Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers: Packers Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
The Green Bay Packers' thoroughly impressive preseason campaign hit a snag this past week when the team learned of nose tackle B.J. Raji's season-ending right biceps tear and a knee injury that will sideline center JC Tretter for 5-6 weeks. Head coach Mike McCarthy will get his first look at his replacement options Thursday evening as the Packers host the Kansas City Chiefs.
Green Bay—2-1 on the preseason—will likely sit franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with most of its starters seeing only a few series at most, thus providing valuable playing time for the myriad youngsters fighting for jobs.
Covering for Raji will be a platoon, including second-year defensive lineman Josh Boyd, rookie nose tackle Mike Pennel, and the recently activated Letroy Guion. In Tretter's absence, the Packers will trot out rookie center Corey Linsley, a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State.
After Linsley, perhaps the brightest spotlight will shine on Jayrone Elliott, an undrafted rookie pass-rusher in the midst of an eye-opening preseason campaign. He's certainly impressed his head coach, who spoke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne and the rest of the assembled media on Tuesday:
I think Elliott’s a great example of a young man given an opportunity. Obviously, three sacks in six plays – that doesn’t happen every day. That just shows you his ability. I think he’s gradually improved throughout his time here. When he’s been given a chance, he’s stepped up. Obviously played a lot more this past week against Oakland and he’ll play more than he ever has against Kansas City --- both special teams and defense.
Elliott may have begun camp as a long shot to make the final 53, but his prodigious sack production in the first three preseason games has placed him squarely on the periphery of the final roster. He's one of many focal points of the Packers' preseason finale.
Here's everything you need to know about tomorrow's matchup.
Packers' Preseason Week 4 Recap
The Packers never trailed during their 31-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders, but the tilt was hardly their cleanest game of the preseason.
Playing into the second quarter, Rodgers and the starting offense dealt with multiple miscues and mental errors. Several receivers dropped passes from Rodgers (including two by the normally sure-handed Randall Cobb), ending the Packers' second and third drives early.
Contributing to those breakdowns, left guard Josh Sitton was badly fooled on a stunt, leading to a sack. The ship soon corrected, however, and the No. 1 offense put points on the board on its final two possessions.
The night went a little better for the Packers defense. After allowing a 40-yard Maurice Jones-Drew touchdown run on Oakland's opening drive, the starting defense gave up zero total yards. New outside linebacker Julius Peppers enjoyed his first sack in green and gold, and Micah Hyde continued to cement his claim on the starting safety spot opposite of Morgan Burnett.
The highlight of the Packers' reserves was undrafted rookie linebacker Jayrone Elliott. In his first series, Elliott matched up with Raiders left tackle Jack Cornell and thoroughly embarrassed him. On the same series, the Toledo product got around Cornell in time to knock down a pass, beat him for a sack and nearly record a another.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, the game cost them the services of starting nose tackle B.J. Raji (torn right biceps) for the season and Tretter (knee injury) for at least the opening quarter of the regular season. The question of who replaces those starters will be the focus of the Packers' preseason finale against the Chiefs.
News and Notes
Sitton at Center?
In the wake of Tretter's knee injury, the Packers have considered multiple replacement options. While rookie Corey Linsley will get the first shot, All-Pro left guard Josh Sitton appears to be the team's backup plan.
Head coach Mike McCarthy expressed confidence in Sitton's ability to shift to center when he spoke with ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde:
"Josh Sitton has the ability, experience to play center. He has played center for us in the past."
Sitton, who also spoke with Wilde, didn't seem fazed by the prospect of playing center:
Typically every year, I take a few [center snaps] here and there. I’ll probably end up doing a little bit more this year, just based on the situation as of right now. We’ll see. Don’t know how the roster is going to shake down and all of that but, as of right now, I’ll take some.
Whether Sitton plays at center on Thursday bears watching.
Backup Quarterbacks Duel
The Packers released Chase Rettig this week, leaving only Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien in the battle of the backup quarterbacks. Both could make the team's final roster, but that is not guaranteed. The only way for Flynn or Tolzien to ensure a roster spot is to beat out the other.
Thus far through the preseason, Tolzien has put up the superior numbers. However, the coaching staff remains impressed with Flynn, the quarterback who led the Packers to a 2-2-1 record last season while Rodgers was recovering from a fractured collarbone.
Speaking with Tyler Dunne and the rest of the assembled media, McCarthy communicated concern about each signal-caller getting enough reps:
Quarterback rotation-wise, we’re kind of still working through that. I met with Alex Van Pelt last night and Tom [Clements] and I talked about it again this morning, the biggest thing is I think Matt is 10 plays behind Scott, so trying to find a balance, how you balance that out.
