10 takeaways from Packers’ preseason-ending loss to Jets

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·8 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Green Bay Packers finished the preseason with a 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon. Coach Matt LaFleur sat 30 or more players in all three preseason games and predictably lost all three.

Wins and losses just don’t matter in August. Competitors like to win, but the Packers treated the 2021 preseason as an important evaluation period for young players that either needed experience or needed to fight for a roster spot.

The only takeaway from the three games that really matters: no significant injuries. LaFleur’s team is mostly healthy, and an important injury situation lingering into Week 1 (see: David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith) wasn’t a result of anything the Packers did during the preseason. LaFleur protected his most important players, using last year’s lack of a preseason as evidence for why keeping the experienced veterans out of harm’s way was the way to go.

Here are all the other takeaways from Saturday in Buffalo:

Love still needs to learn

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

The full evaluation of Jordan Love's performance against the Bills will be a strongly positive one, but two situations exposed his inexperience and the need for more development in his decision-making processes. On the first, Love tripped in his dropback and – in a panic with the rush closing in – tossed up a 50/50 ball into the end zone, which was promptly intercepted by former Packers defensive back Micah Hyde. Love lost his vision down the field and had the timing of his footwork interrupted. He should have thrown the ball away or taken a sack and lived to fight another day, especially on first down. On the second, left tackle Yosh Nijman got beat immediately on an inside move, forcing Love out of the pocket and to his right. On the run, he threw late and forced a pass into traffic over the middle. The ball should have been intercepted. It was probably a bigger mistake than the first, but the Bills didn't punish it. Love, who was turnover-prone at Utah State, will learn to protect the football or fail as an NFL quarterback. LaFleur called each situation on Saturday a "learning moment" for the young quarterback.

Assessing Love

(AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

The Packers will be encouraged by most of Love's performance over two preseason games. He played well from clean pockets, looked comfortable within the offense and threw accurately down the field. On Saturday, Love hit Reggie Begelton off play-action for 29 yards, Malik Taylor on a free play for 27 yards, and Dominique Dafney on a designed rollout for 23 yards. He marched the Packers' second-team offense down the field against the Bills starters not once, not twice but three times and probably should have left the field at halftime with 10 or more points. The two mistakes can't be overlooked, but Love's other 20 dropbacks on Saturday were positive. Throw in his debut against the Texans two weeks ago, and it was a favorable start to Love's second NFL season.

Kylin Hill is Brandon Jackson 2.0

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie running back Kylin Hill once again looked like one of the best players on the field Saturday. His eight touches created 44 yards. He has quick feet, good vision as a one-cut runner and a knack for creating space for himself. In many ways, his movement skills are reminiscent of former Packers running back Brandon Jackson, who developed into a valuable third-down back for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers a decade ago. Hill is slightly more explosive and might have a higher ceiling as a runner. Don't be surprised if the rookie finds his way onto the field despite Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon ahead of him on the depth chart to start 2021.

Taylor, Begelton shine

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Reggie Begelton (84) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

While Juwann Winfree and Equanimeous St. Brown watched the entire preseason from the sideline while nursing injuries, Malik Taylor and Reggie Begelton took advantage of just about every opportunity. Once again, the two healthy and available receivers were productive and looked polished against the Bills. Taylor caught five passes for a team-high 69 yards, making him the team leader in catches (14) and receiving yards (188) during the preseason. He created a first down by beating Pro Bowler Tredavious White and later hauled in a terrific catch along the sideline on a free play. He is almost certainly going to be the No. 6 receiver on the roster. Begelton (four catches, 51 yards) has made a strong case to be the No. 7 receiver in Green Bay, even if that means starting the season on the practice squad. He's better as a route-runner in Year 2 and tough enough to play in the slot.

Heflin forces his way

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst will have a hard time constructing his best 53-man roster without including rookie defensive lineman Jack Heflin. For the third consecutive preseason game, Heflin played with effort and energy and flashed disruptive moments as a rusher and in the run game. He gives the Packers everything they already get with Tyler Lancaster but with more every-down vibrancy and pass-rushing potential. For the second straight week, Helfin won with a counter move and hit the quarterback. He also stuffed a run for a big loss in the second half. The only question left is: will he replace Lancaster, or simply be the sixth defensive lineman on the roster?

Sternberger comes up small

Dan Powers-USA TODAY NETWORK

After three preseason games with him as the featured tight end, it's difficult to see what Jace Sternberger does well enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster when he comes off the suspended list in Week 3. He missed a key reach block on third-and-goal on the Packers' opening drive, creating a stop of A.J. Dillon and forcing fourth down, and he looked sluggish on his two targets (both incompletions). The Packers talk all the time about players embracing a specific role. What is Sternberger's? He can't block as an in-line tight end despite adding weight, and he doesn't separate on short to intermediate routes. His two big plays this summer – a 34-yard catch up the seam against the Texans and a short touchdown catch against the Jets – were more the result of great quarterback plays than individual plays from Sternberger. He might be out of chances in Green Bay.

Missed tackles

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The tackling wasn't acceptable from the Packers' second- and third-team defense. Name just about any defender on the roster bubble, and they missed a tackle on Saturday. Possibly the only one that didn't was rookie linebacker Isaiah McDuffie, who finished with a team-high nine tackles and a half-sack. He showed some juice as a ball hunter against the Bills. The missed tackles were so disappointing because so many of the backup jobs available on defense also include important assignments on special teams. The Packers have to be able to trust young players to get regular season-caliber players on the ground consistently. Jake Fromm's touchdown scramble was the pinnacle of the tackling nightmare against the Bills.

Offensive line trends

(AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Lucas Patrick and Royce Newman were the starting guards. They could easily be the starting combo on Sept. 12 in New Orleans. Patrick's stock should rise because he's probably the team's best option as a backup center. Jake Hanson had major issues there on Saturday. Ben Braden started at right tackle and held his own for the second straight week. He could push veteran Dennis Kelly off of the team. Left tackle Yosh Nijman probably had his shakiest performance of the preseason. He gave up a pressure on Love that nearly resulted in an interception. Rookie Cole Van Lanen played a lot of snaps at left guard and was up and down. The offensive line will be an interesting puzzle for general manager Brian Gutekunst to put together on Tuesday.

Benkert safe...to the practice squad?

N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

You probably won't read many stories about the dangers of losing Kurt Benkert this week. He came in during the second half and completed seven passes for 61 yards over three drives. Benkert flashed at times during the preseason, but he's a fairly typical No. 3 quarterback. All teams have a young passer like him that they've been developing and would like to keep, so the Packers should be able to get Benkert through waivers and onto the practice squad next week. With the NFL's MVP and a (healthy) first-round pick behind him, only two quarterbacks are required on the Packers' 53-man roster.

Ento vs. Yiadom

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Both Kabion Ento and Isaac Yiadom had issues covering Gabriel Davis to start the contest on Saturday. Yiadom got beat on two third-down opportunities on the opening drive, and Ento gave up a big play with poor coverage and a missed tackle to start the second. Each player missed an opportunity to take a major step towards making the roster as the No. 6 corner. It would still be a surprise if the Packers didn't keep six cornerbacks, especially considering the special teams impact, but neither Ento nor Yiadom made the decision any easier. Stephen Denmark, who was signed this week, looked like the best cornerback on the field for the Packers on Saturday.

1

1

1

1