Cheeseheads got their first glimpse of the 2009 version of the Green Bay Packers and they have to be pleased with what they saw. The Packers, though not perfect, executed much better than the Browns and earned a 17-0 victory Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
It was the first opportunity to see the revamped defense under Dom Capers, although the intricacies expected to come with this version of the 3-4 were limited. The success however was anything but.
Whenever you shut out an opponent, preseason or otherwise, things had to go well defensively. Browns quarterbacks threw some dumb passes, but defenders still have to hold on to the football, something they did as they picked off four passes Saturday night (they had their chances for even more).
The Browns managed just 59 yards on the ground, despite going against a Packers front seven missing a number of potential starters. Except for a 29 yard end around by Josh Cribbs, the defense contained big plays, something they struggled at times to do last season.
The zone coverage got crossed up a few times, and that will be a work in progress all season as the defensive backs transition from a man scheme to a area-based zone coverage system.
The best part of the defensive performance was their ability to come up with big plays. Will Blackmon came up with a huge play on a corner blitz, forcing a fumble. Desmond Bishop, who had a monster game, had a pressure that forced a pick, an interception of his own, and a sack. It will be tough to keep him off the field if he keeps playing like this.
And one of the few changes Ted Thompson made in the offseason, Anthony Smith, saved the shut-out when he took the ball away from Braylon Edwards in the endzone with under a minute to go in the first half. He also tied for the lead in tackles for the team.
Offensively, the Packers showed some new looks, and improved versatility. The combination of Jermichael Finley and David Lee looks to be a potent one, giving the Packers already deep receiving core some added options. In case you missed Donald Driver torching the Browns for a 53 yard bomb from Aaron Rodgers for six, Driver has not lost a step and should continue to produce at a Pro Bowl level.
The passing numbers for the QB's weren't spectacular, but didn't need to be. The running game was outstanding, finishing with 230 yards and a yard per carry average of nearly five.
Tyrell Sutton made a strong case for that third running back spot with 91 yards on on 16 carries. The rookie free agent looked like a longshot to make the opening day roster, but he acquitted himself nicely in his first game action since joining the Pack.
But expect DeShawn Wynn and Kregg Lumpkin to get plenty of opportunities to show what they can do. This running back battle will be one to watch in the coming weeks.
As I wrote last week, you can't be too excited or too discouraged after a week of preseason games. However, the defense didn't look totally lost, the offensive line might finally have some continuity, and the team is healthy...at least for now.
When the first teamers get more extended minutes this week against Buffalo, we will be able to identify trends and tendencies early on. That should give us a better idea of what to expect, and what the team needs to work on as the opener against the rival Bears moves ever closer.
For now, the Packers are glad to get out of Lambeau with a victory and their health. Adding newly-signed B.J. Raji, and hopefully some of the ailing bodies back to the mix on Saturday, should mean an even deeper squad, and hopefully some similar results.