It’s just as best you can. How we’re going to do it, we have two plans and we’ll work through that probably tomorrow.
With Rodgers sitting out Thursday's game, Flynn and Tolzien will split all of the offensive snaps.
Letroy Guion Debuts in Green and Gold
One of the Packers few free-agent additions this summer, defensive lineman Letroy Guion had hoped to earn a spot in the rotation. However, a hamstring injury prevented him from practicing once training camp opened. The disappointment only intensified when Raji tore his right biceps against the Raiders.
Miraculously or not, Guion received medical clearance on Monday and took the practice field for the first time since June.
As reported by ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, McCarthy said the team won't rush Guion:
"We'll take another step further at Wednesday's practice in getting some more reps and keep progressing. It'd be foolish to throw him out there and give him a full load."
Guion may not be force-fed snaps, but he'll need to perform well tomorrow if he hopes to replace Raji in the starting defense.
*Injury status courtesy of Packers.com.
Because of the CBA-mandated cut down to 75, virtually all of Green Bay's injured players were placed on injured reserve or released. The exception is starting inside linebacker Brad Jones, who will miss Thursday's preseason finale but may play in the regular-season opener.
In his absence, the Packers will trot out their top two backups, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington. Carl Bradford and Nate Palmer—two edge-rushers who didn't practice at inside linebacker until this week – may also see some time there.
With Raji out of the picture, the Packers will rotate between several linemen in hopes of finding a suitable replacement. Second-year lineman Josh Boyd has played primarily at defensive end thus far in the preseason, but he received some snaps at nose tackle following Raji's injury last week.
Undrafted rookie Mike Pennel has been one of the surprises out of training camp and is playing for a roster spot. With less than a week of practice, it's difficult to say how much Guion will play. However, he was a 13-game starter for Minnesota last year and has the size and frame to play the nose.
Tretter will miss as many as six weeks with a knee injury he suffered in the first quarter of the Packers' third preseason game. Corey Linsley will take his place in the starting lineup, but the team may also look at moving left guard Josh Sitton over the ball.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Corey Linsley vs. Dontari Poe
Thursday will not only be Linsley's first start of the preseason, but it will also be his debut with the starting offensive line. As such, he'll need to make the line adjustments while also handling Chiefs All-Pro nose tackle Dontari Poe.
Poe has played well so far in 2014, his third season in the NFL. At 346 pounds, Poe represents literally the biggest challenge Linsley will face as a rookie. If he can hold Kansas City's nose tackle in check, it'll bode well for his regular-season debut against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks on September 4.
Green Bay's Defensive Line vs. Kansas City's Ground Game
After allowing Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly to depart this offseason, the Packers shrunk significantly along their defensive line. Though nose tackle is in flux, the Packers will start Mike Daniels and Datone Jones at the end spots. The pass rush has improved accordingly, but questions remain whether the new-look line can contain the run.
Star running back Jamaal Charles won't suit up Thursday, but the Chiefs will run with promising tailback Knile Davis and the explosive De'Anthony Thomas. Each should test the efficacy of Green Bay's defensive line against the run.
Packers' X-Factor of the Week: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
With many starters sitting and the rest expected to call it an early night, the reserves will get their time to shine. With Hyde and Burnett seemingly entrenched as the starting safeties, the Packers will give plenty of playing time to rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The team's first-round pick hasn't mastered Dom Capers' defense, but he's talented enough to take advantage of favorable matchups. The Chiefs, with their limited passing game, represent such a matchup.
The Packers like Clinton-Dix's ability to roam in centerfield, but he's also proved capable of moving up toward the line and making plays against the run. With the Chiefs employing several speedy tailbacks, Clinton-Dix will be given the chance to showcase his skills.
As is customary with the final preseason game, neither team will keep its top players on the field for long. This will be a battle of the backups, and Green Bay's roster is deeper at this stage than Kansas City's.
Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien will each have their turn leading the Packers offense, while the Chiefs split snaps between Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray. That favors the home team, as both of Green Bay's quarterbacks have a strong grasp of the offense, whereas Bray and Murray are still learning.
Predicting a final score is generally difficult, but it's practically impossible in the preseason. Given their superior depth, the Packers probably come away with a victory, but all that matters is answering the questions at center and nose tackle while avoiding injury.
Prediction: Chiefs 17, Packers 24