Halfway through their preseason, the Packers are 0-2 and have targets to hit before they can declare themselves ready for the start of the regular season.
In a 35-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field on Thursday, Head Coach Mike McCarthy hit his playing time target for the young players on his roster, but those were about the only targets the Packers hit.
Brush it off as just another preseason game?
"You don't brush anything off," McCarthy bristled. "What's concerning is the final score. You play to win, but you have other goals."
Getting a good look at young players that must be evaluated for the upcoming roster cuts was one of McCarthy's priorities. It caused him to do something that turned the game decidedly in Cleveland's favor.
"Fourth and two, I would never go for it in that particular situation," McCarthy said.
At the time, Aaron Rodgers and the No. 1 offense was in its third series of the game. The ball was on the Packers 45-yard late in the first quarter, neither a green-light spot or time in the game.
"Get a first down, get them 20 (plays)," McCarthy said of what he was thinking. He wanted Rodgers and company to reach their pre-designated play count on that drive, and then turn the field over to the reserves.
Rodgers threw incomplete on the fourth down play and six plays later the Browns would be in the end zone and in the lead, 13-7. It was the turning point in the game and it was largely the result of an objective other than winning the game.
"The quality might not be what you want, but we'll let the tape tell us that," McCarthy said of his team's play. "It's important for the team to grow."
Growth certainly won't be measured in turnovers. The Packers turned the ball over four times for the second consecutive game. On this night, one of the turnovers was returned 38 yards for a touchdown.
It was the result of a pass backup quarterback Graham Harrell threw for tight end Ryan Taylor, who tripped and fell as Harrell was releasing the pass. It cleared the way for Browns defensive back David Sims to step forward, catch the ball and head for the end zone.
It was the low point in a dismal night for Harrell, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 100 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 26.4 passer rating. It was a performance that also included an intentional grounding penalty that scored a safety for the Browns.
"He was put in some tough spots. On the negative side, he missed some throws," McCarthy said of Harrell.
Rodgers missed on his first pass, overthrowing Jordy Nelson as he streaked into the end zone a couple of strides ahead of his defender. Two plays later, Nelson ran the same route and out-jumped cornerback Joe Haden for a perfectly lofted Rodgers pass. The Packers had a 7-0 lead and all appeared well for the home team.
What does the offense need to do in what's left of the preseason to be ready for the start of the regular season, Rodgers was asked?
"I think we need to run the ball a little better. Graham and I led the team in rushing tonight. You're not going to be able to do the things you want to do if you can't win the down," Rodgers said.
Rodgers ran twice for 24 yards, Harrell three times for 23 yards. McCarthy complimented Harrell for his scrambles. "I would say that was not part of his game a year ago," McCarthy said.
Alex Green ran four times for 16 yards and Marc Tyler eight times for six yards, as Packers running backs gained just 22 yards, an average of less than two yards a carry. Newly acquired running back Cedric Benson did not play in the game, neither did James Starks (toe) and Brandon Saine (hamstring).
A target Rodgers would like to reach in the next game is playing time with star receivers Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, neither of whom has played in this preseason.
"It would be nice to have Jermichael and Greg. Cincinnati has a real nice defense and it would be nice to have those guys going," Rodgers said, referring to the Packers' next preseason game, in Cincinnati on Thursday, Aug. 23.
"The feeling is the most important thing," Rodgers said of what is to be gained from the preseason. "How I'm feeling in the pocket, having good, clean throwing lanes. It was great to have Marshall (Newhouse) back. I have a lot of confidence in him."
Newhouse, the Packers' left tackle, returned to action last night and the result was greatly improved pass protection for Rodgers.
McCarthy will demand that his team hit its target for ball security. A fumble by wide receiver Randall Cobb in the first quarter was one of the keys to victory for the Browns.
"We turned the ball over too much. It's something that needs to stop. We have to take care of the football," McCarthy said.
The recovery and return of that fumble also triggered a penalty that will no doubt be studied by other coaches in the league.
A new rule requires that all turnovers be subject to automatic replay review. On Emmanuel Stephens' return of the fumble down the Packers sideline, McCarthy detected that Stephens had stepped out of bounds. McCarthy then threw his red challenge flag.
The officials first reviewed the play for the fumble and found that it was correctly ruled. In reviewing the play, the officials also detected that Stephens had stepped out of bounds, and corrected their mistake. Because McCarthy's challenge flag was unnecessary, he was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"It's probably good that it happened. It's the correct call. Hopefully, they can use that situation to talk about the mechanics of how it happened," McCarthy said.
It was, indeed, a preseason game in every sense of the word, but the regular season is drawing near. Related links