NFC North: 2013 preseason reaction Week 2

Observation deck: Packers 19, Rams 7

August, 17, 2013

The Green Bay Packers evened their preseason record at 1-1 with a 19-7 victory at St. Louis on Saturday.

Here’s a rundown of the night:
  • Aaron Rodgers played three series and looked sharp despite failing to get into the end zone. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 134 yards and a rating of 113.2, but the starting offense struggled on third down. A holding penalty on tight end Jermichael Finley on third-and-1 from the Rams’ 13-yard line wiped out a 7-yard run by Eddie Lacy on the first series. On the second series, the Rams stopped Lacy for a 2-yard yard loss on third-and-1 at the 29. On the third series, Rodgers was sacked on third-and-5. All three possessions ended with field-goal attempts, and the offensive starters totaled six points.
  • Finley, who has drawn repeated praise from Rodgers during training camp, made two big plays. He had a 25-yard reception on the first series and a 33-yard catch-and-run on the third series. He had four catches for 78 yards.
  • In his preseason debut, Lacy rushed eight times for 40 yards and showed off his ability to break tackles. On his first carry, he made a defender miss in the backfield and picked up 7. On his second carry, he broke two tackles and gained 15. He also had one catch that went for 11 yards thanks to a spin move that juked a defender. Lacy played the first three series (although Johnathan Franklin actually started) after missing last week’s opener against Arizona because of a hamstring injury.
  • Rookie cornerback Micah Hyde bounced back after giving up a 57-yard completion to speedy Chris Givens in the first quarter. On the same series, Hyde had good coverage and tackled rookie receiver Tavon Austin for a 1-yard gain on second-and-goal from the 3. On the next play, Hyde stopped running back Isaiah Pead for a 1-yard gain. It’s possible Hyde was counting on help from safety Jerron McMillian on the deep pass to Givens, but he might be better suited to play inside, where speed isn’t as big of an issue. Hyde also had a sack in the third quarter.
  • Hyde also got a crack at a punt return, and brought it back 13 yards. He had not previously been used as a returner in practice this summer.
  • Franklin made a major mistake as a punt returner in the third quarter. He failed to run up and catch a punt that hit one of his blockers, Brandon Smith, and was recovered by the Rams at the Packers’ 10-yard line.
  • Don Barclay got the start at right tackle and alternated series with Marshall Newhouse. Barclay had a good block on Lacy’s 15-yard run on the first series and another on a 13-yard rush by Alex Green in the third quarter. Newhouse also played left tackle in the second half.
  • Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari made his first major mistake in pass protection since taking over for the injured Bryan Bulaga. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn beat Bakhtiari inside and sacked Rodgers on third-and-5 on Rodgers’ final series.
  • Tight end D.J. Williams, who had a poor showing against the Cardinals, dropped one pass and missed a block on a field goal that was partially blocked. His inconsistent play may have opened the door for Brandon Bostick, who caught three passes for 29.
  • Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly may have taken a big step toward completing an improbable return. In just his second game since returning to the NFL after serving a three-year drug suspension, Jolly was part of two turnover plays in the third quarter. First, he pushed back guard Barrett Jones and tipped a Kellen Clemens pass that Jarrett Bush intercepted. Then, he dropped into coverage and intercepted a Clemens pass that was tipped. Earlier, he fought off a double team and tackled running back Benny Cunningham for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter.
  • One the most impressive players of last preseason, outside linebacker Dezman Moses hasn’t looked the same this summer. He made a couple of glaring errors – a missed tackle that led to a 10-yard catch-and-run by Pead and a blown coverage on a 37-yard completion from Sam Bradford to tight end Jared Cook.
  • Backup quarterback Graham Harrell played three series and completed 5 of 10 passes for 44 yards and accounted for three points. He had no turnovers after losing a fumble and throwing an interception against Arizona last week.
  • Vince Young followed Harrell and played three series in the third quarter. He completed 5 of 9 passes for 26 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He accounted for just three points, and it came on a short field after the Packers took possession at the Rams’ 29-yard line. On Young’s first series, he had receiver Myles White open down the seam but overthrew him on what could have been a 29-yard touchdown. Three plays later, Young was late on a fade to White, who ran out of room in the end zone.
  • B.J. Coleman followed Young and played the fourth quarter. He looked considerably better than he did in the Aug. 3 scrimmage and last week against the Cardinals. He led the only touchdown drive of the game, capping a 13-play, 75-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass on the run to tight end Jake Stoneburner.
  • Running back James Starks lost ground in the running-back competition when he fumbled in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Green.
  • Mason Crosby looked solid on field goals of 34 and 48 yards. He also made a 30-yarder that was partially blocked. Giorgio Tavecchio missed wide left from 49 yards and made a 38-yarder.
  • Tight end Matthew Mulligan and linebacker Nate Palmer left with injuries. Their status was not immediately known.
  • The following players were not in uniform: WR Kevin Dorsey (hamstring), WR Charles Johnson (knee), WR Randall Cobb (biceps), RB DuJuan Harris (knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), TE Ryan Taylor (knee), WR Jordy Nelson (knee), DE Datone Jones (ankle) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).
Reviewing Friday night's events at Ralph Wilson Stadium:

