Even if the Packers’ first-team offense lights it up in Cincinnati on Thursday night, don’t look for Aaron Rodgers to make any grand proclamations.
Yes, the starting quarterback would like to experience some success, and on Monday he rattled off the situations in which he’d like to succeed – red zone, third-and-short, a 10-plus-play drive – before the regular season arrives. But even if the first unit shakes free from some of its early preseason sloppiness, that won’t necessarily mean the offense is suddenly on track to repeat its 2011 performance.
It’s simply too early to say, primarily because the defensive schemes the Packers are going to see starting next month will be much more complex than those they’re seeing now.
“As much as you want to do well, you realize it’s not going to be ‘vanilla’ once the season starts,” Rodgers said. “There’s not a lot of game-planning that goes into these games on both sides. We’re not doing a ton of game-planning for Cincinnati. They probably have maybe one or two things in like we do for them.”
Rodgers is exactly right, of course. All the planning and preparation takes on a different feel in the regular season. But then that begs the question: Why haven’t the Packers, even if they are 0-2, looked sharper against these supposed basic defenses thus far in the preseason?
Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements felt the Packers were on their way last Thursday against Cleveland when they hit the one speed bump that can derail the most well-oiled of machines – the turnover.
After Rodgers’ 20-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson on the offense’s third play, the unit had marched 36 yards in six snaps when receiver Randall Cobb had the ball stripped at the end of an 8-yard reception.
The No. 1 offense got one more series, didn’t score, and the turnover became Exhibit A as to why the Packers so strongly emphasize ball security. The lack of it took potential points off the board and stymied momentum that, in a regular-season game, might have taken a few series or a whole quarter to get back.
“That shows you have to take care of the football, because if you don’t you’re not going to be able to get any type of consistency on offense,” Clements said. “Had we not turned that ball over – we were at about the 30-yard line when that happened – we would have been in a good situation, at least in field-goal range and, hopefully, we would have continued on for another touchdown.
“But you have to take care of the football.”
That message is being sent to the offense in general and to new running back Cedric Benson in particular, he of the 12 fumbles (seven lost) over his last two seasons with the Bengals. Benson will make his Packers preseason debut against his old team on Thursday.
On Monday, Running Backs Coach Alex Van Pelt was barely a half-minute into commenting on Benson when he went into a discussion about ball security, unprompted.
“I’d like to see him carry it a little higher and tighter, especially when he’s making cuts,” Van Pelt said. “I’d rather have him miss a cut than fumble the ball making a great cut.
“It’s something everybody talks to him about right now. I’ve been on him, John Kuhn has talked to him, Aaron has mentioned it a few times. We’re going to continue to go in that direction until we feel he’s carrying it higher and tighter every time.”
Van Pelt added that the most complicated parts of the playbook for a running back to learn are the checkdowns and protections in the passing game. Benson will get live bullets in that regard on Thursday.
“I’d like to see him be productive in the run game, but at the same time, assignment-sound in protections, especially against these guys,” Van Pelt said. “They give you some exceptional blitz looks in third down, so for him to have a chance to go up, listen to the line calls and the QB’s protection adjustments and be able to react off of that, that for me is as critical as anything, protecting the quarterback.”
So, if the Bengals stray at least a little from a typical “vanilla” preseason defense, that could prove valuable for both Benson and the entire offense.
As valuable as the preseason can be, anyway.
“At the end of the day it’s about staying healthy, having a good feeling coming out, and hitting some situations,” Rodgers said. “I’m not too worried about the win-loss record.” Related links