GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 34-14 victory over the Kansas City at Lambeau Field, which saw 20 Packers sit out, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers:
Thumbs up: Earlier this week, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt was talking about just how close the backup quarterback competition was between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien. Then, Van Pelt stated his objective Thursday night: “I’d like to see them both make it really hard.” Congratulations, Alex. That’s exactly what Flynn and Tolzien did.
With Rodgers sitting and the quarterbacks alternating by quarter, Flynn got the start and led the team to 17 points in four full series, completing 7 of 15 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 108.9. Tolzien got four full-fledged possessions and led his group to 17 points as well, completing 12 of 18 passes for 139 yards with two touchdowns for a passer rating of 126.9
“I think Matt and Scott have both championed the case to be on our football team,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I felt very good about their progress from last year through the spring and all the way through training camp. Watching it live, I think they both played very well tonight. Just the little things, too – there’s a number of little things that went on as far as checks and adjustments and things like that. I thought they both played very well.”
Neither Tolzien nor Flynn was staking a claim to the job verbally, although both certainly had reason to feel good about what they’d done.
“I feel good. I feel I can hold my head high,” Flynn said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done. I feel like I had a good camp. Things went pretty well tonight, but the only thing I’m thinking of are the missed plays. That’s about it.”
Said Tolzien: “It’s out of my control. The things I can focus on are my preparation and my performance. I really like our quarterback room and our coaches and everything like that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I guess you can only control what you can control. You can’t worry about that.”
Thumbs down: While you absolutely, positively cannot blame McCarthy for sitting 16 healthy players with the regular-season opener at Seattle exactly seven days away, it underscored the foolishness of preseason football – or, at least, late preseason football. Four players were scratched due to injury: Inside linebacker Brad Jones (quadriceps), center JC Tretter (knee), tight end Brandon Bostick (leg) and cornerback Demetri Goodson (concussion). The other 16 were all healthy starters McCarthy was playing it safe with in advance of the regular-season opener at Seattle:
“The game being seven days away was a huge factor in how we decided to approach this game,” McCarthy said afterward. “I think that [goes] without being said.”
In addition, fullback John Kuhn dressed but did not play.
Player of the game: What a wonderful training camp story Jayrone Elliott has been. It’s inconceivable that the Packers will cut him when they reduce the roster by 22 players by the 3 p.m. deadline Saturday. Not only did he register another sack – his NFL-best fifth sack of the preseason – but it was the way he rushed the Chiefs’ quarterbacks that showed that the undrafted free agent from Toledo might have the skills to be more than just another feel-good outside linebacker story from training camp like Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto, Dezman Moses and Andy Mulumba before him.
On a play before his sack, he beat Chiefs tackle Donald Stephenson with a lightning-quick inside move to draw a holding penalty. Then, on the sack, he beat Stephenson with a power move and sacked Chase Daniel with Stephenson hanging all over him.
“If you keep running upfield every time, they’re just going to deep set and just push you by. You have to have some kind of countermove and you have to have a countermove for that,” Elliott said. “You have to try to bring more to the table every day. I’m sure teams will see this that I’m a good speed rusher, so they’re going to try to take that away from me.”
In the ultimate sign of respect, the Chiefs began using a back to chip Elliott late in the game.
“They kind of got me in the fourth quarter,” he said. “That was kind of a shock to me. But it was all fun and games out there.”
Play of the day: Jeff Janis has had some inconsistent moments during camp, and he was quiet in last week’s game against Oakland. But once again, the rookie wide receiver from Saginaw Valley State showed off his playmaking ability with a terrific 33-yard touchdown catch over his shoulder on a seam route. The seventh-round pick had made a play a day in practice once he finally was activated from the non-football illness list after a pre-camp bout with shingles, and while he only caught two passes in preseason play, they were biggies: A 34-yard touchdown at St. Louis two weeks ago, and Thursday night’s TD. For good measure, Janis added a 62-yard kickoff return.
“I think I’ve showed the coaches what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “Hopefully in the future I get some more opportunities and really build that trust with them.”
Inside slant: After 21 practices and four games, it’s decision time. While many of the roster spots are spoken for, general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy must decide whom to keep and whom to release. And while the Packers (and Seahawks) have a shorter week to prepare for their opener than the rest of the league’s teams, McCarthy said the personnel staff will take the full two days to make the cuts. The deadline to be down to 53 players on the active roster is 3 p.m. Saturday, and the team has meetings scheduled for earlier that afternoon. McCarthy said the team will “absolutely” take its decisions up to the deadline, and that it will not interfere with preparation for the Seahawks, which has gone on throughout training camp.
“The most important thing we have in front of us is picking this roster,” McCarthy said. “Our preliminary work on Seattle has been extensive, so as far as the game plan and things like that, we’re in very good shape.”
It would appear the Packers have a surplus of good running backs (Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris and even undrafted free agent LaDarius Perkins, who ran eight times for 45 yards Thursday night) and at cornerback (Williams, Shields, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, who had an interception Thursday night, and Jumal Rolle, who had an INT wiped out by penalty). They have uncertainty at outside linebacker and tight end, where they have plenty of players on the current roster but some tough calls to make, and they appear thin on the defensive line, where Daniels, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd are the only obvious locks and Letroy Guion, undrafted rookie Mike Pennel and third-round pick Khyri Thornton are in the mix and undrafted rookies Luther Robinson and Carlos Gray are on the periphery.
“We need to evaluate our players. We don’t ever come in and it’s a given,” McCarthy said. “And the way our roster’s been defined by position every year reflects that. We will not just keep the same number of receivers or D-linemen or things like that. And plus, some of the things we’ve done structurally on defense have changed.”
According to McCarthy, that evaluation process includes comprehensive grades that include their work in games, practices, walkthroughs and meetings. But it goes beyond that.
“Every player is graded and it’s a detailed grading system so we’re able to crunch statistical data,” McCarthy said. “You can balance that out [with] the dynamics of every player and how they fit is part of it, so it doesn’t come down to just pure production. There’s a number of things that are involved.”
Quote, unquote: “I don’t know if I’ve felt this good coming out of the preseason as I do tonight. So it’s a group that has gotten better each and every week, I really like the mix from an experience standpoint, the veterans and the young players, so we’ve hit the targets, now we’ve got the next 48 hours is the worst part of our jobs. Very hopeful of all 75 men on our roster but all 63 of our opportunities come from that.” – McCarthy, on the end of the preseason.
Injury report: Four players left the game with injuries: Thornton (hamstring), offensive tackle Aaron Adams (knee), outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard (knee) and outside/inside linebacker Nate Palmer (knee). McCarthy had no update on any of them, although Adams was on crutches in the locker room with a very large brace on his right knee. Hubbard was walking around fine in the locker room while Palmer was moving with a slow limp.
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.