Buffalo Bills 20, Minnesota Vikings 16

Preseason record: 0-2

Of interest: The evening began with left tackle Matt Kalil getting beat for a sack by Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, and it didn't get much better, at least for a Vikings offense that again played without tailback Adrian Peterson. Coaches got quarterback Christian Ponder five series of work, but he took two sacks and was jumpy enough to complete only 5-of-12 passes for 53 yards. He led a 62-yard scoring drive, ending in a Blair Walsh's 36-yard field goal, but otherwise the Vikings gained a total of 20 yards on his other possessions. (Walsh earlier missed from 49 yards.) The Bills' rush was active, and center John Sullivan launched an early shotgun snap to scuttle one play, but all quarterbacks face adversity during the season. Ponder needed to react better and at times quicker Friday night. If you were hoping for an anxiety-relieving performance from him, this wasn't it. … Three of Ponder's completions went to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who also dropped an easy third-down pass. … The Vikings' defense played well against an equally underwhelming performance from Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb. Safety Jamarca Sanford intercepted a pass tipped by cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and linebacker Desmond Bishop showed up several times in extensive playing time -- albeit mostly with the third team. But he was also the closest defender on Brad Smith's 4-yard touchdown pass from EJ Manuel in the third quarter. … Punter Jeff Locke dropped three punts inside the 20, two of which were downed by special-teams hopeful Bobby Felder. … No. 3 quarterback McCleod Bethel-Thompson's 10-of-17 performance was, if nothing else, a nice showing to put on tape if the Vikings elect to keep two quarterbacks. … Receiver Jarius Wright suffered a concussion and did not play after halftime.

Up next: Aug. 25 at San Francisco 49ers.

CHICAGO -- Chicago's starters dominated San Diego's No. 1's in the first quarter, scoring 14 points while limiting the Chargers to none as the Bears walked away with a 33-28 victory.

Here are a few quick thoughts on the game:

What it means: Progress that the Bears will be ecstatic about taking into their third preseason game, which is typically considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season. After a so-so performance in the exhibition opener against the Carolina Panthers, the Bears put on somewhat of a show offensively for the home crowd by scoring 14 points against San Diego's starters in the first quarter.

In rolling up 100 yards in the quarter, the Bears gained six first downs, converted two of three third downs and finished the quarter with a 100 percent efficiency rating in the red zone. Jay Cutler was 4-of-5 for 38 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but it is somewhat concerning that he fired every one of those passes to Brandon Marshall.

Defensively, the Bears sacked Philip Rivers twice and forced two turnovers in the first quarter, while limiting the Chargers to three first downs and a 33 percent conversion rate on third downs.

OL picture clearer? Not really. Or maybe now it's crystal clear. Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills ratcheted up the difficulty for veterans James Brown and J'Marcus Webb to retain their starting jobs. Running with the starters for the first time this preseason, Long and Mills held down the right side of Chicago's line against San Diego's starters, and kept Cutler's jersey sparkling clean all night. Although Cutler suffered two sacks in the first quarter, neither of them came from pressure off the right side of the line.

