Yo Vince: Packers disagree that ‘Winning is the only thing’
The Sports Xchange
The Green Bay Packers’ insignificant streak of not winning their first preseason game is now five years.
As proof that the final score really doesn’t matter in August, head coach Mike McCarthy came away from his team’s 20-16 defeat at the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night with a winning feeling.
“Clearly, to me, it’s probably one of the best preseason games that I’ve ever been a part of, just because it was a training environment that you can’t create,” McCarthy said Monday.
Players and hardy fans alike were drenched by heavy rain that fell on Nashville’s LP Field from the start of play.
That resulted in a deluge of miscues on both sides. The teams officially combined for eight fumbles.
Green Bay put the football on the ground six times, including four mishandled kick returns (three were counted on the stats sheet) and two fumbles by quarterbacks.
“We’re probably like everybody else in football - you do wet-ball drills and you do those types of things throughout training camp, we’ve even gone back and done it in the offseason program - but to be able to play under those circumstances, it hits you, it hits every part of your operation,” McCarthy said of the inclement conditions.
“The (coaches’) headsets went down; it was a constant problem throughout the game. We had players that were making calls on the field, checks on the field. So, those are things that you coach. You try to create that in practice, but to have the real thing like that ... handling the football, obviously, tackling, the footwork, the ability to play with balance, it was a great opportunity.”
McCarthy and his staff gave plenty of opportunities for their young players to literally get their feet wet on the waterlogged turf Saturday.
For the first time in his seven years as the team’s starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers didn’t play a preseason opener. Rodgers had missed an exhibition game only two other times since 2008, both of those coming in the preseason finales in 2010 and last year.
McCarthy also sat down top halfback Eddie Lacy and star wideout Jordy Nelson. While Rodgers and Lacy were healthy scratches, McCarthy revealed Monday that Nelson has been hindered by a hamstring injury since late last week. Nelson didn’t practice Monday but is considered day-to-day going forward this week.
Without Lacy, last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Packers still were potent running the football despite the slippery track. They rushed for 146 yards.
James Starks, an effective understudy for Lacy last season, led the ground assault with six carries for 49 yards, good for a gaudy average of 8.2 yards per carry. All of Starks’ production came in the game-opening series, which culminated with back-to-back runs of 11 and 20 yards, the latter into the end zone.
“(He) just picked up where he left off last year,” McCarthy said of Starks, who rushed for 522 yards (including the playoffs) and more than 5.5 yards per carry last season. “I thought James looked like he was in midseason form. The first drive was impressive. That’s what we wanted to accomplish in the first drive - running the football - and we were able to do that. Obviously, James was excellent.”
Undrafted rookie Rajion Neal also gained favor from McCarthy. Neal, a two-year starting tailback in college at Tennessee, was almost Starks’ match later in the game with an average of 7.8 yards per rush with 39 yards in five carries, highlighted by runs of 15 and 12 yards (for a touchdown) in a third-quarter scoring drive.
“I thought he ran strong,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, you liked the finish on the touchdown run. I thought he played very well.”
Neal, however, suffered a knee injury on a kickoff return late in the game and didn’t practice Monday.
Highly touted rookie receiver Davante Adams also is on the mend this week because of a wrist injury. Adams, a second-round draft pick, jammed his wrist as he tried to recover the wet football after he dropped it while calling for a fair catch on a punt at the Packers’ 10-yard line.
Adams’ second muff in as many punt returns in the first quarter went for a turnover and set up the Titans for a quick touchdown.
Adams said Monday tests didn’t reveal any structural damage to the wrist.
“It’s not going to be a setback, at all,” he said. “Maybe a couple days of just letting it rest, treating it and everything.”
The usually sure-handed Micah Hyde, who has been a starting safety early in the preseason, had a muffed punt return in the second half.
“We need to learn from it,” McCarthy said of the ball-security issues.
McCarthy also will be looking for better results from his quarterbacks this weekend. The reviews were mixed with the trio of Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien and raw undrafted rookie Chase Rettig left to run the offense with Rodgers out of uniform.
“Historically, I felt like I haven’t done a good job of getting the fourth quarterback reps (in the preseason), so we made a point to make sure our young players had the whole fourth quarter (Saturday),” McCarthy said. “I wanted to give Chase an opportunity. I sense Scott may have been short(-changed) a little bit with the reps compared to him and Matt, so we’ll see how that goes (this) week.
“I feel like Aaron’s had an excellent camp, (after) a phenomenal spring. He would have played one series (Saturday). So, it was really about getting Chase the work in the whole fourth quarter.”
No matter how the quarterback rotation shakes out, Flynn expects a better showing under the Edward Jones Dome roof when the Packers play at the St. Louis Rams on Saturday afternoon.
“It was pretty nasty out there; it was tough. I struggled getting a grip on the ball a little bit,” said Flynn, who managed just a 64.2 passer rating as the starting quarterback against the Titans, playing nearly the entire first half as he went 5-of-10 passing for 49 yards.
Tolzien took over and played into the fourth quarter with better passing numbers, finishing 8-of-12 for 124 yards with a 100.7 passer rating.
“Scott Tolzien played very well,” McCarthy said. “He had the one play where he lost the football (in the third quarter), and (his) recovery was a huge play, and then to come right back and get the first down on second-and-(21 with a 38-yard pass to Chris Harper). I thought his tempo (in the no-huddle offense) was excellent. It was the one improvement I wanted to see from him - playing faster. I thought his footwork was better, and I thought he was decisive.”
Green Bay’s oft-criticized defense also made headway Saturday.
The new star-studded duo of pass rushers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers worked opposite one another at outside linebacker in the first quarter.
And, with incumbent starter Morgan Burnett out because of an oblique injury, first-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played extensively beside Hyde as the starting safeties in the first half.
“I thought Ha Ha, he had one missed tackle and came right back and made a nice play — he got off a block and made a tackle — (and) did some things on special teams,” McCarthy said.
Burnett returned to practice Monday after being out a week, setting the table for an interesting last three weeks of the preseason to determine whether he can fend off Hyde and Clinton-Dix to retain his starting job going into the season.