Packers offense moves ball, didn’t score many points

Packers offense moves ball, didn’t score many points
Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers drops back for a pass in the first quarter against the New England Patriots during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 13, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 22-11 preseason-opening win over the New England Patriots Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, where the first-string offense moved the ball but only had three points to show for it:

Thumbs up: The Packers were so thin at cornerback entering the game that they needed to sign Ryan White, who was with them last summer in camp and ended up playing on Thursday night, just hours after signing because three cornerbacks – first-round pick Damarious Randall, Demetri Goodson and Tay Glover-Wright – didn’t make the trip because of injuries.

As it turned out, though, all they really needed were rookie second-round pick Quinten Rollins and undrafted rookie free agent LaDarius Gunter.

Entering the game after starting cornerbacks Sam Shields and Casey Hayward called it a night, Rollins broke up three passes during the second quarter, including one play where he went low on a screen pass to ex-University of Wisconsin running back James White and delivered a hard hit to White’s thighs, forcing him to lose control of the ball. Rollins was only credited with two pass breakups on the official stats, but he was clearly a factor.

“It was fun. It was good to get out there and go against guys we haven’t seen,” Rollins said. “I really don’t care [about lining up inside or outside], whatever I can do to help the team. I just need to put myself in a position whether I’m inside or outside to make a play on the ball.”

Gunter, meanwhile, got the Packers’ second half off to a strong start with an interception on the opening drive of the third quarter, which the Packers then turned into a 25-yard Alonzo Harris touchdown run to take a 15-11 lead.

“I thought they did some really good things,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Our guys [in the secondary] are doing a great job. We’re getting our hands on a lot of balls. You can see it in practice. As a secondary, it’s happening a lot more this year than in prior years. You can see it in the training camp practices and I thought it definitely carried over tonight.”

Thumbs down: Playing in a game for the first time since their NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, it was hard not to have flashbacks to what happened in that disheartening 28-22 overtime loss.

And we’re not talking about the late-game collapse, we’re talking about the offense.

Against Seattle, Packers coach Mike McCarthy faced a pair of early fourth-and-goal decisions after drives stalled in the red zone/near the goal line. Both times, McCarthy took the points, on 18- and 19-yard field goals by Mason Crosby. Both times, the Packers had first-and-goal from the Seattle 7-yard line but failed to get the ball in the end zone.

On Thursday night, the stakes weren’t as high – actually, there we no stakes whatsoever – and in fairness, neither team had game-planned for its opponent or was running particularly exotic stuff.

Nevertheless, on their opening drive, the Packers reached first-and-goal at the New England 5 and could not score, going for it on fourth down, when Eddie Lacy could not catch quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ throw on the run.

On their second series, the drive ended on a fourth-and-1 from the New England 34-yard line when James Starks was stuffed for no gain. And on their third series – still with the No. 1 offense in the game – they had first-and-goal from the 8 and wound up settling for a Crosby 25-yard field goal when Davante Adams couldn’t hold onto a Rodgers throw on third down. Rodgers said Adams told him afterward that he lost the ball in the stadium lights.

Rodgers dismissed any idea that the red-zone and goal-line failures were cause for concern.

“Well, it’s a short playbook. It’s the first preseason game,” Rodgers said. “I think for us at this point in our progression of the offense, it’s about getting in shape with the no-huddle and we moved the ball pretty well. We got stalled in the red zone, but we were in one personnel group the entire time with limited substitutions. It was good exercise out there for us and communication was very good.

“[We] made some plays, we missed some plays. We had some chances on some throws and catches and didn’t put it together. But that’s what the preseason’s for and I’m happy with the first game.”

Player of the game: Scott Tolzien has come a long ways since being thrust into the starting role by Rodgers’ 2013 collarbone injury. On Thursday night, he was calm, confident and effective running the No. 2 offense after Rodgers called it a night.

“I just feel more comfortable being another year in with the playbook and the timing and everything like that,” Tolzien said. “[But] it’s still early. Still got three more games left. It’s just a start.”

