GREEN BAY – Now come the difficult decisions.
The Packers closed out their preseason with a 24-10 victory over the Rams on Thursday night at Lambeau Field, and they now have less than two full days to trim their roster down to the mandated 53. The deadline is Saturday at 3 p.m. CT.
“We knew it was going to be tough when we got to this point, and that’s exactly what the next 48 hours lays out in front of us,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said immediately after his team finished the 2017 preseason with a 3-1 record.
“We’ll make the best decisions possible. It’s been a heck of a camp and a heck of a 90-man roster.”
Maintaining that No. 2 quarterback Brett Hundley was a priority as far as playing time, McCarthy had him take the entire first half on a night nearly all starters rested, and 28 Packers in all didn’t play.
After a sluggish start, interceptions by Green Bay cornerbacks LaDarius Gunter and Donatello Brown set up a pair of touchdown drives. Hundley ran one in himself on a scramble, and he found rookie running back Aaron Jones for a 1-yard TD pass just before halftime for a 14-3 lead.
Two plays before the touchdown, receiver Geronimo Allison left with a concussion after taking a big hit near the goal line. Safety Kentrell Brice also sustained a shoulder injury late in the game.
“The defense got us going with the two turnovers,” McCarthy said. “I thought (Hundley) managed some tough spots, similar to what he did last week in Denver. It’s exactly what Brett needed. He needed to play and get reps, and we got that done.”
Hundley finished 11-of-21 for 99 yards with the TD pass. The idea was to let Hundley throw the ball plenty before giving way to the other backups, and then run it a bunch in the second half.
In the third quarter, Hundley gave way to undrafted rookie Taysom Hill, who played in front of Joe Callahan for the only time in preseason.
Hill immediately directed a 17-play drive for a field goal that consumed 11 minutes, 18 seconds. The Packers handed off 13 times on the possession, splitting the carries between rookies Jamaal Williams and Devante Mays.
Hill then engineered a 58-yard touchdown drive, overcoming two offensive penalties along the way. Jones broke free for a 24-yard run, and on third-and-15, Hill threw on the run to wide-open tight end Aaron Peck for a 25-yard score.
In describing Hill’s play, McCarthy angled his hand and arm upward, signaling steady improvement all camp from the former BYU signal caller.
“He took advantage of every opportunity, obviously making plays with his feet,” McCarthy said. “He got better each week.”
So did the trio of rookie draft picks at running back, as Williams (31 yards rushing, 6 receiving), Mays (18 rushing, 36 receiving) and Jones (48 rushing, 1 receiving) combined for 140 yards from scrimmage on the night.
“They improved weekly. That’s what you’re looking for,” McCarthy said. “I wish we’d ran the ball more in the first three games, but tonight is what we needed to do.
“Pass protection will always be the biggest challenge for a young running back, coming into the league with the ability to play all three downs, but the way we balanced out the reps I was very pleased with not only the quantity but the quality.”
The defense had a solid night. In addition to the two early interceptions, Green Bay allowed the Rams just 2.8 yards per rush on 24 attempts.
Los Angeles backup QB Dan Orlovsky never got much going despite playing the whole game. He posted a 50.6 passer rating (16-of-30, 149 yards, one TD, two INT) and didn’t find the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.
“A lot of young guys making plays, fighting for spots on our football team,” McCarthy said.
Undrafted rookie punter Justin Vogel may have nailed down a job. Having had his ups and downs at times during the preseason, Vogel posted strong hang time and distance on his first six punts until hitting a low wobbler on his final attempt.
He finished the night with impressive numbers (46.9 gross, 45.7 net), including a long of 55 and two inside the 20.
“I thought he did a heck of a job,” McCarthy said. “The last one wasn’t what we were looking for, but up to that point, the ball placement was exactly what we were looking for. I thought he had a really good two days of practice this week and carried it into tonight’s game. I was very pleased with his performance.”
McCarthy appreciated the elimination of the cut-down to 75, allowing the full roster to be carried into the fourth game.
It’s a format he said “works for everybody” and gives the coaching and personnel staffs more to go on as they prepare to make the final roster decisions this weekend.
“I’m excited to get going on Monday, but there’s a lot going on between now and then,” McCarthy said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
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