GREEN BAY – The Packers had two major defensive emphases entering the 2019 season – takeaways and tackling.
Through the first two preseason games, they’ve hit the target on the former and are looking for a bit more consistency on the latter.
While the defense earned its fourth turnover of the preseason Thursday night against Baltimore, there were still too many missed tackles for Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s liking during Green Bay’s 26-13 loss to the Ravens.
LaFleur still does not want his players taking each other down to the ground in practice, but said the team plans to emphasize technique after the coaches' film revealed 19 missed tackles, a week after the staff counted 24 missed tackles against Houston.
“We’re really have to concentrate and have a more concerted effort on thudding up and trying to stop the runners' feet,” said LaFleur in his Friday afternoon news conference. “I still don’t believe in taking to the ground. The risk-reward is not worth it to me and I think that’s true with a lot of coaches throughout the league.”
The biggest positive was in the takeaway department, with rookie inside linebacker Curtis Bolton’s interception of Baltimore quarterback Trace McSorley in the second quarter, which came off a Tony Brown deflection.
The missed tackles were one of several areas, spread throughout all three phases, LaFleur pinpointed for improvement heading into next Thursday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.
Watching the offensive film with coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on the return flight home, LaFleur liked the way the offense moved the ball early on but mental errors, a 3-of-12 conversion rate on third down and several penalties interrupted the rhythm.
The Packers’ starting unit had to pivot after Aaron Rodgers was a precautionary scratch due to back tightness. LaFleur said Rodgers “feels better” and the current plan is for the two-time MVP quarterback to practice on Sunday.
The team will have to make a determination whether Rodgers will play in next Thursday’s game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba. LaFleur said team travel coordinator Matt Klein will travel a couple days early to inspect the field.
LaFleur acknowledged there is an obvious benefit, though, if Rodgers takes a few snaps in the preseason slate.
“Just just to try and get into a flow of the game,” LaFleur said. “Having him hear the play calls when he's actually the guy out there, get in and out of the huddle. I thought he's definitely helped stress that urgency to the other 10 in the huddle and I thought last week was better.”
LaFleur was generally pleased with how DeShone Kizer steered the starting offense on the first two series, though there were a couple decisions, on the second drive specifically, LaFleur went over with the third-year quarterback on Friday.
The first was the 3-yard sack the offense took on first-and-10 from the Baltimore 17, when LaFleur felt Kizer had Jimmy Graham open as the first read on a shallow cross and then Marquez Valdes-Scantling open as the second on the left side.
While the offense sputtered at times, the highlight was again the play of Green Bay’s reserve receivers. Allen Lazard caught three passes for 63 yards, while Darrius Shepherd hauled in a 6-yard touchdown and returned the opening kickoff 36 yards.
“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. “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.”
Speaking to the media Friday, LaFleur was without the walking boot he’s been utilizing since tearing his Achilles tendon during the offseason program. LaFleur said he’s hopeful he won’t have to wear it on the sidelines next Thursday against the Raiders.
From a team perspective, LaFleur remains optimistic it can iron out the wrinkles over these next two weeks before the roster is reduced to 53 and the focus shifts to Chicago.
“I know we’re capable. We’ve shown it,” LaFleur said. “We’ve shown some flashes of some really good stuff. Again, 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.”