This Saturday, the Packers will look to remain undefeated in the 2017 NFL preseason as they take on the Denver Broncos. Since the Packers are halfway through their preseason schedule, it is likely for them to focus on perfecting various elements for the regular season by providing most players with necessary reps and opportunities. The third game, in particular, is extremely important for the organization because it is one of the last chances the front office has to evaluate players before the roster is cut down to 53 players on September 2. With this in mind, expect an extremely competitive second half as players from both rosters attempt to elongate their football lives with their respective teams.
Here are a couple of things to look for in this third game:
1. More touches for rookie running back Aaron Jones
In their first two preseason games, the Packers have struggled mightily running the football. On a combined 47 touches through the first two games, the Packers have a total of 157 rushing yards. In other words, the Packers are averaging around 3.3 yards per carry so far this preseason. That is unacceptable. Specifically, rookie running back Jamaal Williams has struggled to get going thus far in his NFL career and has averaged 2.36 yards per carry. Williams was expected to be the second running back on the Packers depth chart going into the season but his struggles have potentially opened the door for another running back to claim that spot.
That void could be filled by fellow rookie Aaron Jones. Last week, Jones had three rushes for a total of 14 yards. With Ty Montgomery still dealing with a leg injury, expect an increased level of competition from the backup running backs against the Broncos. If Williams continues to struggle early, Jones should be given a chance to shine in the second half. Expect Jones to see an increase in snaps compared to his first two games.
2. Shaky play from the offensive line
So far this preseason, the Packers’ offensive line has been unimpressive to say the least. In addition to the pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry average by the running backs, the offensive line has also been unable to protect the quarterbacks. In each of the first two preseason games, the Packers’ quarterbacks have been sacked five times. To make matters worse, this offensive line will most likely be without starting tackle Bryan Bulaga for the third game of the preseason due to an ankle injury. With various pass rushers including Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, one can expect the Packers offensive line to struggle early and often against the Broncos.
On Wednesday, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph confirmed that Von Miller was going to play against the Packers in their preseason game after resting him in the first two preseason games. However, Joseph failed to elaborate on exactly how much playing time Miller would receive. Miller is practically unstoppable anytime he is on the field, but he could have quite an impact this upcoming week due to the Packers’ offensive line issues. Personally, I would expect him to play for about two drives and to disrupt several plays.
3. Another strong performance for Taysom Hill
Taysom Hill, the rookie quarterback out of BYU, has been very impressive in the Packers’ first two preseason games. Hill has been extremely efficient in the pocket and has completed 10 of his 16 pass attempts for 118 yards and a touchdown over the first two games. What separates Hill from fellow quarterback Joe Callahan is his mobility. Hill has the ability to evade defenders and avoid sacks which has contributed heavily to his success. Hill has been so successful on the ground that he is actually the Packers’ leading rusher with 52 rushing yards and a touchdown. Hill is trending upwards and I expect the coaching staff to give him more reps as a result. Although it is highly unlikely for Hill to jump Hundley for the second quarterback spot, Hill has made it a lot closer than anyone previously anticipated. Expect Hill to play for a large portion of the second half and to generate several big plays and scoring opportunities while he is on the field.
Part of Hill’s success is due to the lackluster play of second year quarterback Joe Callahan. Callahan looked pretty solid in the first game and completed 10 of 16 passes for over 100 yards. However, he looked awful against the Redskins in the second game and completed one of his three passes for a total of zero passing yards. Callahan, this preseason, is the only quarterback on the roster to not lead the Packers on a touchdown drive which is very concerning. This is partially due to Callahan’s inability to avoid getting sacked. Callahan has been sacked twice in each of the preseason games which killed several drives. With Callahan’s struggles, I doubt he will play much against Denver. As a result, he might have to play very well against the Rams in the last preseason game in order to make the 53 man roster. If not, expect Callahan to be unemployed as Hill takes his place as the third quarterback on the depth chart.