The Lass Word: Pack Wants to "Bubble Wrap" Starters

But decision on holding them out is not that simple.

There are two major objectives for the Green Bay Packers coaches and front office this time of year.  The first is to select the best possible roster for this team.  The second is to get as many of them as possible to opening day healthy.  As the Packers get ready for Family Night tonight, you can bet there are major discussions within the offices at 1265 Lombardi Avenue as to who will play, and who will watch.  “We'll have some of those conversations as far as snap counts and things like that as we go.  Again, it’s really early right now, so how Matt (LaFleur) structures the practice, that’s kind of all Matt you know, what we’re trying to see”, said General Manager Brian Gutekunst on Wednesday.   

At least on Family Night the coaches will have some control over the hitting and tackling.  That ceases to be the case beginning with preseason games next week.  Opponents will be playing their young hopefuls who will be looking to make an impression on their coaches by being as aggressive and physical as possible.  That brings you to the annual question the brain trust must sort out each summer:  Do you play your starters and key players in these practice games?  Or do you hold them out, thus risking they will not be sharp enough to open the season on week one?  It’s an especially prickly question this camp, because the opening opponent is NFC North rival Minnesota in a critical division game.  Green Bay can’t afford to come out under prepared, as they did in week one last year, a 35-3 blowout at the hands of underdog New Orleans. 

Gutekunst gave a hint as to which way the coaches are leaning, when he told the beat writers “I’ve got a lot of (former GM) Ted Thompson in me and I’ve seen some guys out there that are really eager and playing really well right now, and you just kind of want to bubble wrap them and save them until September and kind of stock them away, and we’ll let some of these other guys get some more opportunities and see what some of these guys can do.”  That comment leads me to believe the coaches will follow their same strategy of recent years and keep most, if not all, the starters on the bench for all three preseason contests. 

But, in the same breath, Gutey then says “At the same time I think you really need this time to come together as a team, as a unit, the timing on the offense and defense, and all the different things, you know, for us to come out of the gates with a good start is important.” 

Some individual player decisions are easier than others.  Aaron Rodgers?  Aaron Jones?  Jaire Alexander?  De’Vondre Campbell?  Rashan Gary?  Kenny Clark?  Bench them.  Bubble wrap them, as Gutey says.  They are simply too critical to the team’s success to risk injury.  Other decisions are not as straight forward.  What about offensive line players like Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Royce Newman?  Yes, they likely need the work, but with David Bakhtiari looking more questionable for game one every day, and Elgton Jenkins certainly not being ready, those four are being counted upon as starters.  An injury to any one of them really puts the unit in a bind.  Worth the risk? 

Then there is another factor to consider.  Special teams.  The coaches and players have taken to calling it “wefense”.  With new coordinator Rich Bisaccia charged with improving this woeful unit, one of his trademarks is to use offensive and defensive starters on his teams.  With the Raiders, Bisaccia had the highest percentage of starters playing on special teams in the entire NFL.  There is every indication he intends to continue that trend in Green Bay.  Matt LaFleur seems to have no problem with that, having said this week “Unfortunately, it (special teams) hasn’t been good enough here, at least in my time, so it’s been a big emphasis.  I will say that the buy-in from our veteran players has been unbelievable, when you see some of the guys that are out there and that are contributing on wefense, guys like AJ Dillon or Darnell Savage or Adrian Amos or Aaron Jones whose been out there, ‘Dre, (De’Vondre Campbell), so there’s been a great buy-in from a lot of our veteran players.  Basically, most of the guys are out there right?  And they kind of set the tone for that, and they all understand how important it truly is.” 

But execution on special teams takes practice and repetition.  If starters are going to play on special teams, one would think they need some reps in the preseason games.  Can you take the gamble that guys like Dillon, Savage, Jones, Amos and Campbell won’t get hurt trying to take out some opposing kickoff returner who won’t even play in the league?  Remember, it was Dillon who got hurt on special teams in the playoffs against the 49ers, missing the entire second half.  There are many who regard that as a huge factor in the Packers inability to hold on in that game.  On the other hand, do you open against the Vikings with starters playing their first game on special teams?  Will they be able to execute, having had no game-type action? 

Those are tough decisions.  LaFleur gets paid to make them.  Here’s hoping he makes the right calls. 

   

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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6 points

Comments (37)

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Bure9620's picture

August 05, 2022 at 06:33 am

This is easy, August should be the summer of Love obviously. 2 drives for the whole 1st team against New Orleans. They need to play a bit and not have the 4th preseason game not be an ass kicking again like last year, particularly with week 1 being a divison opponent.

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LambeauPlain's picture

August 05, 2022 at 07:16 am

I keep reading all the time "don't risk injury to starters by playing STs".

Understand with every play O, D, STs there is always injury risk. I will ask, because I don't know...do STs, on a per play basis, have a proportionately higher rate of injury vs playing O and D?

I know this is the narrative. However, I have looked for, but have not seen facts and stats on this. Anyone have the data?

Yes, Hill and Dillon were injured on STs last year. Was it, because ST plays are an injury waiting to happen...or was it because the blocking on the return team was so dysfunctional both backs were wide open targets?

