ST. LOUIS – Yes, a touchdown would be nice.
The Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 offense is now two games and four possessions into preseason play, and what do Aaron Rodgers & Co. have to show for their efforts? Two field goals. Six points. (Well, at least officially, since the quarterback still insists that James Starks scored a touchdown in the unit’s single series during last week’s shutout loss to Arizona.)
But what difference does it make? Just like the final score Saturday night at the Edward Jones Dome – Packers 19, St. Louis Rams 7 – won’t mean bubkus when they tee it up with the San Francisco 49ers in the Sept. 8 regular-season opener, the fact that the Rodgers-led offense hasn’t put the ball in the end zone is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
Right? Well, sort of.
“I would say it’s preseason, first,” Rodgers said, attempting to put things in perspective after completing 10 of 12 passes for 134 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack for a passer rating of 113.2. “But we’re working on things, and we’d like to finish off those drives. The Rams have a very good defense, we saw that last year, it was a tough game and we made some plays late to pull it out, but you’ve got to finish off those drives with touchdowns.
“We moved the ball well on three drives, (but only) had six points, that’s disappointing. But two of those were third-and-1s, one we picked up (but) had a holding (penalty), the other we didn’t pick up. Those are frustrating. But it gave the kickers a chance to get their competition going in a preseason game other than what they’ve been doing in practice, so that’s good for them. But we’ve got to score touchdowns.”
Ah, the kickers. After neither Mason Crosby nor Giorgio Tavecchio got an attempt in the team’s 17-0 loss to the Cardinals they got plenty of work Saturday night. Crosby made all three of his kicks – from 34, 48 and 30 yards – while Tavecchio batted .500, missing wide left from 49 yards while connecting from 38. Those four field goals, plus fourth-string quarterback B.J. Coleman’s 9-yard touchdown to tight end Jake Stoneburner with 8 minutes 46 seconds to go in the game, accounted for the Packers’ points.
“I thought our football team took a step forward tonight. We obviously still have a lot to work on,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought the offense moved the football, (but) the obvious (issue is) – the ability to get into the end zone is something we need to obviously focus this week.
“Defensively (I) felt very good about our defense, particularly on third down and their ability to keep them out of the end zone. Special teams we were able to get a number of kicks for Mason and Giorgio – to continue that evaluation. I feel like the productivity, the opportunity on a number of different fronts gives us the chance to evaluate and move into preseason Week No. 3. Overall, I think what I said to start off, we took a step forward but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Playing without two of their top three wide receivers with Jordy Nelson (knee) and Randall Cobb (biceps) sidelined, the Packers’ first four offensive plays went thusly: Rodgers hit tight end Jermichael Finley for an 11-yard gain on a rollout to his left; rookie running back Eddie Lacy used his patented spin move to get out of trouble in the backfield for a 7-yard gain; Rodgers hit again Finley for a 25-yard gain; and Lacy again eluded Rams defensive end Kendall Langford in the backfield before breaking through for a 15-yard gain.
The drive stalled out after a Finley holding penalty wiped out a 7-yard Lacy run on third-and-1 from the Rams’ 13, forcing the Packers to settle for Crosby’s 34-yard field goal – although that was probably OK with McCarthy – and a 3-0 lead.
On their next series, the starters again got off to a promising start, with wide receiver Jarrett Boykin making a nifty spin move after catching a Rodgers pass on the right sideline, turning it into a 22-yard gain. Finley then followed with a 9-yard reception, but when Rodgers missed a wide-open Finley down the right seam – the quarterback was noticeably peeved at himself for the overthrow afterward – and Lacy was stopped on third-and-1, the Packers got nothing out of the drive as Tavecchio’s 49-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left.
Rodgers stayed in for a third series, though, and got the offense on the move again. This time, he hit James Jones for a 7-yard gain to convert a third-and-2, and Lacy followed that up with an 11-yard catch-and-run that included another spin move, this time against cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Finley again found himself wide open on the next play, gaining 33 yards from the right slot. Lacy then picked up another 11 yards on a run off left tackle, but the drive died again, this time after rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari was beaten by Robert Quinn for a 9-yard sack of Rodgers on third-and-5 from the Rams’ 21.
That led to Crosby’s second field goal of the night, a 48-yarder to make it 6-0.
“I think the one aspect of our game that we need to do on the offensive side is just finish,” said Finley, who finished with four receptions for a team-high 78 yards. “We need to put points on the board and keep driving the ball like we have. But when we get in the red zone we’ve got to make it count.”
On defense, the starters allowed some big plays – a 24-yard catch-and-run by running back Daryl Richardson, a 57-yard deep ball from Sam Bradford to Chris Givens behind rookie cornerback Micah Hyde – but didn’t allow St. Louis (0-2) to cross the goal line. The Rams’ first drive ended with a fourth-down failure at the Packers’ 38-yard line; the defense stiffened after Givens’ catch set up first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line and got some help when ex-Packers center Scott Wells and Bradford fumbled the exchange on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
“We’re definitely not where we want to be, but going from last week to this week, we improved a bit,” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “IT was good to have a lot of different situations tonight. We got down there on the goal line and had a couple of good goal-line stands. We were happy to get off the field there and stop them on fourth down.
“Overall, we would have loved the shutout, but it’s tough to get shutouts in the NFL. We know that much. We’re a work in progress, for sure.”
The defensive highlights came later in the game, as defensive end Johnny Jolly deflected one pass that resulted in a Jarrett Bush interception, then was in the right place at the right time to pick off a Loyce Means deflection for another takeaway. But by then, much of the crowd – announced at 53,375, even though there probably wasn’t even half that many folks in the red-and-blue seats – had dispersed.
“I wasn’t really concerned about the points from last week,” McCarthy said. “Clearly I understand the outcome of the game, but quality of play (and) opportunity for our players is my No. 1 priority, the quality of play from all three phases is my second priority and then the third priority is winning the game.
“If you don’t like that, I get that. Trust me, I want to win every play, every game. We’re a young football team, we’ve got a lot of guys battling to be on our 53, and we’ve got to make sure we create opportunities for those individuals.”
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.