Backup O-linemen have work to do
The Green Bay Packers rested quarterback Aaron Rodgers and 17 others for the team’s third preseason game last Friday against the Oakland Raiders. Issues in pass protection created a sloppy, disjointed game eventually ending in the Raiders’ favor, 13-6. Here are five things we learned during the Packers’ preseason loss:
1. Offensive line has depth issues
An important night for evaluating the Packers’ second-team offensive line snowballed into an avalanche of disappointment. The group was responsible for five sacks, 65 yards worth of penalties and the lion’s share of the offense’s struggles.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said it was as poor a performance as he can remember from the offensive line during the preseason. The incessant penalties and sacks created long down-and-distances and uneven playcalling opportunities for backup quarterbacks Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer, who both struggled under constant pressure.
The Packers remain confident in individual members of the second group. McCarthy specifically complimented left tackle Jason Spriggs and guard Lucas Patrick, who took reps at center in Oakland, and confirmed right tackle Kyle Murphy hurt his ankle and was forced to labor through a difficult night in pass protection. The Packers have also been encouraged by the development and versatility of Adam Pankey, and there’s a comfort level in veteran Byron Bell.
Collectively, the offensive line group failed. Individually, the Packers might now have a better handle on who will earn spots behind the five starters.
2. Rookie WR can finish
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers believed rookie receiver J’Mon Moore needed just one play to get back on track after weeks of difficulty catching the football. Moore’s opportunity against the Raiders arrived early. On the offense’s first drive, he beat cornerback Daryl Worley on a crossing route and caught a 9-yard pass from Brett Hundley, setting up his most productive and encouraging night in a Packers uniform.
“J’Mon made some big plays and just converted on the back end of it,” McCarthy said. “He has the ability to separate, has a lot of natural ability there. Making the first catch on the keep was nice to see. It was in traffic. He definitely took a step.”
Moore finished with four catches for a game-high 62 yards, including a leaping 27-yard catch in the fourth quarter. It was the kind of big play down the field the rookie has struggled to finish during the first two preseason games. Moore leaped, extended both arms, made the catch and absorbed a big hit from the safety, converting the third-down opportunity.
The Packers have remained confi- dent in Moore’s physical ability. He’s big and quick and capable of getting open.
3. Young playmakers at CB
Three preseason games aren’t usually enough to make broad statements about rookies, especially at cornerback, but it’s becoming increasingly clear the Packers have two budding playmakers at the position in top picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.
Alexander rebounded after giving up a long completion to Amari Cooper on the first play to grab his first NFL interception, while Jackson had his second pick-six in as many games canceled by a penalty away from the play. The two rookies continue to get their hands on the football, which is exactly what the Packers thought they’d do in the NFL.
Alexander appears to have locked down a starting spot in the nickel defense, and Jackson is pushing harder and harder for early playing time, re- gardless of who is ahead of him. It’ll be difficult to keep the pair off the field.
The Packers only received five interceptions from cornerbacks last season. Could the two rookies match that total in 2018?
4. Hundley makes a statement
The backup quarterback competition went off the rails as the offensive line crumbled, but for at least one series, the Packers saw positive signs from Brett Hundley, who started the game and played the entire first half. On the opening drive, Hundley completed his first four passes and led the Packers to a field goal. The march should have ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to Lance Kendricks, but the veteran tight end couldn’t finish the spinning catch in the end zone. Hundley’s work – both in terms of buying time and throwing on the run – deserved a score.
McCarthy said Hundley was excellent on the drive. He hit Geronimo Allison twice for 40 yards. Had Kendricks made the catch, Hundley would have finished the series 5-of-5 passing for 67 yards and a score.
5. In need of ILB depth, experience
The Packers knew they were short on experience at inside linebacker entering training camp. Two injuries – one serious, one minor – presented an immediate need for veteran help. Instead of hoping some combination of undrafted rookies could fill the shoes of Jake Ryan (torn ACL) and Oren Burks (dislocated shoulder), GM Brian Gutekunst called up the Indianapolis Colts and swung a trade for Antonio Morrison, who made 109 tackles as a 15-game starter last season. Burks hurt his shoulder in pregame warmups in Oakland and missed the game. The Packers don’t think it’s a long-term injury, but the options behind Burks – converted safety Ahmad Thomas and undrafted rookie Greer Martini – have no meaningful NFL experience. And both made mistakes against the Raiders.
J'Mon Moore catches a pass in front of Oakland’s Antwuan Davis on Friday. Moore finished with four catches for a game-high 62 yards.