In their first preseason game, the Packers pitched a shutout against the Cleveland Browns in a dominating defensive performance, and Aaron Rodgers threw a 52-yard touchdown to Donald Driver. The next week, the Packers took down the Buffalo Bills, 31-21 at Lambeau Field, in another impressive performance.
It has been an outstanding start for a team looking to turn a new leaf after a disappointing six-win season. The defense has been fast, the offense has been crisp, and the second- and third-team players have done excellent as well.
As well as the team played in their first two games, their first real test as a whole will come when the Packers come to Arizona to take on Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. Without further ado, here are five things to look for as the Packers enter their third preseason game.
1. What impact will Nick Barnett have if he takes the field for the first time this season?
The Packers’ best linebacker is expected to make his first appearance of the season against the Cardinals, and he can’t come soon enough. Desmond Bishop is having one of the best preseasons of anyone on the team and is making a case to start this season, but if Barnett is back and healthy then he will be on the field.
After missing all of training camp and the first two preseason games recovering from ACL surgery, Barnett will get his first taste of the new 3-4 defense being instilled this season. With the way the defense has looked thus far, the addition of Barnett can only make it stronger.
Clay Matthews III and Jeremy Thompson are out for Friday’s game, but if Barnett is able to play then it will be a step in the right direction.
2. Playing with the first team offense, can Tyrell Sutton continue to produce like he did against the Browns and Bills?
Mike McCarthy has said that undrafted rookie Tyrell Sutton will get reps with the first team offense on Friday, in hopes of continuing his path towards making the team this season.
Against the Browns, Sutton carried the ball 16 times for 91 yards and went for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. He has looked quick and powerful in the team’s first two games, and will look to continue that success on Friday.
The test will be much bigger as Sutton will no longer be going up against second and third team defenses, but will instead go up against a solid Cardinals run defense.
It is still a good sign that Sutton will get reps with the first team offense, who seems to have the upper hand on the third string running back spot over Deshawn Wynn and Craig Lumpkin. Tomorrow will tell a lot about how good Sutton actually is, but management must have seen something to give him this shot.
3. How will the Packers’ secondary fare against the Cardinals’ passing attack?
In the first two preseason games, the Browns and Bills combined for 405 yards passing, one touchdown, and six interceptions. It was an impressive showing by the Packers’ pass defense, and while no one is going to mistake Trent Edwards and Brady Quinn for Tom Brady, stats are stats.
However, the first big test will come when Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald take the field against Charles Woodson and co. Anquan Boldin is not expected to play Friday due to a tweaked hamstring, but the offense is still high-powered even without him.
Steve Breaston and Early Doucet give the Cardinals one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the league and will give the Packers a big test, and Tim Hightower and Chris Wells are solid out of the backfield as well.
Al Harris, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins will have their hands full, but if the first two weeks were any indication, they should be just fine.
4. With the offensive line starters set in stone, how will they look together?
After the Bills game, head coach Mike McCarthy awarded Allen Barbre, Josh Sitton, and Jason Spitz spots on the line along with Daryn Colledge and Chad Clifton.
Barbre beat out Breno Giacomini in the position battle after a dominating performance against Buffalo. Giacomini’s whiff on a Bills defensive end that led to quarterback Matt Lynn’s injury did not help his cause either.
Spitz beat out last year’s center Scott Wells and opened up a spot for Sitton at right guard. None of the moves made by McCarthy did not come as much of a surprise, but hopefully the chemistry will pick up as the same five guys get more and more reps with each other.
5. Can tight end Jermichael Finley continue his excellent play?
Finley was one of the five breakout players of the year for the Packers, and in the first two preseason games he has not disappointed. He has been an absolute matchup problem for teams with his size and speed and has caught five passes for 64 yards.
His speed makes him too quick for most linebackers, while his size makes him too big for most safeties. If he can be another legitimate weapon for Aaron Rodgers, the offense adds another dimension that it has not had for quite some time.
Donald Lee has done a nice job blocking in the first two games, and Finley will be an excellent compliment that will allow the Packers to use and pass out of two-tight end sets.