Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (center) is stopped by Green Bay Packers cornerback Davon House (left) and linebacker Clay Matthews (right). Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Green Bay Packers ready?

Let the 2014 NFL Season Begin 

By James Katorski

True to form, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and staff gave his All-Star players the night off for the fourth preseason game against Kansas City.

What they missed was the most action packed pre-season game in a long time. Those who did play had to demonstrate “my life is on the line.” They either enjoyed a new found fame in their resume, or they were sent home to use that resume for a day job.

Picking those final 53 is the toughest job, next to giving the news to players as unfortunate as Jermichael Finley.  The NFL with these new players is on their way will be starting the games that  count; for the NFL 2014 season is set to begin.

This past preseason was not a typical one.  Things looked worse than usual in game one, with red turf from all the rust with which Green Bay played. The worst of the bad news during the preseason came in losing a starter. In fact, this practice season had two major setbacks in the form of injuries, that in all honesty weakens the team. The past couple of seasons the domineering Packers weren’t dominating every game, but put in a good days work against most teams.

The base core of this team is top shelf talent. This edition of the Green Bay Packers in nearly “phenomenal.”  Save that thought and we’ll see if it applies 15 games down the road when the regular season is nearing its end.

What is the biggest surprise, having developed as a team, so far?

Seeing Aaron Rodgers come out in game two, and doing as well as they did with the no-huddle offense. It took some kind of practice for the team to do this so early in the season.

They played well as a team, not including penalties. Let’s see if Mike McCarthy will remain discreet enough to keep the troops fresh to use the “hurryup” 5, 10 or 15 games into the season without the drag that shelved it in past seasons.

You’d think the key might be in being conservative in its use, so that its surprise factor can throw off a defense. An off and on method would surely help that avenue.

It was a great feat to show us what can be done in a few short weeks.

The second biggest surprise of the preseason was to see not only the offensive line I cried about earlier, but the defense that made some changes taking them from ordinary to a physical specimen, player after player, right down the line.

It seemed they transformed from a group that worked hard, but didn’t push the pedal to the metal, until McCarthy got at them. He must have pulled a page from Vince Lombardi’s handbook, with the (pardon the curse) two-a-days. This factor became noticeable enough for the announcers to comment on during the KC game.

The biggest improvement they needed – in the defense - turned out a new bunch who seemed anxious for the snap, and ready to give someone a “pop.” They were dishing out some real nice stuff in the final preseason game, peaking as planned, just in time for the real games.

Admitting the doubts I’ve had, fearing Aaron Rodgers going down again, runners stopped in their tracks, or hurried passes going out too soon for the receiver to check, seem to have been put to rest for now. That was a nice big change, and like it’s been said, games are won and lost in the trenches.

It won’t be on their shoulders if the team should sputter.

THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH AWARD

There were quite a few players deserving mention for such an award.

Not only players, but some of the units deserve more than mention. They turned the dial up beyond one or two notches, from mundane to fantastic.  Special teams started looking like a strong point, and will improve the consistency as the season matures.

A number of ball-hawks have come forward this year, making this all important part of the game a solid matchup. You couldn’t have a Packers award without Eddie Lacy or Aaron Rodgers in the highlights, and for the sake of repetition, we’ll leave them out, along with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.

There certainly is a common theme in braggart commentary for Jeff Janis, who would be a great replacement for Micah Hyde returning kicks and punts if schooled a bit on the do’s and don’ts of the trade. His 33-yard touchdown catch should have put a signed, sealed delivered fate on his future as a Packer, one way or the other, they can’t let this kid wind up playing against them.

He might just bust loose enough to beat them single handedly. Okay, so he’d need a little help, but, get the picture?

Speed, speed and more speed.

This Packers team is loaded with speed even more than your basic Roadrunner cartoon. Janis, on his return two weeks ago, outran half the team down the sideline, despite about three defensive men having an angle on the play. He was finally forced out by a push from one defender into another that knocked him over the sideline. Then, as we talk speed, there’s the running backs, the receivers who, when on a roll, cannot be run upfield before defenses realize who has the ball.

To sum up the four practice games, it would be fitting to say game one was a sloppy-fest, mistakes, rust, and getting familiar with the player across from you wanting to rip you in two, is all part of the game. We saw Green Bay take off against a hapless Rams’ defense, and then the Raiders came to town with Green Bay pounding down the no-huddle offense once again.

You can be relieved in knowing Aaron has a lifetime completion percentage over 60 percent, and his one low night with the Raiders is the starting point for a better season than his performance indicated. We know Rodgers can play with the best of them coming after him, and come out on top, especially with this crew of receivers, painstakingly picked in a mold, their style seems so much the same.

Even the backups looked good for this team.  The Flynn vs. Tolzien battle turned into a good thing for the players and the team. Even without Rodgers last season, this team showed character and depth. Losing the offensive line to injuries, shuffling guards to tackles and visa-versa kept the team patched up somehow, with Scotch tape and rubber bands, but got the job done. From now on, we suspect the upper echelon will not toss the dice on their quarterback, in thinking they are invincible. Close but not quite the banana they hoped for.

While they seem just short of the peak, we like to see so  much of, it seems coming together is harder for a unit, especially such a young group of bombers the Green Bay defensive backfield set out flying.

Don’t worry if they wind up a step or two behind the ball on a play, these birds can fly, catching up with it in just few steps, they are right where they should be, in command, and we’ll see more from this bunch, more broken plays, picks, sacks, hurries, and even a few scores by the time the ink dries on the news.

Competition has been hot, and you can bet the numbers of game changing events in momentum will put the ball back where it needs to be, in number 12’s hands.  All of a sudden, the woes we were bothered with near the close of last year’s season have mostly all been addressed and corrected.

It was apparent things are different in preseason. Even the change from week three (3) to four (4), all that hard work paid off.  Then there are the linebackers. What can we say here?  Talk around camp is so strong; it is time to let things ride out.  Peppers, Mathews A.J., Neal, Jones & Perry are the key to this defense.

We know the backfield is moving to near mid-season form. The Defensive front is growing as a unit that soon will be tight-knit, and effective enough to let the backfield do their jobs with momentum and dominance.  The extra second this group takes away is enough time for the linebackers to make adjustments or the coverage specialists to make a move on the ball, which is exactly what winning teams govern their divisions by.

Excitement is the name of the game in Green Bay. Looking at the defense and the chemistry here, we surprisingly see in one of the youngest championship teams the Packers ever fielded. Maybe the talent is so good and beyond the “norm” we see in the NFL.

We shall see …

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