Good/Bad of Broncos/Packers and Big Ten Power Rankings

Three good and three not-so-good things to come out of the Packers’ third preseason game, Friday night’s 27-24 preseason victory over the Denver Broncos:

The good:

1. Aaron Rodgers. Let’s face it, nothing else probably mattered in this game to Packer fans and coaches as much as Rodgers’s performance. And did Rodgers deliver: 18-of-22 for 193 yards and a very nice touchdown pass to Donald Driver as well as a one-yard quarterback sneak TD on his last drive. More importantly, he seemed like a different quarterback than the one who suited up against the 49ers: He looked comfortable in the pocket, made smart decisions, and didn’t panic in the face of Denver’s pass rush. This is the Aaron Rodgers that Thompson and McCarthy thought they had when they told Brett Favre they had “moved on.” If Rodgers can perform like this in the regular season — and I think he can — he will without a doubt be the best quarterback in the NFC North. Now if he would just do something about that godawful facial hair . . .

2. The return of Greg Jennings. Having missed the first two preseason games with knee soreness, Jennings gave Packer fans a quick reminder of how important he is to the offense. Leading all Packer receivers with four receptions for 42 yards, Jennings showed no ill effects from the time missed. His productivity will be crucial to Rodgers’s success.

3. The running game without Ryan Grant. Noah Herron and Kregg Lumpkin combined for 15 carries for 66 yards, and both looked very sharp. Depending on how Brandon Jackson and Vernand Morency perform in the final preseason game against the Titans, the Packers will have some tough decisions regarding their depth at running back. But that’s the kind of tough decision that teams are happy to be in the position to have to make. I would not be surprised to see Jackson or Morency looking for work very soon.

Bonus good: They won. Sure it’s only preseason, but you got the sense that the Packers needed a confidence-boosting victory. They got it, and a come-from-behind one at that.

The bad:

1. Injuries. The bane of preseason football. The Packers suffered injuries to several key players on Friday night, and while none of them appeared to be severe, none of the players hurt were able to return to the game either (although receiver James Jones came out about the same time as the rest of the starters and seemed fine). Rookie right guard Josh Sitton left with a knee injury, Bigby went out after his ankle got rolled over, and Collins suffered a stinger after getting hit by a teammate. All are likely to be fine for the Monday night opener on September 8, but all serve as a scary reminder of how easy it is for players to be cut down in exhibition play.

2. The rush defense. In short, it was awful. Denver averaged nearly five yards per carry and had 98 yards rushing in the first half alone — against the Packers’ starters. When teams can run on you, they hold the ball for large chunks of time and usually score. Denver was able to convert on all three of its first half possessions, most troubling being a monster 99-yard, 16-play drive that consumed 8:29 of game time. If teams can do that consistently in the regular season against Green Bay, victories will be tough.

3. The back-up quarterback position. To be fair, neither Brian Brohm nor Matt Flynn got much playing time on Saturday nght. But Brohm, who went 0-for-4 Friday, needs to play better on Thursday against the Titans if he hopes to hold off Flynn for the back-up job. Flynn hasn’t necessarily looked like the second coming of Dan Fouts, but he’s looked more poised and comfortable than Brohm. I hope that the Packers realize the inherent insanity of going into the regular season with three untested quarterbacks and pick up some veteran to back-up Rodgers. The Packers can’t expect Rodgers to be as invincible as Favre, and surely McCarthy and Thompson can’t feel that either Brohm or Flynn are ready to lead this team anywhere. They’re simply not ready nor, with the necessary emphasis on giving Rodgers game time, have they been put in the position of getting ready.

With college football starting this week, here are my highly-anticipated Big Ten power rankings. Not to be confused with preseason polls, which are ridiculous:

1. Ohio State. No surprise here. So many returning starters, the Buckeyes are nearly everyone’s pick to at least make it to a third straight national championship game. If they can get past the September 13 showdown at USC and the October 4 game at Camp Randall, they might prove they have enough talent to actually win it all this year.

2. Iowa. Upset special here. But have you seen their schedule? No Michigan, no Ohio State, and they get Wisconsin and Penn State at home. If this team doesn’t have the injury problems of a year ago, they should surprise a lot of people.

3. Wisconsin.  Sorry, but the quarterback play — i.e., lack of experience — worries me. Granted, the team should be wonderful at running back, but when Evridge has to make a play, will he be able to? Plus, the defense needs to prove itself over the course of a full season.

4. Penn State. Good team last year, should be good team this year. But schedule is brutal. While Iowa misses Michigan and Ohio State, the Nittany Lions miss Minnesota and Northwestern. Ouch.

5. Michigan. Too many uncertainties to be real excited about the Wolverines this year. But like the New York Yankees, not too many people would be surprised to see them have a great season nonetheless.

6. Michigan State. This team lost a lot of close games last year. With experience, they might win some of those this year. And if that happens, they’ll be in the mix for a good bowl game.

7. Illinois. Mendenhall’s gone, which is a killer. But quarterback Juice Williams has shown improvement this spring, and the defense is decent. Could be a sleeper.

8. Purdue. If the team can gear up for Joe Tiller’s last season, the Boilermakers might surprise. But if not, it could be a long season.

9. Northwestern. They might be better than in years past, but is that saying much?

10. Indiana. Better than expected last year, so look for a downturn this season.

11. Minnesota. Couldn’t think of a reason not to put them in the basement.


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