Report Card: Packers Preseason

With the regular season just a couple days away, is a longtime weakness finally becoming a strength? The Packers went 3-1 in the preseason, and the special teams played a big role in the success.

PASSING OFFENSE: B — Aaron Rodgers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, looks to be in midseason form even in limited preseason action that added up to a little more than one complete game. Rodgers was sharp with a 130.1 passer rating, ranking third among projected opening-day starters, as he completed 78.7 percent of his passes (37-of-47) for 395 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He's expected to have his full complement of pass catchers for the opener but didn't get much work with many of them in the exhibition games because of a slew of injuries. Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb missed time with bruised knees, 36-year-old Donald Driver received some treatment and rest late in training camp for the high ankle sprain that knocked him out of the Super Bowl, and playmaking tight end Jermichael Finley was nursing an ankle sprain in the final days of camp. A top concern heading into the season is pass protection by an offensive line that will feature T.J. Lang as the new starter at left guard. The Packers allowed 16 sacks in the preseason, second worst in the league, and Rodgers was dropped a team-high six times.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — Ryan Grant is the presumptive starter on opening night, a year after he sustained a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1. The fifth-year veteran seems to be all the way back, and his 23-yard run into the open on the team's first play from scrimmage in its preseason finale helped to suppress mounting skepticism as to whether Grant regained the explosiveness he had before the injury. A pass-heavy attack called by coordinator Joe Philbin in the preseason games, as head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy concentrated on in-game assessment of his entire squad, resulted in few running opportunities for the backs and raised questions about how effective the trio of Grant, James Starks and rookie Alex Green can be when called upon. Grant rushed for 83 yards in 18 carries for an average of 4.6 yards, but Starks, who was nagged by an ankle injury, had only four carries for 17 yards (4.3 average). Green is a powerful runner with quickness, but he averaged a measly 1.4 yards in 16 carries and may need time to develop in the third-down role the coaches envision for him to assume.

PASS DEFENSE: B — The Packers lost disruptive pass-rushing end Cullen Jenkins in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles before camp started and still have the issue of replacing him unresolved. Mike Neal, the would-be starting replacement, missed the last half of the preseason because of a knee sprain and returned to practice this week, leaving his status uncertain for the opener. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the team's nearly unstoppable pass rusher the last two years, should be ready to go full bore at the outset after being limited to two exhibition games and a total of 14 snaps as he endured more tightness in his left hamstring. Green Bay may have unearthed a gem to complement Matthews with undrafted rookie linebacker Vic So'oto, who stood out the last two games and earned a roster spot as he led the defense with 2 1/2 sacks and scored on an interception return. The top cornerback trio of Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and nickel man Sam Shields, who were formidable on the field quite often last season, had only two games of action together in the preseason.

RUSH DEFENSE: C — The Packers managed to overcome a No. 28 ranking in the league for losing Jenkins, the same unit is in place, and signs of improvement were few and far between in the preseason. Opponents gashed the first-, second- and third-stringers for 113.8 yards per contest, though Green Bay ranked among the league leaders in giving up only 3.8 yards per carry. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers took a long look at plugging up the middle of the line while compensating on the outside for Jenkins' departure by kicking athletic nose tackle B.J. Raji to end and sliding Ryan Pickett inside to his natural position when the Packers are in their base three-man front. Veteran Howard Green, who was well above 350 pounds in camp, will be counted on as well in the line rotation to supply heavy resistance.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus — Kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay are together for a second straight season, the first time that's happened in Green Bay since Ryan Longwell and Josh Bidwell were the kicking combo in multiple years from 2000-03. Crosby begins his fifth pro season seemingly emboldened by the lucrative five-year contract he signed in free agency to return to the team. He went out and connected on six of seven field goals in the preseason, including a rare game-winner in the third outing at Indianapolis. Crosby's powerful leg should yield a lot of touchbacks with the new kickoff placement at the 35. Masthay, who holds on Crosby's kicks, was equally impressive, if not more, by averaging 48.8 gross yards and 42.6 net yards with consistently good hang times and placement as seven kicks landed inside the 20. Provided he's healthy at the outset, the electric Cobb will return punts and possibly kickoffs, though fellow rookie Green could handle the latter. Coverage issues have been a thorn in the Packers' side in recent years, and things weren't entirely cleaned up in the preseason.

COACHING: B — If the Packers start the season ragged and play nothing like the dominant team that rolled through the playoffs earlier this year, McCarthy could receive the brunt of the criticism. He took it easy on his players for most of training camp, going exclusively with night practices the first two weeks before rethinking that approach and moving to a day schedule the latter part of camp. While the veteran players naturally were receptive to a camp in which they weren't run ragged, it's hard to think the 10 rookies on the team are fully prepared for the rigors of an NFL season after only 20 camp practices on the heels of an offseason wiped out by the lockout. The productivity by Rodgers and the No. 1 unit with the no-huddle offense McCarthy liberally used in the preseason games should give the coach plenty of reason to employ it on a regular basis during the season.

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