The statistics sound good, and Mike McCarthy liked what he saw on tape, too.
In what McCarthy called the defense’s best performance of the preseason, the Packers’ starters held the Bengals to just 87 total yards in the first half Thursday night in Cincinnati, including four three-and-outs in six possessions. The Bengals managed just five first downs in the half.
A playoff team a year ago, Cincinnati was only missing two starters on offense Thursday in running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and tight end Jermaine Gresham. Plus, No. 1 quarterback Andy Dalton played the entire first half, so this was as legitimate a showing as one could hope for in the preseason, particularly with the regular-season opener just two weeks away.
“I thought our defense as a whole graded out exceptionally well,” McCarthy said.
He especially liked the first two third-down stops that helped spring the Packers to a 14-0 lead.
On the first one, a third-and-11, the Packers rushed only three out of their dime package, forced Dalton to take the checkdown to the running back, and tackled him short of the sticks. On the second, a third-and-8, Clay Matthews provided pressure from the outside while B.J. Raji collapsed the middle, and the two shared a sack.
“I thought the pressure and the finish and the pursuit to the football, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like,” McCarthy said. “Our defensive line and our linebackers did a very good job of bringing the pressure and, more importantly, the finish and the extra effort of always seeing two or three or four hats on the ball.”
The secondary held up its end, too, particularly starting cornerback Tramon Williams. Matched up one-on-one with Cincinnati’s top wideout, A.J. Green, Williams twice blanketed Green on fade routes down the left sideline, nearly picking the ball off on the second one.
After playing all of 2011 with a bum shoulder he injured in Week 1 of last season, Williams again looks like the difference-maker he was in 2010, and as McCarthy said, “He’s been doing it all camp.”
Along with an improved pass rush, a healthy Williams and his one-on-one skills should give the Packers’ defense the kind of flexibility that was simply lacking last year.
“Tramon would definitely go into the category of a shutdown corner, someone that you can match up weekly on a top receiver,” McCarthy said. “It’s good to have him back.
“As a defense, you can play to that. Anytime you can tilt the defense one way or another, it plays to your advantage.”
So does having depth throughout the linebacking corps, which the Packers are continuing to develop in the absence of inside starter Desmond Bishop. McCarthy commented on both the play of undrafted rookie Dezman Moses on the outside and second-year pro Jamari Lattimore on the inside, two players not slated to start but who could find their way onto the field.
Moses has learned the scheme quickly, according to McCarthy, and it shows. He played in a 3-4 defense at Iowa before transferring to Tulane, and Moses was credited with four tackles on Thursday, including one behind the line, plus a quarterback hit and a batted pass.
Meanwhile, Lattimore is settling into his transition from outside linebacker, and he made the play of the game in the fourth quarter when he jumped a hook route to a tight end and wound up with a 27-yard interception return for a TD.
“I think he looks very natural inside,” McCarthy said. “He’s a year removed from his rookie season, so he’s stronger. I thought the interception was an outstanding instinct play.”
Injury update: McCarthy said tight end Tom Crabtree (shoulder) “has a chance” to play in the final preseason game against Kansas City, but defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (calf) would be “hard-pressed.”
Inside linebacker Robert Francois also sustained a hamstring injury in the game.
Because the players union rejected the proposal for an eight-week injured reserve exemption, the Packers will have only two choices with Bishop, who had surgery on his hamstring. They either must keep him on the active roster or put him on IR to end his season. McCarthy said that situation could be resolved “in the next 48 hours or so.”
The rehab reports on cornerback Davon House (shoulder) have been positive, but there’s been no decision made yet on whether he needs surgery or will try to play with a harness.
“I don’t know if we’ll have clarity this week,” McCarthy said.