The Green Bay Packers' defense played like it was the preseason.
The Philadelphia Eagles' offense executed like it was the Super Bowl.
But despite how one-sided the matchup of No. 1 units looked during Saturday night’s preseason game, the Packers are taking the beating with an open mind.
“We’re not angry. Maybe a little disappointed,” said Packers cornerback Casey Hayward following the Eagles’ 39-26 victory at Lambeau Field. “One game’s not going to define us - especially not in the preseason.”
While that may be the case, the difference in performance at least had to raise some eyebrows. The Eagles led 25-0 before the completion of the first quarter after scoring touchdowns on their first three offensive series. Walter Thurmond also mixed in a 28-yard touchdown return of a pass from Brett Hundley, who started when the Packers gave Aaron Rodgers the night off.
“It’s always tough. You never want any offense to score touchdowns on you. But you can also learn from it,” said Packers safety Morgan Burnett. “They were clicking on all cylinders. They made their plays. But the positive thing about it is we can go back and look at it on film and learn from it and that’s what we’re going to do.”
If the Packers were prepared for Chip Kelly’s up-tempo style, it hardly showed. The Eagles’ scoring drives of 38, 55, and 59 yards took only 2:00, 3:21, and 1:29 off the game clock. They gained 152 yards on their first 18 plays. There is game speed and there is Eagles game speed, where breaks between plays sometimes last only 10 or 12 seconds.
“Yeah, that was a little different. It was definitely fast-paced,” said Hayward of the transition from training camp practice speed to Eagles speed. “I think to be successful against a team like that, you have to beat them on first down, get them in second-and-long because if they gain 4 or 5 yards on first down, they’re back on the ball. To get them in second-and-long they kind of slow down a little bit. But they had an excellent game plan. We’ve just got to come prepared.”
With Sam Bradford at the helm, the Eagles gained at least 5 yards on every first-down play outside the 10-yard line. Darren Sproles gained 33 yards on a first-down pass reception and gave linebacker Sam Barrington a test in pass coverage during the first half. Sproles also caught an 8-yard touchdown to cap the game’s first drive.
Barrington said he could have done a better job pre-snap in positioning himself to cover Sproles, who has made many a linebacker look foolish. But had this been a regular-season game, the Packers would have likely matched up differently. The Packers had little trouble with the Eagles last season, winning 53-20.
“We have that winning type of mentality so of course we want to do what we’ve got to do as far as our 1s against their 1s, but it’s all a part of getting better,” said Barrington. “Like I said, this is the preseason, so there’s a lot of learning and growth that we still have to do and we’ll do it.”
With inside linebacker Clay Matthews (knee/elbow) making his first appearance in the preseason, the Packers had their No. 1 defensive unit (nickel package) starting together for the first time. At less than full strength against the New England Patriots, they forced two punts going up against Tom Brady on the first two series, and against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they forced two punts before giving up a touchdown over the first three series with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Bradford, who played just 14 snaps and threw only five passes for the entire preseason, was 10-for-10 for 121 yards with three touchdowns before giving way to Mark Sanchez in the second quarter. The Eagles’ first touchdown drive was aided by a 67-yard kickoff return from Raheem Mostert to start the game.
“I think we started poorly as a football team in the first quarter,” said head coach Mike McCarthy. “We had some communication errors in the coverage. We’ll evaluate that, get all the corrections and calls and adjustments that were made throughout the game and apply it to video. This is a tough run for us, coming off a Sunday, Saturday, Thursday type schedule. This is the first time we've gone that way. We knew we were going to be really stressed at the back end of this preseason schedule. We’ve got to make sure we make do the best we can and get as much work done here in the next couple days before we play the Saints.”