I simply don't know. I do know the best STs in the NFL not only focus intently on it...but like O and D, staff them with their best players for the assignments...starters and backups.

Too long, for the Pack...Novak, Slocum, Zook, Menninga, Drayton...STs seemed of low focus and were routinely staffed with mostly 2nd and 3rd stringers as place holders... and lack of performance accountability.

Finally a ST coaching leader with a long track record of success! Coach Rich was quite a hire!

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stockholder's picture

August 05, 2022 at 07:17 am

Age and Back-ups. Must be considered. In 2018 Jake Ryan went down with a torn ACL. A major blow to the defense. I don't like the odds, or the results, if Campbell or Amos go down. I'm sure you can get others who want to contribute. But the money players (CAP $$$) must be off the list.

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Since'61's picture

August 05, 2022 at 07:56 am

This is a matter of risk tolerance/management for the Packers management team, especially MLF and Gute. They need to agree upon and be clear about how much they are willing to risk during the preseason.

On offense with Bak and Jenkins out we will have 3 new players on the OL at LT, LG and RT at least. The OL needs to take some reps during the preseason games.
Except for Cobb and Lazard the receiving corps needs to get reps during the preseason as well. Breakout the bubble wrap for Rodgers, Jones and Dillon during the preseason.

ON defense, breakout the bubble wrap for Clark, Gary, P. Smith, Campbell, Alexander, Stokes and Amos. We cannot afford to lose those guys before the season begins.

STs don't return KOs, punt out of bounds, fair catch punts and KO into the end zone. That's about the best you can do to protect those guys.

MLF has been cautious in the previous 3 preseasons and he has won 13 games each year. Why change the preseason formula now? Bubble wrap the key guys and go from there. Thanks, Since '61

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dobber's picture

August 05, 2022 at 09:42 am

"On offense with Bak and Jenkins out we will have 3 new players on the OL at LT, LG and RT at least. The OL needs to take some reps during the preseason games."

Maybe compared to last years' starters, but if it's Nijman-JRJ-Myers-Newman-RT, that's 4 guys who played a lot in 2022. I'm arguing semantics, there, but I actually agree: OL is the heartbeat of the offense. A good offense will struggle with a shit OL, while a good OL will elevate a mediocre offense. These guys need to be ready to dictate play, and they need to be a cohesive group. That said, LaF has been pretty good about getting at least a few snaps for his OL starters.

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Guam's picture

August 05, 2022 at 08:39 am

It's a long season - I would much prefer to keep guys healthy in the preseason. The Packers lost a terrible opener last year and still won 13 games and got to the playoffs. I would really prefer not to lose to the Vikings, but if they do and still win 13 games and go deep in the playoffs, I would be okay with that. And the only way they win 13 games and get to the playoffs is with healthy starters. Bubble wrap all of 'em!

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dobber's picture

August 05, 2022 at 09:35 am

It seems to me that LaF has always had that perspective--not risking key players in the preseason, and conserving them for the full year and not burning them out with heavy practice schedules. A year ago, NO looked like a playoff contender early and the Packers' opening loss to an NFC team (especially the way the Packes lost) seemed pretty damning. I think that Vikings game looks even more important on paper--and the league dropping divisional games in week 1 of teams' schedules is pretty crappy--but it's a marathon, not a sprint.

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T7Steve's picture

August 05, 2022 at 09:14 am

Another way to look at this is "game shape". I don't think the smaller guys need to worry about it (ie RBs, DBs, WRs, QBs) but, the O and D line seem to always have their hands on their knees early in the first games, so I think they need some pre-season game reps. They don't have 2 a days any more so they've got to do a couple of quarters in a row at least during the pre-season.

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T7Steve's picture

August 05, 2022 at 09:17 am

must have hit the button twice again.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 05, 2022 at 09:30 am

I agree with LL CHESTY. We should subject our guys to a pointless and unnecessary injury. Anything less is playing scared.

Did I get that right, LL.?

Xxxxxxxxx

Lambeau Plain……I’ll look for some links, but the NFL studies every injury. They concluded that there were a disproportionate number of injuries on kicks and punts, AND that the injuries were more severe, That’s why they keep tinkering with where the ball is kicked from (40 to 35 to 30 and now back to the 35). We moved the touchback from the 20 to the 25 to encourage teams to take the touchback.. We don’t allow the running starts on kickoffs anymore. All of these changes were to reduce the high speed collisions you see on these plays.

Injuries are part of the game, and we all know that. But you need to protect guys, too, and one of those ways is to not expose them to injuries returning punts and kicks that don’t have to be returned.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 05, 2022 at 10:51 am

Thank you for summing this up so eloquently.

I'd add that punt returns in the PS are kind of dicey for returners because you have a higher chance of getting blown up by an overzealous gunner or getting cartwheeled backwards by pre-catch illegal contact. There were several Jaguars punts in the HOF game last night that I was amazed didn't get flagged for illegal contact as it looked like the coverage unit was pushing off the returner vs. just blocking him away from the ball.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 05, 2022 at 11:14 am

"Did I get that right, LL.?"

