GREEN BAY — Go ahead, say it.
It’s only the preseason. The games don’t count. Nothing that happens in August will have any bearing on the NFL regular season.
OK, now that we have the mandatory disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to take stock of a Green Bay Packers offense that is making things look ridiculously easy right now.
For the third consecutive preseason game, the Packers’ first-team offense came out flying, scoring a touchdown on its opening possession and keeping the pressure on with a versatile, uptempo, no-huddle attack. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers seeing his most extensive — and likely last — action of the preseason, the offense put up 22 points in the first 24 minutes as the Packers produced a 31-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Friday night at Lambeau Field.
Not everything was perfect — the Packers had to punt on three of the first unit’s six possessions — and Green Bay benefitted from the usual generosity of the penalty-plagued Raiders, but the combination of the fast pace, three physical running backs and, of course, the passing of Rodgers to a variety of receivers hinted at endless possibilities for Green Bay’s offense this season.
The Packers’ first team reached the end zone on its other three possessions against the Raiders, and the way it did that underscored the versatility of the group. Indeed, this is looking like the most well-rounded offense in coach Mike McCarthy’s nine seasons in Green Bay.
The 72-yard opening drive featured the power running of halfback Eddie Lacy and a 32-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers. The 67-yard drive that made it 14-7 was keyed by Rodgers’ 26-yard screen pass to supercharged halfback DuJuan Harris and a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who simply overpowered Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie. The third scoring drive, a 14-play, 66-yard effort, was built around more hard running by Harris, Rodgers’ scramble and lob to halfback James Starks for 23 yards and a 6-yard bullet from Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless for a touchdown.
“I like the way we’re clicking,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We’re doing a lot of good things. I think there’s definitely things we need to clean up.”
If anything, the performance showed these Packers can move the ball on the ground and through the air. Lacy, Starks and Harris, who is recovering from a patellar-tendon injury that sidelined him in 2013, have all had stellar moments during the preseason, giving Green Bay uncommon depth at halfback. The emergence of Richard Rodgers and the re-emergence of Quarless as receivers could help make up for the loss of Jermichael Finley at tight end. And Nelson, after a brief hamstring scare, is once again a dominant receiver.
Perhaps the most disconcerting things that happened were dropped passes — two each by Starks and wide receiver Randall Cobb. The offensive line had a brief stretch after the first touchdown where it was overrun by the Raiders’ pass rush, but it corrected that on the final two touchdown drives.
When the first-team offense retired to the bench, it appeared to be ready to start the regular season immediately if not sooner. Going against first-team defenses, it put up strong numbers in all three games.
With Matt Flynn at the controls in the opening game and Rodgers running the show in the next two, the No. 1 offense has had the ball for nine possessions in the preseason. During that time, it ran 71 plays, piling up 435 yards, 26 first downs, five touchdowns and 39 points.
Against the Raiders, Rodgers completed only nine of his 20 passes, but he threw for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The drops, including three on one three-play series, held down his completion percentage.
In eight series over two games, Rodgers is 20-for-33 for 269 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s unlikely he will play in the final preseason game against Kansas City, but he looked sharp and in command during his two appearances.
“I think we’re ready,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s been a good preseason. We scored some points, moved the ball. We saw what we wanted to see out of our skill players and the offensive line.”
There were other notable developments Friday. Big-ticket outside linebacker Julius Peppers had a sack, undrafted rookie Jayrone Elliott added another sack to his total and Scott Tolzien outplayed Flynn for the first time in their head-to-head competition to be Rodgers’ backup.
Flynn couldn’t move the team and threw a weak interception on a screen pass. Tolzien, as he did so often at the University of Wisconsin, stood in the pocket until the last second and took a vicious hit before delivering a 15-yard touchdown pass to Alex Gillett.
After an injury limited Rodgers to half a season a year ago, Packers fans don’t need to be reminded about the importance of the backup quarterback. But the more significant development is the offense is as ready as it will ever be to face Seattle’s physical defense in the opener.