Taking over to start the second quarter, Tolzien’s first series didn’t get far, but on his second, he picked up a third-and-1 with an excellent throw to tight end Justin Perillo, then dropped a perfect rainbow into the arms of a streaking Jeff Janis in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Although he and Myles White couldn’t quite connect on the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt, there were few times when Tolzien didn’t look the part of a reliable backup quarterback. He even took off running and lowered his shoulder on a third-and-11 scramble on his first series, only to see his run go for naught because of a Don Barclay holding penalty.

“Scott, it’s just a natural progression for him, making plays,” Rodgers said. “He made a good throw on fourth-down there to Jeff, and it’s nice to see Scott being productive – as he should.”

Play of the day: No one is going to confuse Janis with Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter – at least, not yet – but when the second-year wide receiver reeled in Tolzien’s 26-yard strike for a go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter, the phrase All he does is catch touchdowns was 100 percent accurate.

Janis made the 53-man roster as a seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State last year on the strength of two eye-popping plays – 34- and 33-yard touchdowns, his only two catches in exhibition play. Then, on his first catch this preseason, he scored again, this time sprinting down the right sideline and snagging Tolzien’s fourth-down throw. Janis’ TD streak came to an end later when he caught a 5-yard pass across the middle and “failed” to score.

“Jeff has great speed. He can stretch the field,” Tolzien said. “You’re always going to peek at him out of the corner of your eye because he’s proven he can beat guys on the go. It was a good route by him and good protection.”

Inside slant: Last season, the Packers went on fourth down a total of 10 times in 16 regular-season games (and were successful on four of those attempts). In one night, they tried half as many times as they did all of last year, converting on 2 of 5 fourth-down attempts.

“That was Mike, he wanted to practice doing that, so that was nice,” Rodgers said of the aggressive fourth-down approach. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen in regular season – hopefully it does, [it] gives us a few more opportunities if we convert them.”

The Packers’ fourth-down failures with Rodgers in the game came on the incompletion to Lacy and Starks’ run. Rodgers did convert a fourth-and-3 with a completion to tight end Andrew Quarless to keep alive the drive that eventually ended in Crosby’s field goal. Tolzien’s touchdown to Janis was a fourth-down play, too.

“Those decisions are made before the game,” McCarthy said of his preseason approach to such decisions. “Going for it on fourth down, two-point plays – it’s really the opportunity when you’re in those situations to take advantage of them and the opportunity to work them and compete against the Patriots. I don’t think I’ll be going for it on fourth down [five] times a game [like] today. It was really just taking advantage of the opportunity.”

By the numbers:
Packers QB stats:

Rodgers – 11 of 19, 117 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks, 76.0 rating.

Tolzien – 10 of 16, 107 yards, one TD, no INTs, no sacks, 102.9 rating.

Hundley – 4 of 6, 60 yards, one TD, no INT, one sack, 138.9 rating.

Blanchard – 2 of 2, 11 yards, no TDs, no INT, one sack, 89.6 rating.

Quote, unquote: “It’s a new year. It’s our first time to compete. To come out and compete against this organization, this football team, it’s great work. It’s exactly what we needed. We took our first step as a football team and we’ll grow from it..” – McCarthy, on the team’s first game since the loss to Seattle in January.

Injury report: The Packers reported two injuries after the game: To Perillo (concussion) and to first-year defensive back Kyle Sebetic (ankle). A whopping 13 players did not make the trip for various injuries, including several players who were able to practice earlier in the week but were held out from making the trip.

Players who did not travel were WR Adrian Coxson (concussion), WR Javess Blue (shoulder), CB Damarious Randall (groin), CB Tay Glover-Wright (hamstring), S Sean Richardson (pectoral), CB Demetri Goodson (calf), T Vince Kowalski (concussion), LB Clay Matthews (knee), LB Nick Perry (groin), DE Mike Daniels (ankle), WR Jared Abbrederis (concussion), OLB Mike Neal (abdomen) and DE Letroy Guion (hamstring).

Up next: The Packers return to practice on Saturday at Ray Nitschke Field. Their next preseason game is Aug. 23 at Pittsburgh.