Packers' backups throttle Saints in exhibition finale

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By Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
September 4, 2015

GREEN BAY--Other than one enormous injury, the Green Bay Packers shouldn’t have many complaints after five weeks of training camp and four exhibition games.

They polished off their summer schedule in style Thursday night, pummeling the New Orleans Saints, 38-10, in the 55th annual Bishop’s Charities Game before a carefree crowd of 73,863 at Lambeau Field.

“Very pleased with the way we concluded the preseason,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just very proud of our young players. It’s always fun to win. The football game in the second half was impressive.”Per their custom in the ugliest of the four exhibition games, the Packers played just three starters—fullback John Kuhn, defensive end Mike Daniels and outside linebacker Mike Neal—from scrimmage even though it’s possible all but two or three of the starting 22 could have played.

They trailed, 10-0, after 12 minutes before annihilating the Saints’ deep reserves.

The victory allowed McCarthy to even his 10-year exhibition record at 20-20, including 2-2 this summer. The Saints fell to 0-4 this year and 19-18 overall under coach Sean Payton.

Now the Packers will concentrate on slicing a 75-man roster to a final 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday amid preparations for the Sept. 13 opener in Chicago that have been ongoing for almost five months.

“To quote Marty Schottenheimer, he always felt it took two or three games to really establish your team identity,” said McCarthy, who coached under Schottenheimer in Kansas City from 1993-’98.

“You know what you want to be. The reality is, until you start playing the real games is when it shows up.”

Last year, nose tackle B.J. Raji was in the rare position to observe the entire season from almost the standpoint of player-coach. Once Raji suffered a season-ending biceps tear Aug. 22, he attended every meeting, practice and game, and even had in-depth discussions with the team’s scouts.

Raji is back now, of course, and entering his seventh season he can provide a perspective on the roster and team that few others can.

The way Raji sees 2015 is the way some other forecasters do as well. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers holds the balance of power in the NFC North Division, the conference and the entire league, according to Raji.

“People would sell their souls to have 12 (Rodgers),” Raji said last month. “We have great talent on offense, but him being part of this team and not being there (in 2013) when pretty much everyone else was, there was a big difference.

“This is just me personally, but just having 12, I believe walking off the bus, literally unloading and grabbing my bag, 17 points.

“I’m not saying we think that as a team. I just think if we hold them to under 17 we’re probably going to win this game.”

Raji maintains the Packers have the best depth in the NFL.

“Ultimately, I think we’re as talented as there is in the league,” said Raji. “In all phases, we’re the best.”

What about Green Bay’s starting 22?

“I’d say we’re No. 1,” he said. “If I was being objective, I’d say we’re a top three or five talent team.

“We were a Hail Mary away from the Super Bowl. I’d have to put us at No. 1. We weren’t that far off last year.”

Raji was asked if the Packers should win the 50th Super Bowl.

“I would love to say yes,” he replied. “That’s the only goal here, to win the Super Bowl.

“We’ve won four straight division titles. I feel like anywhere else you’d be pretty happy. Here, it’s, like, ‘Nah, not good enough.’ That’s just how we’re trained.”

On Tuesday, Raji was asked if he would back off anything he had said in the Aug. 17 interview in light of the season-ending knee injury suffered by wide receiver Jordy Nelson on Aug. 23.

“Not at all,” he said. “You can’t discredit Jordy, but I think we have the character, the talent and the coaching to overcome in this organization. (Injuries) are part of the game.”

Rodgers played 33 snaps in the first game and 14 more in the second game before not even dressing for the last two. Together with the No. 1 offense, the Rodgers-led attack gained 240 yards (79 rushing, 161 passing) for an average of 5.1 per play.

The five possessions produced one touchdown, one field goal, one safety and two failures on fourth down.

That was a buzz saw compared to 2013, when the Packers scored the fewest points (32) of the 32 teams.

In 2014, the Rodgers-led offense ran 62 plays for 378 yards (6.1) and scored 37 points.

When the Packers left Kansas City after the finale in ’13, Vince Young had just flopped and both Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien had to be signed a few days later. Tolzien was assigned to the practice squad.

Today, quarterback ranks as one of the Packers’ pre-eminent positions with an improved Tolzien seemingly set as No. 2 and Brett Hundley, the rookie from UCLA, demonstrating for the third time in four exhibition appearances he has a tremendous future.

Hundley’s 142.4 passer rating against the Saints pushed his four-game mark to 129.7, one of the best in Packers’ history.

“We knew when we drafted him there was a lot there to work with,” said McCarthy. “He has a lot to learn but it’s been exciting watching him get off to a good start.”

The Packers traded up to select Hundley in the fifth round with the 147th pick. In the third round with the 75th pick the Saints took Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, who appeared to play poorly in the second half to finish with a final exhibition rating of 53.1.

If the No. 1 defense is defined by the presence of linebacker Clay Matthews, the Packers’ top unit will enter the regular season with merely 20 plays under its belt.

Those 20 snaps basically covered the first three series of the 39-26 defeat suffered against Philadelphia on Saturday night.

Matthews or not, it couldn’t have gone worse. The Eagles sliced through the 1’s as if they were mannequins, piling up 152 yards (31 rushing, 121 passing) for three successive touchdowns.

“We really haven’t played them all together,” McCarthy said, referring to his starting defense. “We’ll be ready.

“Everybody wants to come out of the preseason playing really good football, so forth and so forth. The longer I do this job, you’ve got to be realistic.

“These preseasons go in different directions. You’ve just got to make sure you get as much accomplished as you can.”

So it goes. None of this will matter to anyone within about 48 hours. What matters is if the Packers can live up to their immense potential in the coming fall and winter.

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