This week is an important game for the Packers—maybe in some ways more important because the questions they have to answer are pretty obvious, and while some are small things, they could end up resonating in a big way.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a stout defense and an interesting—albeit thin in places—offense. They should provide a pretty good test of where the cracks in the Packers' armor might be.
Let's just start here and get it out of the way.
It's a gamble. Going into the season with a green quarterback when your aspirations are the Super Bowl is simply a gamble, even with a durable, tough-as-nails starter like Aaron Rodgers.
Yet Packers fans "Trust in Ted Thompson," and after Aaron Rodgers and (apparently) Matt Flynn, the track record on growing the next quarterback is solid.
Harrell is really putting that faith to the test now.
Accepting the fact that, behind what is a pretty shaky second-string offensive line, Harrell may not have been getting a "fair" shot. He's looked rough. That's probably a kinder way to put it than some might.
I'm breaking his last game down right now, and Zach Kruse did a great job of it as well this week, and each of us are reaching the same conclusion: He looks uncomfortable, he isn't accurate and he is very, very rough.
If the Packers are dissatisfied with his progress enough to get another, more veteran quarterback, now is the time. You could argue we're already past the time, really.
Only a very solid quarter or two will even begin to allay the concerns around him. Given that the starters usually get a ton of time to play, he's got a small window on Thursday. He has to make the most of it.
Cedric Benson and the Backfield
How will the Packers use Benson and how often? What can he provide?
Benson is a decidedly average back, but he's coming off multiple 1,000-yard seasons, can pass-block and is durable.
None of those things can be said of any Packers running back in 2011.
People say the Packers never have run, but they forget that back when Ryan Grant was serviceable, he would carry the ball 280 times and top 1,000 yards. The Packers might run more with a more reliable back.
Of course, I also want to see what Alex Green can do. He did well last week, and this week, he needs to show his pass protection is up to par and he can protect the ball.
He strikes me as the future of the position—certainly James Starks doesn't anymore.
You can bet we'll see a lot of Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy, and I wouldn't be shocked if we got a healthy dose of Jerron McMillian as well.
It's critical for these guys to have a solid game—it'd be nice to see them produce an outstanding one.
Further, how they play should start defining what opportunities there are for other players like Clay Matthews.
At some point, if Perry continues to get at the quarterback, the offensive line is going to have to double him more frequently.
I think somewhere, Matthews just started salivating.
Worthy can do the same for the defensive line. I'd like to see a bigger impact from him, but sacks and forced fumbles don't have to be the end all be all of his efforts.
McMillian can probably capture the spot across from Morgan Burnett with another good night. He had a rough first week, but knocked some people around last week, and another game like that would be a great way to end the important part of the preseason.
Offensive Line Depth
As I said in the Harrell section, some of his play comes down to an offensive line which was not up to snuff. Can we accurately gauge him when he has no time to throw?
Aside from that—and a much more pressing concern—is the lack of depth. There seems to be fewer guys who could easily step into the first string on the line than I imagined. Derek Sherrod's absence is felt, and Andrew Datko will come along OK but there are problems here.
Forget how Harrell looks here—picture Rodgers.
He's a mobile, tough quarterback, but there are limits.
The first string is pretty darn good.
After that? Yikes.
I want to see more effective protection from these guys no matter who the quarterback is.
AJ vs DJ
DJ Smith has risen to the occasion with Desmond Bishop out for the foreseeable future, and whenever Bishop comes back, it's going to be awfully hard to get Smith out of the lineup if he keeps up his level of play.
Of course, if Bishop is healthy, he's in. The question becomes—will AJ Hawk be out?
Before Bishop went down, I had a pretty good feeling Hawk was due. The staff loves him for any number of reasons, and he seemed motivated to finally prove his worth.
However, he hasn't seemed to take that next step yet, and unless he does soon, Smith could take his job.
As much as Hawk costs right now, I'd have to wonder what would happen then. Hawk makes $4.4 million this year (with a $300,000 roster bonus) and $4.9 next year and in 2014, topping off at $5.4 million in 2015.
And those roster bonuses? Hop up to $800,000 by 2014.
That's a lot for a guy whose play hasn't been all that special, even if his leadership and intangibles are off the charts.
If Hawk can start making some impact plays, he'd be a lot better off when and if Bishop comes back.
He'll get a chance against Andy Dalton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis this week.