Five key takeaways as Packers rout Steelers

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA

Green Bay’s ‘big picture’ comes into focus with heavy TE use, multiple defenses

GREEN BAY, Wis. –    The NFL preseason is so much about the evaluation of individual players: Who’s improving? Who’s struggling? Who will make the 53-man roster? Who won’t? Did the veterans get the necessary work to be sharp in the opener?


Those are critical questions that need to be answered.
There’s also the big picture to consider: Which players are the best fit for the scheme? Will the offense rely on a heavy dose of double- and at times triple-tight end formations?
Does the defense have the horses to employ multiple packages?
So who are the Packers based on two preseason games?
Green Bay’s 51-34 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lambeau Field offered a glimpse.
Here are five key takeaways:
** No. 1 – Aaron Rodgers looked terrific.
If that seems absurdly obvious so be it. So much of the Packers’ success hinges on No. 12 that it can’t be overstated.
Rodgers, 34, is the consummate pro.
He leads by word and deed.
His teammates learn by watching him do his thing every day. The backup quarterbacks are better for seeing how it’s supposed to be done. In turn, the receivers benefit by having a quartet of QBs who give them opportunities to make plays.
Imagine the nightmare of trying to gauge receivers with shoddy quarterback play. Rodgers, Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle have facilitated the evaluation process.
Rodgers was a cool 2-of-4 for 35 yards and a touchdown. His scoring strike to Jimmy Graham offers a hint at how lethal the Packers’ offense could be in the red zone.
Kizer was 7-for-12 for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It seems clear he will be the No. 2 quarterback come the season opener.
Hundley (6-9, 77 yards) played well a second straight week. The question is twofold: Will it be enough to stave off Kizer? Will it be good enough to land a job elsewhere if he isn’t in Green Bay?
Boyle (4-7, 37 yards) has done enough to earn a spot on the Packers’ practice squad. It was difficult losing Taysom Hill to the Saints last year. It would be nice to keep Boyle in the fold.
** No. 2 – The tight end position group has been rejuvenated.
Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks and Graham give the Packers their best tight end trio in forever. Behind them, Robert Tonyan and Emanuel Byrd made plays against Pittsburgh.
It’s apparent Packers head coach Mike McCarthy intends to put his tight ends to good use. This isn’t Martellus Bennett and Richard Rodgers. It’s not even close.
** No. 3 – Packers’ fans love Reggie White and Gilbert Brown.
So what about Reggie Gilbert?
While they dream of the Raiders’ Khalil Mack riding into Green Bay on a white horse to save the defense, Gilbert is actually here doing the work.
He’s not Mack. Not by a long shot.
Frankly, I think GM Brian Gutekunst should pull the trigger on a trade for Mack. It’s not just because Mack’s arguably the NFL’s top pass rusher. It’s because Green Bay has positioned itself to be a legit Super Bowl contender. If the Packers fall one player short it would be a shame.
Then again, I can’t believe the Raiders’ Jon Gruden would be willing to part with his best player. Perhaps two first-round picks and a starting-caliber veteran would do the trick.
If not, the Packers have to move on.
Enter Gilbert.
The 6-3, 261-pound pass rusher has been with the Packers for three training camps. He has spent the time wisely. None other than left tackle David Bakhtiari offered huge praise, calling Gilbert a hard worker who has developed his talent. Always athletic, Gilbert has added the strength to make him a more complete and dynamic player.
Gilbert isn’t the reason you don’t trade for Mack. It’s the reason you still feel good after the trade talk fizzles and Mack re-signs with the Raiders.
** No. 4 – Tramon Williams and Josh Jackson are a credit to both the pro and college scouts.
Each had a nifty interception return for a touchdown.
Williams looked as if he was in the Steelers’ huddle before the first play. When the Steelers went empty backfield behind rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph, he correctly guessed that they were looking for a quick, easy completion to start.
Williams was right.
Jackson’s pick six was impressive in part because of the catch. It wasn’t an easy interception, especially in that setting as a rookie, but Jackson made the play.
If the Packers’ second-round cornerback is this good, I can’t wait to see Jaire Alexander.
** No. 5 – The Packers’ greatest flaws – offensive line depth and a pass rush – remain until further notice (aka the season opener against the Bears).
It’s why Bakhtiari’s and Bulaga’s health is critical.
Fortunately, both seem to be on the right path.
The pass rush is going to grow from new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme. His ability to dial up plays and rely on multiple defensive formations to gain an edge is essential.
It appears Pettine has enough defensive backs to excel in coverage. The question remains: Can Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Gilbert and the rest win their one-on-one battles?
We probably won’t know for sure until the Bears are driving toward the tying or go-ahead touchdown late in the opener. Will the defense be able to slam the door when it counts?
Through two preseason games it looks promising.