Rodgers happy with Packers’ progress
The Sports Xchange
After a little more than five minutes had elapsed on the game clock for the Saturday matinee at St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome, Aaron Rodgers could take great comfort that this preseason already is turning out more encouraging than last year’s.
Rodgers alluded early last week to the disappointment of not putting one touchdown on the scoreboard while he was on the field for a scant six series in three exhibition outings in 2013.
A week after head coach Mike McCarthy ensured his star quarterback would have another abbreviated preseason for game action by holding him out of the Aug. 9 loss at the Tennessee Titans, Rodgers ended the shutout streak in a hurry.
A three-yard touchdown dart to an open Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone with Rodgers on the move outside the pocket completed an impressive 12-play, 86-yard drive in the first possession of Green Bay’s eventual 21-7 win over the Rams.
“The offense got off to a great start,” McCarthy gushed.
What the Rodgers-led first-string offense couldn’t do in 45 plays last August, it nearly accomplished twice in 23 snaps with its leader on a stadium field for the first time this preseason.
A diving 10-yard catch by Jordy Nelson across the goal line in Green Bay’s second series was erased by an illegal-use-of-hands penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari. The Packers had to settle for a field goal to take a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter before their hot-starting starting group called it an afternoon following another 12-play drive that chewed up 80 yards and five-plus minutes.
“We got the tempo up, went down the field and scored, and then came back down and had a good drive and put some more points on the board,” Rodgers said. “The tempo was good, the efficiency was pretty good, and we stayed healthy for the most part.”
Playing for the first time since the Packers were frozen out at home by the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC wild-card playoff game Jan. 5, Rodgers sizzled in the cozy dome atmosphere. He went 11-of-13 throwing for 128 yards and the touchdown with a superior passer rating of 133.3.
“I thought Aaron was excellent - just his decision-making, obviously ball accuracy, completion percentage. He did a heck of a job,” said McCarthy, adding of the two opening drives, “It felt like we were in a pretty good tempo.”
All the while in those 23 official plays, Rodgers had Green Bay in uptempo mode with its exclusive no-huddle attack. The Packers kept the same personnel on the field for the duration of the first possession with Eddie Lacy as the lone running back, rookie Richard Rodgers at tight end and a three-receiver set of Cobb, Nelson and Jarrett Boykin.
“It was good for us,” Rodgers said. “I know that some of our guys were a little winded, myself included, at times in those two drives, but that’s what you want. You want to get your wind up in the preseason, and I’m sure the Rams’ players didn’t mind it either because they were getting a good workout out there, too.”
However, what little resistance St. Louis presented on defense at the outset without a full complement of starters had Rodgers tempering his excitement over the big chunk of production in limited work. The Rams played without the first-string trio of linebacker James Laurinaitis, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
“They played very vanilla on defense,” Rodgers assessed after not taking any hits of consequence. “They didn’t bring any pressure really, other than maybe one snap when we were out there. ... Good for us to run some plays against another team, but it’s preseason.”
Perhaps the best news for Rodgers besides getting the first preseason touchdown out of the way right away was having Green Bay’s preferred offense at full strength.
A year ago, injuries conspired to keep Rodgers from having one outing with Cobb, Nelson and then-rookie Lacy all on the field together for a preseason game.
On Saturday, Nelson and Lacy also made their belated 2014 exhibition debuts. Nelson missed the opener against the Titans because of a hamstring injury, while Lacy had the night off as part of the game plan this summer to preserve the workhorse for the impending regular season.
Lacy said he wouldn’t play much against the Rams, and he was right. McCarthy went with Lacy for just the first series but rode him a lot by putting the football in his hands seven times during that 12-play touchdown excursion, including five carries for 25 yards.
“He’s had a heck of a camp,” McCarthy said of Lacy, who also had two catches for 22 yards. “Eddie’s an improved football player from last year. I liked what he did (Saturday).”
The Packers may have only one more game for Rodgers and their top skilled guys to get tuned up for the big Sept. 4 prime-time opener at the reigning Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks. As he did last year, McCarthy could decide to sit Rodgers and others for the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 28.
That would leave the upcoming nationally televised game against the Oakland Raiders on Friday night at Lambeau Field as the final dress rehearsal for the seemingly in-sync offense going into the regular season.
Nelson, for one, came away with a favorable first impression leaving Edward Jones Dome early Saturday night.
“The targets (at the start) were move the ball,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, we were backed up both possessions, but we were able to get out of the hole, which is great. I think by being backed up we worked every aspect of the game besides two-minute, but hopefully we’ll get that next week - we’ll probably play a full half (Friday).”