The defense's bragging rights in the two-minute drill only lasted half a day.
After failing to score any points during a pair of two-minute drives in the morning practice on Friday, the offense bounced back with a touchdown and field goal in its two possessions during the evening workout.
Most important to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, in both sessions the offense appeared to get the play calls and substitutions communicated properly, and the clock management was sound. The defense also handled its substitutions and calls fine, and was putting up a consistent pass rush.
"The first thing is the mechanics of two-minute," McCarthy said following the evening practice. "That's the most important part of the first time you do the two-minute drill, just as far as getting the personnel group in and everything, both sides of the ball. So I'm pleased with the start.
"The production offensively was better tonight than this morning."
That's for sure. In the morning, both starter Aaron Rodgers and No. 2 quarterback Brian Brohm were given similar scenarios - trailing 14-10 with a little under a minute-and-a-half left and starting on their own side of midfield.
Rodgers got off to a good start with three straight completions to Brandon Jackson, Greg Jennings and Donald Lee. But a deep ball down the left sideline was too far for Ruvell Martin, another pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, and a fourth-down pass along the right sideline to James Jones was incomplete, as Jones just missed getting his second foot down in bounds.
Despite the failed fourth down, the coaches allowed the offense to continue, and Rodgers scrambled a couple of times for about 10 yards, setting up one last play from just outside the 30 with six seconds left. Rodgers threw a rocket to the back of the end zone to Jones, who got both hands on the ball, but as he was trying to get his feet down, safety Atari Bigby came in and broke up the play.
"The first couple plays were good but then we got a little choppy in there," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We didn't have as good a flow as we did with the next group, the next group had a little better flow."
Indeed, Brohm hit a series of passes to Chris Francies, Kregg Lumpkin, Brett Swain and Jermichael Finley, followed by a spike to stop the clock with eight seconds left. A 13-yard pass to Francies moved the ball to the 7-yard line, and the offense used its last timeout with 1 second to go. On the final play, Brohm tried to thread a throw through a lot of traffic in the middle of the end zone, and safety Tyrone Culver batted it away.
"The two-minute notoriously has been very frustrating in camp," Rodgers said following the morning workout. "We just cannot score. Today we'd like to have a couple of those balls back.
"I think we're going tonight so hopefully we'll be able to put some points on the board."
That they did. Rodgers got the same scenario again and this time, after taking a sack on first down, hit Lee for 18 yards to move the chains. A couple of Rodgers scrambles picked up another first down, and after a false start on Allen Barbre negated a 5-yard pass to Driver from the previous play, Rodgers threw incomplete deep down the right sideline.
That left 9 seconds on the clock. On the next snap, Rodgers stepped up to avoid the rush, set his feet and fired a bullet into the middle of the end zone that Driver caught with a dive. Safety Nick Collins had fallen down and Driver had gotten just enough separation from cornerback Jarrett Bush to make the play.
Afterward, McCarthy was asked about Rodgers' penchant for scrambling during the two-minute drill and other team periods, and the coach felt his quarterback's decision-making was sound.
"There's five or six plays a game where the quarterback has to move his feet to (make a) play. To get those reps in live football or competitive work like that, that's outstanding work, because that's practical. That's very realistic.
"Is he jumping out of there too early? I don't see that. I see him stepping up, playing within his feet, playing within his time clock, and coming out at the right time. I always look at them as quality reps. There's nothing that irritates me more than when the quarterback stops and throws the ball in the ground. That's a wasted opportunity to practice a play that you're going to see five or six times a game."
On his evening two-minute series, Brohm was faced with a 7-6 deficit with 1:54 left and two timeouts on his own 40. A well-blocked screen pass and some nifty moves by Vernand Morency picked up roughly 30 yards and got the offense into field-goal range. After a 9-yard pass to Johnny Quinn and a 3-yard run by Morency, Brohm called a timeout with 3 seconds left and Mason Crosby came on to kick a 29-yard field goal.
