For the rest of the 2013-14 season and hopefully through Super Bowl XLVIII, Lombardi Ave will be bringing you a special look at every Green Bay Packers game. Each article will include five key things to watch for and an overall prediction for the game. Look for each post on Fridays unless the Packers are scheduled otherwise.
The Packers and Arizona Cardinals have become familiar foes over the last few seasons facing off numerous times in the preseason, regular season and even the postseason. The last time these two teams took the field against one another was just last November at Lambeau Field. The Packers knocked off the Cardinals 31-17. In the victory, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns and the Packers’ defense allowed just 54 rushing yards to the Cardinals.
This preseason opener has little at stake for both teams as it is the first game of the 2013 season. However, there are many story lines to watch for tonight.
Without further ado, here are the key things to watch for in Friday nights’ game:
5.) Who takes the No. 1 reps at running back?
Eddie Lacy was pulling away from the competition after his performance on Family Night last Saturday. However, a hamstring injury will likely keep him sidelined tonight, leaving the door wide open for the other running backs.
At this point, with Lacy likely out, look for Alex Green to take the reps with the first offense. Green has looked good all training camp and appears to be healthy for the first time since the beginning of his rookie season. James Starks will most likely also see some action with the first team offense. Starks turned in a so-so performance at Family Night. He dropped an easy swing pass out of the backfield near the end of the scrimmage and had a mix of good and bad runs.
Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin should get a lot of playing time Friday night, but probably won’t see much, if any, time with the first offense. The dark horse to watch tonight will be undrafted running back Angelo Pease. In limited time in last week’s scrimmage, Pease was fantastic. He made fellow rookie Nate Palmer look silly in the open field when he caught a swing pass, made one cut and took it to the house for a 20-yard touchdown.
4.) Which young WR will step up and shine?
With Jordy Nelson out for the rest of the preseason there are plenty of extra reps to go around to the young wide receivers. James Jones, Randall Cobb and Nelson will be the top three wide receivers for the Packers when the regular season commences, but there has been a lot of competition for spots four through six.
Second-year man Jarrett Boykin, owner of the best Twitter handle on Twitter (@BoyKinHeCatch), has been tremendous early in training camp, making plays all over the practice field. Though it is the practice field, Boykin is gaining the trust of Aaron Rodgers, which is very important in a QB-WR relationship. Jeremy Ross has also been good in training camp, but will probably be used exclusively in a returner role for 2013.
Rookies Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson were injured early in camp and are still out. Neither will play tonight. That opens the door for undrafted rookies Myles White, Omarius Hines, Tyrone Walker, Alex Gillett and Justin Wilson. Hines and White have been the best out of this bunch, particularly White, who has even caught the attention of Rodgers. Walker has also turned some heads in the early going. This is one of the best position battles in training camp thus far and should be a position you watch all night and for the remainder of the preseason.
3.) Does Johnny Jolly still have it?
The big man hasn’t played a down in the NFL since the 2009 NFL season after multiple run-ins with the law. All reports indicate that Jolly can still the play game and still has the knowledge to be successful on the field like he was for the Packers during the first four years of his career. The question that surrounds Jolly is if he can get his big frame into football shape fast enough to make the 53-man roster.
Right now, Jolly is listed as the third left defensive end on the Packers official depth chart behind Datone Jones and C.J. Wilson. I think Jolly should be able to pass up Wilson, who himself is fighting for a roster spot. I
Jolly had a very solid Family Night for a man who hasn’t played in nearly four years. He has a unique combination of power and agility that isn’t matched by many current Packers’ defensive linemen. Jolly brings a nastiness to the Packers’ defense that has been lacking for the last few seasons. Pay attention to how he penetrates the line and adjusts to the fast paced game.
2.) What does Vince Young truly have to offer Green Bay?
The Packers made nationwide news when they decided to sign the former Heisman Trophy runner-up, Vince Young to a one-year deal that will pay him the veteran minimum. The Packers were clearly not thrilled with the performance, or lack thereof, of second-year quarterback B.J. Coleman. Coleman was picked off twice in the Family Night game, including a pick-six by James Nixon on a throw well behind intended target Jeremy Ross.
Graham Harrell played well in the scrimmage and has the leg up on both Young and Coleman for the backup job. Young hasn’t played since 2011 when he was downright awful for the Buffalo Bills. So far in training camp Young has been awful, throwing multiple interceptions every day of practice this week.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said he and the coaching staff will try to get Young comfortable enough to play some snaps tonight, but he isn’t expected to play much. If Young can somehow turn around his rocky start he could potentially challenge Harrell for the backup job. Pay attention to how well Young controls his throws and how comfortable he looks in the offense.
1.) Is David Bakhtiari the answer at left tackle?
The Packers were dealt a significant blow when left tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season to a torn ACL suffered in the scrimmage last Saturday. Now the Packers must rally and correct the position and do it soon. First up is rookie fourth round pick David Bakhtiari, who has been having a great camp thus far and has earned the first crack at left tackle.
Bakhtiari has been solid against the best the Packers’ defensive line has to offer, including stonewalling Clay Matthews on numerous occasions in one-on-one action drills. If Bakhtiari fails at left tackle it will be Marshall Newhouse sliding over to the left side like he did last season and Bakhtiari will have to fight with Don Barclay for the starting right tackle position.
Keep an eye on Bakhtiari’s footwork and how he responds to an opposing NFL defense for the first time in his career.
Let’s not forget the kicking battle between veteran Mason Crosby and newcomer Georgio Tavecchio. They are locked in a scrum to decide which will be the team’s place kicker and at this point one has to give Tavecchio the edge based on how the two kicked at the Packers Family Night last week.
However, the final decision will come down to how they do in preseason games … that will be the bottom line.
You might want to watch this battle closely. It should be interesting.
Prediction Time …
It’s nearly pointless to predict a preseason game as there is so much uncertainty surrounding all the teams in the NFL at this point. The Packers are thin with injuries and won’t push their healthy bodies much in their preseason opener. I think the Cardinals pull a meaningless victory over the Packers, 24-20.