The telling moment for the rookies came near the end of the first quarter. Holding possession at the San Diego 11 with 1:32 remaining in the first quarter, the Bears handed off to Matt Forte three times in a row behind Mills and Long. With the rookies leading the way -- not to mention laying fierce blocks -- Forte gained 11 yards on those three carries, and capped a four-play scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown that put the Bears up 14-0 after Robbie Gould's extra-point kick.

Going into last week, Bears coach Marc Trestman said it was part of the plan to play Long and Mills with the starters against the Chargers. It appears those rookies might stick in the starting lineup, while Webb's roster spot could be in jeopardy given the fact the club has other alternatives at right tackle in veterans Eben Britton and Jonathan Scott.

Speaking of the O-line: The group played fairly well for the limited amount of snaps the offense played in the first quarter. Sure, Cutler absorbed two sacks. The first came due to a missed block by tight end Martellus Bennett. Technically, Bennett is a member of the offensive line, but he wasn't considered among the team's concerns about pass protection coming into the game. The second sack Cutler absorbed came partially as a result of the quarterback holding the ball too long, but he also shuffled into his own linemen and San Diego's rush. On the play, both the right side and left side provided adequate protection.


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Forte gets going early: Forte chipped away at the notion he can't get it done on the goal line by running three times in a row from the 11 for gains of 6 and 2 yards before scoring on a 3-yard touchdown. The old regime seemed to believe Forte couldn't grind it out in short-yardage situations. So it was refreshing to see the new staff show confidence in the running back, who ultimately might wind up having to carry this team.

Forte finished with 74 yards on eight attempts, including a 58-yard burst on a toss toward the visitor's sideline in which he made a defender miss in space to gain extra yardage. The run set up the club's first touchdown.

Locked on Marshall: Cutler completed four of five passes with a touchdown and an interception in limited action with a passer rating of 98.3. On the surface, those numbers look respectable. But it seems a tad concerning that every one of Cutler's throws against the Chargers traveled Marshall's direction.

Cutler hit Marshall on a pinpoint back-shoulder throw for the club's first touchdown of the night from 5 yards out to cap a seven-play drive spanning 84 yards in 3 minutes, 45 seconds. Cutler never looked at any other receiver on the play, but that might be of little consequence due to play design (maybe the pass was designed to come out quickly) and the fact it was a touchdown.

Cutler's interception with 5:31 left in the first quarter seemed more telling. Cutler threw the ball down the deep middle of the field with Marshall bracketed in coverage with one defender over the top of him and one underneath.

Hester still has it: Maybe specializing exclusively on returns was the right move for the Bears and Devin Hester. Hester caught the game's opening kickoff 8-yards deep in Chicago's end zone, and busted it 45 yards to set up the Bears at the 37.

Coming into the season, there seemed to be questions about whether Hester had lost a step. It certainly didn't look like it Thursday night.

D-line is deep: The Bears sat starting defensive linemen Julius Peppers (hamstring) and Henry Melton (concussion), but the defense suffered no ill effects. Young defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin each notched first-quarter sacks of Rivers, with one of the sacks resulting in a turnover.

Wootton dropped Rivers for a 9-yard loss with 6:15 left in the first quarter. McClellin, a first-round pick in 2012, sacked Rivers and knocked the ball loose with safety Major Wright scooping up the fumble. That turnover led to Forte's 3-yard TD run.

Early in the second quarter, reserve defensive tackle Nate Collins joined the sack party when he stuffed Rivers for a 6-yard loss on third down to end a San Diego drive.

Same ol' D: The Bears forced four turnovers in the exhibition opener at Carolina, and the starting defense basically picked up where it left off against the Chargers. Safety Chris Conte picked off a Rivers pass intended for Keenan Allen in the first quarter, and Wright recovered a fumble forced by McClellin.

What's next: With training camp now over, the Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday where they will begin preparation for an Aug. 23 road matchup against the Oakland Raiders.