Packers? A long way to go

Mike Clemens
August 17, 2019 - 2:25 pm

© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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Green Bay, WI – Matt LaFleur looked tired Friday afternoon. Nearly punch drunk at the Packers media auditorium podium.

He had shed his walking boot from his left leg as he recovers from surgery for a torn Achilles, saying after standing and wearing the boot 3- plus hours during the game the night before his heel felt like “it was on fire” by the end of the game.

After losing to the Ravens in Baltimore 26-13, the first year head coach reviewed game video on the flight home with offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett. He later went through the tape with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga.

His offense moved the football, but penalties, mental errors, and missed throws prevented scoring touchdowns.

On defense, missed tackles were a problem. 19 missed tackles by LaFleur’s count, down from 24 the week before versus the Houston Texans.

“I know we’re capable. We’ve shown it,” LaFleur said. “We’ve shown some flashes of some really good stuff. It just keeps coming back to the consistency. Can we repeatedly do something? That’s what you have to do in order to stop people, in order to score points. You have to put together long stretches of good, solid fundamental football.”

DeShone Kizer was unable to lead the offense into the end zone in Baltimore.

On the opening Packers offensive drive, the third year quarterback took over 1st and 10 at the Green Bay 40, thanks to a 36 yard kickoff return from undrafted rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd.  Seven plays later the drive ended on a deflected pass attempt over the middle to Geronimo Allison, then Kizer threw a rocket out of reach to veteran Davante Adams on a 4th and 4 at the Baltimore 39.

Kizer had to wait until the second quarter for his next opportunity, thanks to a Ravens drive that went 12 plays, 34 yards, 6 minutes, and what should have been a Lamar Jackson quarterback run for an 18 yard touchdown was called back on a picky alleged illegal blindside block that nullified the score.

A play for the Packers that summed up the night, and Green Bay’s preseason after two games, came on a 2nd and 13 on the Baltimore 20. Kizer had completed back to back passes to Jake Kumerow, 14 yards, then 22 yards, to get into striking distance of a touchdown.

LaFleur called for an outside zone running play to the right, with running back Tra Carson looking to get to sideline. Veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga looked to be struggling with a Ravens linebacker, #44. It turned out to be the Ravens starting left cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who switched jersey numbers to allow incoming safety Earl Thomas to wear his #29.

The 200lbs Humphrey shed Bulaga like a rag doll, and shut down Carson for a five yard loss. And to add to the misery, tight end Jimmy Graham was called for unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty. So instead of advancing in the red zone, Kizer was faced with a 3rd and 18 from the Baltimore 25, and threw an incomplete pass to Graham. Mason Crosby converted a 43-yard field goal, and Kizer was done for the night.

Kizer has the physical tools. He can move. He’s tall and can see downfield. He can throw deep passes. He’s smart. But his post game and practice comments make you wonder if he continues to overthink the game. He’s prided himself on committing zero turnovers so far this preseason, a problem for him in the past.

Tim Boyle at times reminds you of Matt Hasselbeck when he was an overlooked back-up in Green Bay. Hasselbeck’s understanding of the game convinced me he could be an NFL starter, and his preseason snaps with third string players in Green Bay may have fooled others he had any chance to succeed.

But Boyle was simply off in Baltimore. A very slow start. At one point the second year undrafted quarterback from Eastern Kentucky was 1 for 8, missing Jake Kumerow who was wide open. On the next snap Kumerow was charged with a drop on a questionable low throw over the middle.

Finally Boyle got a rhythm going, completing passes to Allen Lazard for gains of 25 and 21 yards, then a 7 yard strike to Darius Shepherd for the Packers only touchdown of the night. But it came near the end of the third quarter against a mix of mostly third string defensive players for the Ravens.

Aaron Rodgers did not play in Baltimore due to “back tightness” that did not just flare up before the kickoff, but had apparently been bothering him since at least the day before. LaFleur said Rodgers felt a little better by game time Thursday night, but the team decided not to risk it, and kept him out as a “precautionary” measure.

Some have said the Packers should be looking at signing a veteran quarterback to back up Rodgers, and move on from Kizer and Boyle.

On Saturday the Eagles may have made that move, signing 40-year-old Josh McCown out of retirement (1-year, $5.4 million, $2 million guaranteed), after two of their back-up quarterbacks to Carson Wentz have gone down with injuries. There are not many other choices out there after McCown. Sam Bradford?

The Packers offense against a Ravens team that has not lost a preseason game since 2015 (15 wins in a row) struggled mostly because they have no running game yet. They used four running backs for a total of only 55 yards gained as a team. 28 of those yards on one run from Darrin Hall that thankfully was not called back for holding. With Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones missing with hamstring injuries, the Packers are throwing at lot at running back Dexter Williams, a sixth round pick out of Notre Dame. Williams (5 yards on 3 carries) is not only expected to pass protect, he’s expected to be a target for passes out of the backfield, and he is still struggling as a rookie with both.  

As for the Ravens, their rookie running back Justice Hill was allowed to simply focus on running the football and he came through, with 49 yards gained on 10 carries, a 4.9 yard average, the longest 14 yards, and one touchdown. Hill, age 21, had the fastest time at the NFL Combine last February, running a 4.4 - 40, after three seasons at Oklahoma State, The Ravens used their fourth round pick, acquired when they traded Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos, to acquire the speedy Hill.

The Packers used their third round pick on tight end Jace Sternberger, and traded both of their fourth round picks to the Seahawks to move up into the first round and grab safety Darnell Savage Jr. from Maryland.

The bright spot for the Packers is depth at wide receiver, with undrafted contenders like Allen Lazard (3 catches for 63 yards) and Darrius Shepherd (6 yard touchdown and 36 yard kickoff return) continuing to flash in camp and in the preseason games.

 “Those guys have done a really nice job and I do think you have to reward guys for not only really good play but the effort that they show on a daily basis,” LaFleur said Friday after reviewing the Ravens game tape. “It’s consistent with both those guys. Again, two smart guys that know what to do and they’re able to go out there and play fast.”

Mike Clemens @mikeclemensnfl covers the Green Bay Packers & NFL for The Bill Michaels Show & 105.7 FM The FAN, Milwaukee

 

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