The Packers’ offense might have some life after all. With an improved performance from its first unit Saturday night against the Seahawks, questions that have been lingering since the start of training camp were at least partially answered. Questions like:
Who is going to help out Donald Driver on the receiving end?
Is anyone capable of carrying the load at running back?
Can any tight end be a factor or even make a play?
And, will the kicker be the best scoring option in the red zone?
The Packers have to feel better about some of their shortcomings if not yet completely satisfied. A scoring outburst highlighted by big plays from their defense and special teams was complemented by promising production on offense in a 48-13 preseason victory at rainy Lambeau Field.
The Packers scored on three of their first four drives to put the Seahawks in a hole after their first unit offense failed to gain a first down the week before at Pittsburgh. The pathetic display against the Steelers hardly sent a signal that the offense would be just fine without Ahman Green or any impact free agent. But with four drives that gained 116 yards on 22 plays while Brett Favre was at the helm Saturday night, there is hope.
Perhaps most impressive was the first unit’s flow. It was clearly more decisive from the outset. Routinely the ball was snapped with 10 seconds remaining on the play clock and often Favre hit his first option. Head coach Mike McCarthy took notice saying, “I thought the first offense had a really good rhythm going.” Favre concurred, adding, “I think we executed better. Last week we didn’t execute very well… We had a better tempo.”
Maybe the brightest spot over the past two weeks has been rookie receiver James Jones. He continued his outstanding preseason on Saturday night with two touchdown receptions – one a 16-yarder on a crossing route, and the other, a nifty snare of a low Aaron Rodgers pass for a seven-yard score. Jones has been the talk of camp as the most impressive of this year’s draft class.
“He’s everything that we thought he was when we drafted him,” said McCarthy.
Jones has primarily taken repetitions at the flanker or “Z” position in the Packers’ offense, which is manned in the starting lineup by Donald Driver. Jones knows the split end position, too, but for now, he gives the Packers a much-needed weapon in three wide receiver sets. Though Jones is showing that he should be considered for a starting spot opposite Driver, the Packers will likely keep him at the “Z” position where he appears more comfortable and useful.
“Getting that first game under your belt, I definitely came into this game a lot more relaxed and things like that,” said Jones, who added a tricky 32-yard sideline grab to his big night. “I’m always nervous because you never know what’s going to happen, but definitely getting that one NFL game under your belt and seeing how fast the game is and things like that, I was definitely more comfortable out there today.”
Like Jones, rookie running back Brandon Jackson is growing up quickly. He should be a starter when the Packers open the regular season, even if Vernand Morency is healthy and ready to go by Sept. 9. He has used his increased playing time in Morency’s absence to gain valuable experience. It showed against the Seahawks.
Jackson picked up blitzes better and looked much more comfortable running the football. He finished an active first half with 54 yards on 13 carries and caught a well-timed screen pass for an 11-yard gain. Next to Driver, he gives the Packers energy on offense that they would otherwise be lacking.
The Packers also got tight end Bubba Franks involved early in the game throwing the ball his way at least four times. Franks, listed as a backup to Donald Lee on the team’s depth chart, has had a relatively unimpressive camp after arguably his worst year as a pro. Still, his inclusion Saturday night is a sign that he might get his starting job back soon. He really is the Packers’ best all-around option at tight end, as sad as that may seem to some. No one else who played Saturday night – Zac Alcorn, Clark Harris, Lee, or Joe Werner – made a statement.
One last sign of progress on offense against the Seahawks was production in the red zone. On eight trips inside the 20-yard line, the Packers scored six times. The first unit scored two touchdowns in three tries. Only a couple of interceptions thrown by backup quarterback Paul Thompson in the fourth quarter put a damper on a nearly flawless night in the category.
With training camp winding down, the Packers’ offense still has a long way to go. There is little doubt about that. Their performance for one night, however, against a pretty good Seahawks’ defense is an encouraging step. Is it possible the best is yet to come?
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.