The rain poured down Saturday night as the Green Bay Packers surrendered a 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
However, the final score won’t tell you that the Packers played well and had the upper hand for the first three and a half quarters of the game.
All in all, the game played out like a first preseason contest. There was plenty of sloppy play, vanilla play calling, and several dropped passes. Hopefully, it was just the rain.
Despite a few blunders, there were plenty of encouraging signs for this young Packers roster.
Here are my top takeaways from the Packers preseason opener.
Running Game Off to a Good Start
He only played in one series, but James Starks might have been the star of the night. He ran for 49 yards on five carries in the Packers’ opening drive. Green Bay marched down the field 64 yards to score, feeding Starks the ball every step of the way.
On his 20-yard touchdown run to cap off the impressive drive, Starks made a key cutback to at the line, found a soft spot in the defense, and sprinted free for the score.
Credit should also be given to the offensive line. The starting five looked dominant against Tennessee’s defensive front. Tretter played better than expected in his first live action at center and was key in opening up holes in the middle of the field for the Packers backs. Bulaga also looked solid in his first NFL action since tearing his ACL in last year’s Family Nigh Scrimmage.
The Packers offensive line showcased its depth as the game went on, opening holes for backs DuJuan Harris and Rajion Neal on a couple of nice runs. Sherrod in particular had a couple of nice blocks to help spring Neal free on the outside.
Neal was one of the few young players to standout in his first NFL action. He ran hard, finishing the night with five carries for 39 yards and had an impressive 12-yard touchdown, where he plowed over safety Micah Pellerin to get across the goal-line for the score.
In front of his hometown, Neal made a strong case for a roster spot Saturday night.
Quarterback Competition Just Got More Interesting
With Aaron Rodgers not suiting up, Matt Flynn got the start and wasn’t anything better than average. He managed the game and led a 64-yard touchdown drive early in the first quarter, but only completed two passes on the drive.
Green Bay Packers quarterbackMatt Flynn
(10) looks to hand off against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.Jim Brown
-USA TODAY Sports
Flynn finished the night 5 of 10 for 49 yards, playing almost the entire first half. The veteran quarterback did struggle throwing the ball downfield in the rain. Several passes sailed over receivers heads or were thrown just out of reach.
On the contrary, Scott Tolzien looked strong and decisive slinging the ball downfield in a little over a quarter of action. In only 12 pass attempts, he connected on eight for 124 yards, including a 38-yarder to Chris Harper on a key 2nd-and-21.
Tolzien showcased his arm strength, but he also showed his ability to run the hurry-up offense, orchestrating a 79-yard drive in the third quarter to put the Packers up 13-6.
At this point, Flynn still appears to be the Packers’ top backup at the position, but Saturday night, Tolzien looked like the better quarterback.
Mixed Results For Rookies In Their Debut
One of the most anticipated things about watching a preseason opener is getting our first look at the rookies on the team. Unfortunately, the rookies’ first showing wasn’t too impressive.
Davante Adams had a couple of nice catches in the game, but he also fumbled two punts, one leading to a 13-yard touchdown run for Tennessee.
Starting the game, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played a lot up in the box in run support. He got a nice NFL welcoming when Tennessee running back Dexter McCluster ran him over on an eight-yard run up the middle.
Clinton-Dix did bounce back with a nice stop in the backfield on the following play and continued to showcase his solid tackling ability throughout the rest of the first half, making several plays against the run. Clinton-Dix also had a nice pass breakup downfield guarding the tight end up the seam.
Tight end Richard Rodgers had a quiet night after he caught a ball in the flat and turned up field for 10 yards and the first down on the opening drive.
Disappointingly, mid-round picks Khyri Thornton and Carl Bradford only played a handful of snaps and had quiet nights. Bradford didn’t even see the field at outside linebacker until the fourth quarter, demonstrating how difficult it will be for him to get playing time at the deep position.
Defensive Back a Position of Strength?
The Packers defense forced Tennessee to punt seven of their first eight possessions, the only score being off the Adams’ fumbled punt return in the redzone.
Even though the starters didn’t play more than a few series, a few of the young defensive backs made key plays in coverage. Just one play after Jarrett Bush sacked the quarterback on a blitz, Davon House came up with a big pass breakup to force Tennessee to punt in Green Bay territory.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Demitri Goodson (39) breaks up a pass intended for Tennessee Titans wide receiver Micheal Preston (14). Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
On the very next play undrafted free agent defensive back Jumal Rolle blitzed Tennessee quarterback Zach Mettenberger and forced a fumble, stopping a Tennessee scoring drive and giving Green Bay the ball early in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 13-13.
Also, Micah Hyde quietly had a good first game at safety, being in on a number of key stops that ended drives.
Who Will Step Up at Wide Receiver?
When Chris Harper took the field in the second half, he appeared poised for a breakout performance. His first two receptions came on crucial downs and for big gains of 17 and 38 yards.
However, Harper proved inconsistent only a few plays later, dropping what should have been a relatively easy two-point conversion, and then later, dropping a wide-open pass on fourth down that would have kept the Packers’ final drive alive.
Kevin Dorsey recorded three receptions for 23 yards, one catch coming on third down with a defender all over his back. However, Dorsey also let a pass near the sideline slip from his fingers.
Green Bay is hoping at least one or two of these young receivers stands out in preseason.
Nobody Standing Out at Tight End, Yet
Overall, the tight ends were non-descript. Andrew Quarless had a couple of key blocks that helped spring some nice runs, but he didn’t record a single reception in the contest and dropped a pass over the middle of the field just before the half, which would have gone for a big gain.
Rodgers only had the one reception but didn’t get a lot of looks as a blocker in the running game.
Brandon Bostick had a costly holding penalty that negated an 18-yard DuJuan Harris run. However, Bostick did redeem himself the following play, catching a short pass in the flat, breaking a tackle, and sprinting upfield 25 yards for the first down.
The good news is we’re only one game into the preseason, so it’s too soon to jump to any major conclusions.
The race for the starting tight end job still remains between Quarless, Rodgers, and Bostick, but one of them will have to step up and flash more ability in the remaining three preseason games.