GREEN BAY – If the Packers want to be a team that takes the ball away a lot in 2019, they're certainly practicing the right way.
Four takeaways, including three in the first quarter, stood out in Green Bay's 28-26 victory over Houston in the preseason opener for both teams Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
Two of the turnovers took potential points off the board for the Texans and the other two led directly to touchdowns for the Packers, as a Green Bay team that tied for the third fewest takeaways in the league last season is off on the right foot in that department this year.
"That's what we talk about all the time, we're going to be about the ball," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said following his first night at the helm. "That was the difference in the game."
It was the Packers' young players getting the job done in a game that saw both teams rest the vast majority of their starters. A total of 26 players didn't suit up for Green Bay, a little more than a handful due to injuries.
Rookie cornerback Ka'dar Hollman ended Houston's first drive by cutting in front of receiver Vyncint Smith to make a sliding interception in the red zone of an underthrown ball by Joe Webb, who went the distance as the Texans didn't play starting QB Deshaun Watson (rest) or A.J. McCarron (hand injury).
"That was awesome," LaFleur said. "I thought that kind of gave us some juice and gave us some momentum."
The third turnover came three snaps later, as safety Raven Greene stripped the ball from running back Taiwan Jones on a promising run up the middle that was approaching the red zone. Fellow defensive back Will Redmond recovered, keeping the Texans scoreless through one quarter.
Then the second half began with the fourth turnover, as rookie corner Chandon Sullivan, who had an interception last week on Family Night, got another pick of Webb and returned it to the Houston 3-yard line, setting up another touchdown.
Boyle had two TD passes on his relatively short 3-for-5, 40-yard night, while earlier DeShone Kizer finished a 75-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard TD toss on the run to rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd. Neither quarterback was sacked nor turned the ball over in a solid opening showing for Aaron Rodgers' backups.
"More than anything else was the command," LaFleur said of what he liked about the quarterback play. "That's what we were looking for. I thought they commanded the huddle. It seemed the communication was on point. I thought the operation was clean and they did a nice job executing when the play was there."
Kizer finished 8-of-13 for 102 yards in playing the entire first half, completing four of his last five throws on the long TD drive in the second quarter. His opening drive of the game was stalled by two holding penalties, and he had one three-and-out on a misfired check down.
"It's consistency on a daily basis," LaFleur said of what he wants to see from Kizer. "Not just in a game but in practice. I know it's one game. I thought he did a nice job tonight, but it's got to be each and every day."
Rookie running back Dexter Williams led the ground game with 62 yards on 14 carries as the only starter who played on offense was left guard Lane Taylor, who LaFleur said is in a competition with rookie Elgton Jenkins.
The two days of practice earlier this week against the Texans factored into LaFleur's decision to rest most of his front-line players.
"We gave those guys the majority of the reps, the ones, and I thought they got the necessary work in throughout the week, and I didn't want to put them at risk tonight," he said, adding that the starters would get some reps next week in Baltimore, with playing time this month assessed on a week-to-week basis.
The running game opened up some play-action passes for Kizer and Boyle, but LaFleur would still like to see more production on the ground than the combined 24 carries for 85 yards by the running backs (3.5 avg.).
He also labeled the defense's tackling "sloppy" as Webb burned the Packers on several scrambles, totaling 47 yards on six runs and leading a Texans' ground game that averaged 4.8 yards per attempt (29 rushes, 138 yards). Webb came up 14 yards shy of a 300-yard passing night, which would be a rarity in the preseason, as he finished 25-of-40 for 286 yards with one touchdown and the two picks, completing passes to 14 different receivers. He was sacked twice.
Rookie linebacker Ty Summers, a seventh-round pick, played the entire game and led the defense with 10 tackles (nine solo). It was a night for young players and for the most part they acquitted themselves well in LaFleur's judgment.
"These guys, I didn't see any big eyes," LaFleur said. "I didn't think it was too big for them. It was really encouraging for all those young guys."