it’s difficult and will get you winded. They did a great job. You have to give it up to Aaron Rodgers, one of the greats, and the coaching staff there. They did a great job. We have some work to do.”
With 14 roster moves to get down to the 75-player roster limit by Tuesday and a preseason finale against Kansas City on Thursday, most of the work the Packers will do in the next week will be figuring out the 53-man roster, including deciding what to do behind Rodgers, and whether to keep both Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien or only one of them
As for Rodgers, his preseason is over, as he won’t play against the Chiefs, having completed 20 of 33 for 267 yards with three TDs, no INTs and a 116.6 passer rating. Lacy, who carried six times for 36 yards and a touchdown, won’t play either after rushing 11 times for 61 yards (5.5-yard average) and a touchdown and catching two passes for 22 yards in his two preseason appearances. In fact, there’s a good chance that McCarthy will sit most if not all of his 22 starters on each side of the ball with a game that actually counts just seven days after that.
“I think we're ready. I think it's been a good preseason,” Rodgers said. “We scored some points, moved the ball. We saw what we wanted to see out of our skill players and the offensive line. We have 13 days to the game."
And based on what his ex-teammates’ saw on Friday night, their offense should have a fighting chance against the Seahawks Legion of Boom defense.
“You always want to win the game, but you really look at the quality of play and play style,” McCarthy said. “I think these three weeks, these first three preseason games, the play style is kind of what we're looking for. Quality of play is something we'll continue to work on.
“Overall, without viewing the film, I feel like we took a step tonight."
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.