Packers-Falcons: What to watch

From the play of the offensive line to defending against Michael Vick, the Packers will be put to the test in their second preseason game.

Coaches often say they see the most improvement between games 1 and 2. That will be what Packers coach Mike McCarthy wants to see when Green Bay hosts Atlanta tonight in the second preseason game.

Here are five areas where McCarthy, and astute fans, should be watching.

1. Fine line

The Packers shook up their starting offensive line this week, with rookie second-round pick Daryn Colledge sent to the bench, rookie third-round pick Jason Spitz moved from right guard to Colledge's left guard spot, and rookie fifth-round pick Tony Moll joining the lineup at right guard.

Moll, a tight end through his junior season at the University of Nevada, says he hasn't played guard since he was playing Pop Warner ball when he was 8 years old.

"I think Rod Coleman will be a little different than Pop Warner," offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said of Moll taking on the Falcons' stud addition to the defensive line.

Spitz spent all of camp at right guard and Moll spent all of camp at tackle, so it could be a long night simply because they have had little time to mesh. That has to worry Brett Favre a bit after getting knocked around by San Diego last week.

"I hope it gets better. And it will," Favre said of the blocking. "It will. How much better? I don't know. How quickly? I don't know. Time will tell."

It will be interesting to see how Colledge plays after a horrid debut against San Diego. The Packers clearly remain high on Colledge, and a solid performance could get him his job back.

2. Special teams

Dave Rayner is now the man at kicker after the surprising release of Billy Cundiff. Rayner might not have any competition at camp, but he's far from out of the woods. There are about 30 kickers in NFL camps who will be out of a job before Week 1 of the regular season. If Rayner remains the inconsistent kicker he's been for most of camp, the Packers will swoop in and sign one and Rayner will join the others on the unemployment line.

At punter, Packers general manager Ted Thompson says he has an inkling who will win the battle, but conjured Yogi Berra before elaborating.

"I don't know …" Thompson said on Thursday. "Well, I guess I know.  I'm just not going to say. We're still in competition. The race isn't over until it's over."

Jon Ryan remains ahead of B.J. Sander, based on the number of reps they get in practice and the fact Ryan punted first last week. But, like Rayner, the strong-legged Ryan is inconsistent. A series of good kicks this week and next could spell the end for Sander.

3. It's Najeh time

With Ahman Green hoping to play in next week's preseason game, this is Najeh Davenport's time to shine. He has been a big-time tease during his stay in Green Bay, flashing just enough skills during a couple games each season to show what he could be, but too often winding up on the sideline with an injury.

Beyond his running skills, Davenport must improve his blocking — he was responsible for one of the sacks last week — and show he can catch after dropping an easy dump-off pass last week.

4. Pass defense

The Packers' starting defense had a rough time against first-year starter Philip Rivers last week. The pass rush was nonexistent, and that was a reason why the cornerbacks gave up some plays.

It's a different challenge tonight against Michael Vick and the Falcons. Vick is a run-first quarterback, and with Al Harris and Charles Woodson manning the corners and facing one of the worst receiver groups in the league, the Packers' pass defense should be able to smother Atlanta's passing attack. If not, then what should be a major strength for the Packers becomes a bit of a question mark.

This will be another big test for rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk. Hawk not only will defend standout tight end Alge Crumpler but worry about containing Vick.

5. Put on a show

Good thing last week's game wasn't played in Green Bay, or else Packers Nation would be a lot more pessimistic about its team. Packers coach Mike McCarthy took some of the blame for last week's performance because he said he didn't get them ready enough to play. As if a first preseason game — a first chance to hit someone not wearing green and gold — isn't reason to get excited. If the Packers fall flat tonight — in their first home game — then there's major reason to be concerned about the brew Thompson has put together.

The Packers need some life out of key veterans like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who had one sack last week but was invisible on practically every other play, wide receiver Donald Driver, cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson, and so on down the line.

Green Bay got knocked around last week by a San Diego team that did nothing against Chicago on Friday. If the Packers have pride and if they have learned from last week's miscues, it will show tonight. It must show tonight.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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