The players had a few on-field distractions thrown at them Friday, with crowd noise being piped in through speakers along the sidelines. Also, McCarthy said he had the headsets shut down, forcing the players and coaches to use backup methods of communication.
"I don't think we knew crowd noise was coming," guard Daryn Colledge said. "It's something that changes it up, gets your mind doing something else. It gets repetitive to do the same drill over and over again and nothing's different about it."
The Packers practice with crowd noise piped in at different times during the regular season as well, so it's an ongoing process to learn to deal with it.
"We didn't have any pre-snap penalties, but we have to execute a little better, get off on the count and get on the same page call-wise," Rodgers said. "When you can't hear each other, you need to be better with your pointing and your adjustments on the fly."
A different look
One variation of the nickel defense the Packers have employed on occasion uses three defensive linemen and three linebackers in front of the five defensive backs (instead of the customary four down linemen and two linebackers).
The defense tried it for a few snaps on Friday, with Brady Poppinga as the third linebacker lining up in a pass-rush position on the outside. Poppinga was a defensive end in college at BYU (accumulating 20 sacks and 39 tackles for loss), so he has the pass-rush skills. And with Brandon Chillar brought in to compete with Poppinga for a starting role and add significant depth to the linebacking corps, another potential benefit could be giving Poppinga more opportunities to get after the quarterback with this particular alignment.
"Brady Poppinga is definitely a pass-rush threat," McCarthy said. "We have tinkered with that in the past. That's something that Brady has been successful at in his college career and it's something that we like to tap into in different personnel groups."
McCarthy said he likes the variation on the nickel package because it challenges offenses' protection schemes, but whether or not it would be used in the regular season would depend on game-planning and match-ups in a given week.
Referee Bill Carollo and members of his crew are on the practice field through the weekend and the Family Night scrimmage to help get themselves tuned up and to explain a handful of rules changes to the players.
The officials will meet with the players on Saturday night, but they had a Q & A session with local media to go over the rules changes on Friday. Some of the highlights, in addition to the new helmet speaker allowed on defense now, are:
--Elimination of the "force-out" rule. Receivers must now get both feet in bounds for a pass to be ruled complete, regardless of whether a defender hits or pushes them out of bounds. Officials have the discretion, not subject to replay review, to rule a pass complete if a receiver is "held up and carried" out of bounds.
--Elimination of the 5-yard facemask penalty. Previously called "incidental" facemask fouls, considered inadvertent and minor contact with a facemask, will no longer be flagged. Only the 15-yard variety, which constitutes grabbing and twisting the facemask, will now be enforced.
--Field goals, not previously reviewable by instant replay, are now subject to review unless they cross the endline above the top of the uprights.
--Teams winning the coin toss can defer their choice to the second half, similar to the college rule.
Carollo also noted that officials will be making unsportsmanlike conduct toward other players, among other things, a point of emphasis this year. As an example, he mentioned a play during Friday's morning practice in which Rodgers scrambled out of bounds to pick up the first down and flipped the ball at linebacker A.J. Hawk upon retreating to the huddle.
In a real game against an actual opponent, that type of act would draw a 15-yard penalty, Carollo said.
McCarthy gave nine veteran players Friday morning's "shells" practice off, with Aaron Kampman, Ryan Pickett, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Nick Barnett, Donald Driver, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher resting. All but Pickett (hamstring) and 'KGB' (knee soreness) returned for the full-padded evening practice.
Defensive tackle Justin Harrell (back) and cornerback Tramon Williams (hip flexor) sat out both practices with their injuries. New to the injury list were cornerback Will Blackmon (foot soreness), fullback Korey Hall (knee strain) and running back DeShawn Wynn (slight concussion), who missed both practices as well. McCarthy considers Blackmon and Hall both day-to-day.
Center Scott Wells also dropped out of the night practice when he aggravated a muscle in his "trunk," according to McCarthy. Junius Coston took over as the center with the No. 1 offensive line.