NFL preseason games are often times regarded as irrelevant and unimportant. The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots on the other hand, drew crowds and speculation of great magnitude.
The Packers traveled to New England on Thursday to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions, a team that is encircled with questions and speculation. Similarly, the Green Bay Packers had several storylines heading into the preseason opener, including: how many reps will Aaron Rodgers take? What has become of Clay Matthews’ injury? How are the wide receiving and cornerback position battles progressing? And most notably, who isn’t going to make the final 53-man roster?
Some of these questions will remain to be seen, but this battle between two powerhouses partially revealed some interesting aspects of the 2015 NFL season.
First off, Aaron Rodgers was seen in action for three offensive series, in which only one of them resulted in points. Despite being sacked twice, including being sacked on the first play of the game, Rodger’s showcased an average performance for himself. On Rodgers’ third drive, the Packers drove down the field 79 yards on 15 plays, in what resulted in a Mason Crosby field goal. Rodgers completed 11 of 19 for 117 yards. Most notably, Rodgers was only able to provide three points on three consecutive possessions.
Meanwhile, the Patriots started quarterback Tom Brady for only two offensive drives, in a game Brady was projected to not play at all. Brady had a relatively deficient showing, including 1 of 4 for 10 yards. The offense was unable to find the end zone under Brady.
After Brady’s brief showing, the Patriots brought in Jimmy Garoppolo, the projected starting quarterback for the first four games due to Brady’s current suspension holding. Garoppolo’s performance was bitterly defeated by the Packer’s defense, who accumulated seven sacks on Garoppolo, two of which were by Datone Jones. Garoppolo would take the rest of the snaps for the Patriots, ultimately completing 20 of 30 passes for 159 yards and one interception.
“Whether you’re the backup, starter, third-string, or whatever, you have to have the mindset that you’re the starter,” Garoppolo told reporters, following the Patriot’s 22-11 loss to the Packers. “
Packer’s backup quarterbacks were impressive for their first showing of the season. Backup quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Brett Hundley took over following Rodgers’ performance, and they took over the Patriot’s defense as well. Tolzien took over directly after Rodgers, and gave the Packers the lead heading into halftime following a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeff Janis. Tolzien ultimately completed 10 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown.
Rookie quarterback Hundley undoubtedly stole the show on Thursday. Hundley admitted to being nervous and tense coming into the game, but quickly adjusted to throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to fellow rookie John Crockett. Handley ultimately led the team to victory behind a total quarterback rating of 138.9 off of 4 of 6 passing, including his sole touchdown.
“My teammates picked me up when I was a little tense,” Hundley said, the Packer’s fifth-round pick from UCLA. “First NFL touchdown pass and to put (together) a drive like that against New England was an awesome experience.”
One player who hasn’t seen the field as much as fans would hope is Clay Matthews. Matthews experienced an injury that has since sidelined him throughout camp, as his status was uncertain for Thursday’s opener. However, as noticed throughout the game, Matthews was inactive, and didn’t make the trip to New England. His injury status may be more serious than first considered.
However, despite Matthew’s injury, the Packer’s defense faired well without him. As previously noted, Patriot’s backup quarterback was sacked seven times, all of which came from Packer’s linebackers. In accordance to the defense’s pressure on the quarterback, Latarious Gunter tabbed the sole interception of the contest off of Garappolo.
One considerable issue the Packers had last season, and presumably in the first quarter of Thursday’s matchup was the inability to contain the run. In the first quarter, with several defensive starters still on the field, Patriot’s running back Jonas Gray broke off a 55 yard carry. The Packer’s consequently allowed 98 yards rushing throughout the game.
Lastly, it is without mention that the Packers are carrying a large amount of running backs on their current roster, five to be exact. On Thursday, all five running backs split time in the backfield, with Crockett and Alonzo Harris taking a bulk of the carries. It is very unlikely the Packers carry more than three running backs on the 53-man roster seeing as though they have good standing with Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The first preseason game may not show a lot in terms of running back depth, but the position battle for the #3 spot may be something to watch throughout training camp.
Aaron Rodgers: C+
Linebacking corps: A
Running backs: C-
Backup quarterbacks: A+