Halfway through the preseason, it’s time to shift gears from talent evaluation to preparation for the start of the regular season.

“We need to be 1-0 when the regular season starts,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday, as the dust settled on a 35-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns and a 0-2 start to the preseason.

Were these guys really 15-1 last season?

Yeah, they were, but you wouldn’t know based on how they’ve played through the first two preseason games, and the only saving grace to that is that it would be quickly and completely rendered meaningless and forgotten, should the Packers rebound with an effort in Cincinnati next Thursday that is reminiscent of the team the Packers were in 2011.

That’s what one meaningful performance in game three of the preseason, largely considered to be the most meaningful of the four meaningless preseason games, would be worth to this team. Suddenly, all would be right with the world again.

Much of what appears to be wrong in the Packers’ world right now is the result of top draft picks that would usually beef up the twos, spending time this season with the ones. That’s the case with players such as Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward, the Packers’ top three draft picks, all of whom are being cast in prominent roles on the No. 1 defense or, in Worthy’s case, the No. 1 sub package on defense, which some would say is the Packers’ No. 1 defense.

Offensively, the problem is the Packers didn’t spend any high draft picks on that side of the ball, and injuries to players such as Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, John Kuhn, James Starks, Brandon Saine and, for at least one game, Marshall Newhouse, have created too much of a talent drain to be overcome by undrafted free agents.

“We have to grow as a football team,” McCarthy said on Friday, in a post-tape postmortem sans the postgame emotions.

So what would represent growth for the Packers as they head into Game 3 of the preseason?

  • The return of Jennings and Finley would help kick-start a passing game that made moving the ball look easy last season, but which has made moving the ball appear uncomfortably difficult in the first two preseason games. Packers football is moving the ball through the air. That’s how this team wins. It needs to rediscover its identity.

  • Turnovers must be eliminated. The Packers have turned the ball over eight times in two games. Hey, the Packers turned the ball over only 12 times all last season. That’s Packers football.

  • Precision execution is also Packers football. That means expert game and clock management that lead to the completion of two-minute drills and no-huddle series. So far, the Packers can boast only of Graham Harrell’s two-minute drill at the end of the first half in San Diego.

  • Improvement on defense – there wasn’t any in the loss to Cleveland.

“The offense took a step back, the defense took a step back,” McCarthy said.

It’s time for the Packers to take a step forward in all ways and in all phases, not because they need to be 1-2, but because, as McCarthy said, they need to be 1-0.