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Packers offense still fine-tuning as season-opening test vs. champs looms

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts to a call during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts to a call during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers kept the same expression throughout his postgame talk with the media and maintained the same monotone voice. After answering a few questions seriously, Rodgers was asked if he worried whether his Green Bay Packers offensive teammates could handle running the up-tempo attack at a full-time speed.

"I am worried about our offensive line," Rodgers said. "There’s a couple of guys who are a little overweight. They have to work a little harder, be a little smarter with their eating habits this week to get ready for a long game."

Rodgers didn't laugh, smile or wink. But everyone knew he was kidding. He then turned serious.

"But this is how we run our offense," he said. "We’ve been doing it in practice, and they have to keep up. And they will."

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The Packers' offense could go supersonic, a la the 2013 Denver Broncos. But Friday night's win over the Oakland Raiders is a stark reminder that there's still work to be done before heading to Seattle for the season-opener against the defending champion Seahawks. And the Packers know it.

"Way too much work," receiver Jordy Nelson said. He, unlike Rodgers, at least cracked a smile.

If Friday was a tune-up for the Seahawks, well, then there's still a few lugnuts that require tightening. Still, there were enough positives — both this week and last week against the St. Louis Rams — that Nelson thinks the Packers will be in good shape.

"I think we'll be good," he said. "There's a lot more that goes with it once we start game-planning. St. Louis was perfect and tonight was OK to good."

There was evidence of the Packers' offensive prowess and potential greatness on the first series, with Eddie Lacy handling the bulk of the payload. On the seven-play drive, Lacy had six carries for 36 yards — including back-to-back, twisting runs for 12 and 17 yards — and took in a touchdown from a yard out. And that was it for Lacy; he likely finished his preseason work with two series of action (one last week, one Friday) looking outstanding.

"I'm good with that," Lacy said, laughing. "I am OK if they don't play me anymore [until the opener]."

The other play of note on that first drive was a quick pass from Rodgers to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, who looks to have sealed up a significant role on the offense, for 32 yards up the seam, catching the Raiders napping.

When plays like that are there, the Packers can be lethal. You can account for Lacy and double-cover Nelson all you want, but the Packers have the secondary and tertiary weapons — and Rodgers getting them the ball — to do serious damage.

"We can get rolling," Lacy said. "We've done it in the preseason and done it in practice, and [at Seattle] we'll crank it up to 100 as far as game speed is concerned. That's really going to help with our execution, too."

But that's if the offensive line is doing its job. On the Packers' second and third series against the Raiders, it did not.

With Lacy out of the game, the Packers had little push on two James Starks runs and then allowed linebacker Sio Moore — who later left the game with a serious neck injury — to clock Aaron Rodgers after an incomplete pass when Richard Rodgers badly missed the block on Moore.

Aaron Rodgers said getting hit a few times is fine. All part of the preparation for the regular season.

"I think it's good when you can take a couple shots — not too many, but a couple shots in live action," he said. "We had some adversity at times with some poor execution. But we put points on the board and had three scoring drives in the first half. So we had a lot of things go our way."

Rodgers then had to run for his life on third-and-10 of that drive, flipping the ball to Starks for 9 yards. On fourth-and-1 from their own 41, the Packers went for the first, and Starks got the yardage needed, but a hold on first-year starting center J.C. Tretter negated the play.

On the next series, the protection collapsed on a first-down incompletion in Starks' direction, and the Packers' offensive line was slow to react to a Raiders stunt on which linebacker LaMarr Woodley swept underneath for the sack. It appeared that guard Josh Sitton didn't react quick enough on the play.

"We need to continue to clean that up," guard T.J. Lang said, admitting that maybe the run blocking is a bit ahead of the pass blocking at this moment. "[There was] a lot of good, a little bad. Obviously, you don't want to see the three-and-outs, especially consecutive ones.

"But we've scored on four out of our eight drives this preseason, and that's obviously good production."

The problem on the fourth offensive series was a trio of bobbled passes — two by Randall Cobb (one after he was hit by corner Carlos Rogers) and one by Starks. Those represented three of Aaron Rodgers' 11 incompletions Friday as he finished 9-for-20 for 139 yards and two TD passes.

Those scoring plays came in the second quarter after Nelson and DuJuan Harris gave the Packers a lift. Harris took a short screen 31 yards and later had runs of 9 and 17 yards, breaking multiple tackles in the process. Nelson showed why he and Rodgers have great chemistry, even though they missed on a few plays. They hooked up twice on a drive that ended when Nelson worked over rookie corner T.J. Carrie on a stop route on which Carrie fell down and Nelson walked into the end zone.

Harris finished with 98 yards (42 receiving) on 14 touches, showing nice change-of-pace possibilities to Lacy and Starks after Harris missed all of last season. He could fill the role some had earmarked for Johnathan Franklin, whose football career is in jeopardy after a neck injury.

"You can never have enough running backs," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "The history around here will speak to that. That goal is to have as many of those guys, particularly those three [Lacy, Starks and Harris] to line up and play first, second and third downs." 

But for the sprinkling of explosion the Packers showed on offense in this game, there's still cause for concern. Rodgers might be on the verge of an MVP season at the age of 30 — the same age that Tom Brady went 16-0 with 50 touchdowns and that Peyton Manning and Drew Brees won their first Super Bowls. For that to happen, however, there has to be better blocking up front and fewer dropped passes.

Nelson we know about. But will Cobb rise up in his fourth season? Will Jarrett Boykin or Davante Adams (three targets Friday, zero catches) step up into the James Jones role? Adams and Boykin have a combined seven grabs for 71 yards in three preseason games now.

Rodgers isn't terribly worried.

"I think we're ready," he said. "I think it's been a good preseason. We've scored some points, moved the ball, saw what we wanted to see out of our skill players and the offensive line."

And he knows exactly what looms on Sept. 4 at CenturyLink Field.

"It'll be a good test," Rodgers said. "That's a great football team, they've got a great home-field advantage and it'll be a great environment. We know what that was like in the '11 season when New Orleans came to us [for the season opener after the Packers won the Super Bowl]. It's exciting, you're at home, it's the first game of the year, so there's going to be a lot of energy in that place and it's a tough place to win." 

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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