Friday, August 26, 2011

2011 Preseason Week 3 - Packers/Colts Review

Hopefully you didn't turn off the Packers/Colts game with only a few minutes left. If you did, the 3rd stringers for the Packers lead by quarterback Graham Harrell erased an eight point deficit with less than four minutes remaining, thanks in large part to personal fouls by Colts defensive back Chip Vaughn on consecutive plays. Speaking of consecutive play, Graham Harrell and tight end Ryan Taylor hooked up on 4th and goal as well as the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game with 35 seconds remaining.

Instead of kicking it deep, Packers head coach Mike McCarty dialed up an onside kick that the Packers recovered. Harrell quickly moved the Packers into field goal range and Mason Crosby made a 50-yard kick as time expired to give the Packers a 24-21 win over the Colts. It is only a preseason game so the Packers winning doesn't really matter, but it was nice to see the resolve shown by the 3rd stringers. What matters more are some of the big picture takeaways from the Packers/Colts game:

#1) Players that hurt his stock most: Some veterans really struggled (i.e. left tackle Chad Clifton and right guard Josh Sitton) but their starting spots are virtually guaranteed as long as they are healthy. At this point most of the roster spots are already set but guys on the bubble like Pat Lee (CB), Ricky Elmore (OLB), and Brandon Underwood (S) didn't do enough to secure a spot on the opening day 53-man roster.

#2) Players that helped his stock most: The backup outside linebacker spots are completely up for grabs. Undrafted rookie free agents Jamari Lattimore and Vic So'oto continued to out perform Ricky Elmore a 6th round draft pick from the 2011 NFL Draft. All three players are college defensive ends that the Packers converted to rush outside linebackers in their base 3-4 defensive set. Despite Elmore being an absolute sack machine in college, it was Lattimore and So'oto who both came up with sacks against the Colts.

#3) Position to watch: Coming into the game the starters at left guard (T.J. Lang over Derek Sherrod) and right outside linebacker (Erik Walden over Frank Zombo and Brad Jones) were already decided so there were not really any starting position battles to watch besides running back. When the Packers opened their 2011 campaign it looked like Ryan Grant was going to be the starting running back with James Starks getting a ton of touches as well. Starks continued to play well throughout the preseason and all of a sudden there is a fierce competition for the starting running back spot. Grant renegotiated the last year of his contract (took $1 million less but it is fully guaranteed if he is on the opening day roster) so he is virtually guaranteed a roster spot but will have to perform well throughout the rest of the preseason to open the season as the starting running back. Usually starters do not play very much in Week 4 of the preseason but look for the Packers to give Grant and Starks some touches to help determine the opening day starter.

#4) Injuries: Jermichael Finley sprained his ankle and Jordy Nelson bruised his knee, the severity of the injuries is unknown. Despite the quality depth the Packers have at wide receiver and tight end, they cannot afford to lose either for an extended period of time.

Final Note: The success of the no-huddle offense for the Packers continues to be a hot topic. Coaches calling offensive plays from the sideline is a relatively new thing in the NFL. Some people point to the fact that offenses are becoming "sophisticated" but it really means that there are more plays in the playbook now than even a decade ago. When you break down NFL offenses they are really not that complicated. On running plays there is a blocking scheme that usually gives a running back a few options of where to run. On passing plays there are nine basic routes a receiver can run. Obviously when you mix and match personnel you get a ton of permutations in the offensive playbook but sometimes sticking to the 10 plays that work best, like they do in a no-huddle offense, allows the offense to move the ball really well.

For my previous "Quick Thoughts" on the 2011 preseason for the Packers, check out:
- Preseason Week 1 Packers/Browns Review
- Preseason Week 2 Packers/Cardinals Review
- Lambeau Field Expansion

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