Yes, pretty much. A good returner will average 10 yards a punt return. I know you don't care for the fancy schmancy numbers but the chances for scoring go up the closer the offense starts to the end zone. Besides Doubs returning punts shouldn't concern you, he's not going to be a big part of the offense like Rodgers is. 🙄

But why risk the chance at a big return, explosive plays aren't conducive to winning games right?
.
Tell the truth, you have posters of Marty Schottenheimer up on your walls don't you?

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Leatherhead's picture

August 05, 2022 at 12:22 pm

8 teams averaged 10 or more yards per return. League average was 8.8. Packers averaged 8.0

So, now let’s factor in turnovers, penalties, and injuries. It’s still worth it to you.

But hey, explosive returns, right? What do you think is a more explosive play, a turnover on a return or a return of 40+ yard? Because there were 10 punts retuned 40 yards, including two TDs. Would you care to guess how many punt returns ended in a turnover.

Look, you can throw Schottenheimer smack around as much as you want. Reality is, it’s not your bacon on the line, and I don’t think it ever has been. It’s very, very different when you are the guy who’s responsible.

You think it’s all about ESPN highlites; I KNOW that most football games are not won, they are lost, and they’re lost by turnovers, bad penalties, and blown assignments. The Packers are something like 30-1 when they don’t have a turnover, or some stat like that. What’s their record when the opponent has more explosive plays?

Make your opponent beat you, don’t do it to yourself by engaging in UNNECESSARY low-percentage risk taking. That’s just not smart at all.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 05, 2022 at 02:34 pm

It's not about ESPN highlites [sic]. Look at the TDs scored when there's an explosive play involved vs when there isn't. Brian Billick:

"In a more recent trend, because of the changes in rules that promote the passing game, explosive differential now rivals turnovers as the key determinant of success. Explosive differential is the difference between the number of explosive plays (more than 20 yards) that you earn as an offense, compared to how many you give up on defense."

"When you combine both the turnover and explosive differentials, you get what I call the toxic differential. It's a pretty telling stat (see box, right). The top 10 teams in toxic differential all have winning records and are in the thick of the playoff hunt."

I think I'll take the word of a SB winning coach over yours.

Bill Parcells was a conservative coach but he knew in the playoffs big plays are momentum changers that can win and lose you games.
Jimmy Johnson said the same thing.

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jannes bjornson's picture

August 05, 2022 at 02:59 pm

Three Phases of Football, it never changes. Get closer to their Endzone.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 05, 2022 at 03:09 pm

Explosive plays RIVALS turnovers as the key determinant of success.

How does that become “it’s all about explosive plays”? And aren’t quite a few explosive plays on offense a result of a defensive mistake, like a missed tackle or blown coverage?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take shots for a big play, but why not take that shot with your big dollar players on offense instead of the bottom of your roster? Punt returns are more likely to hurt you than help you. It’s a bad bet. I’m sorry you don’t get that.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 05, 2022 at 04:50 pm

Yeah, I guess Rich Bisaccia doesn't get it either.

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BradHTX's picture

August 05, 2022 at 07:51 pm

Against my better judgement, I’ma jump in here.

One of my favorite ways to close my comments (when they’re actually serious thoughts and not just idiotic puns or GIFs or
Arrested Development references) is “But what the hell do I know? I’m just some idiot on the internet.”

I’ve followed football seriously for about 20 years. Never played at any level, even peewee. Certainly never coached. I know what I know about the finer details of the game… and it would fit in a thimble compared to what the players know, let alone the coaches and execs.

I’ve always thought that there is a high level of hubris displayed by fans on comment boards like this, thinking they know better than the pros what WR should have been thrown to, what play should’ve been called on that 4th down, whether that player was worth trading up for, etc. I even fall prey to it myself in the heat of the moment (“Dammit, Aaron, how could you not see Lazard open?”). We all want to believe we are the smartest guy in the room. Most of the time, we’re not.

Here’s the fact: the NFL has really smart people analyzing every play of every game and coming up with stats to quantify what can/does happen. If not returning a single punt or kickoff would increase your chances of winning by even 1%, teams would know it, and we fans would too — because it’s what every team would be doing, every single game.

News flash: they’re not.

Good enough for me. It’s tempting to scream at the screen, especially when the Special Teams are as spectacularly bad as the Pack’s have been recently. Doesn’t mean they’re not doing the right thing, statistically speaking. Sometimes it actually is about execution.

Here’s hoping Bisaccia fixes that.

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 06, 2022 at 10:19 am

"If not returning a single punt or kickoff would increase your chances of winning by even 1%, teams would know it, and we fans would too — because it’s what every team would be doing, every single game.
News flash: they’re not."

You've summed this argument up in two sentences. I'm sure all NFL coaches have researched the risks/rewards of returning punts to the nth degree. Their careers depend on it. And not one NFL team aspires to never returning punts.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 05, 2022 at 05:24 pm

Show me where I said it's all about explosive plays? I just said above teams that can generate explosive plays while ALSO limiting turnovers tend to make the playoffs.

The average scoring per drive in the NFL is 2.2 points. The averaging scoring per drive when there is at least one explosive play is 5 points. Just a wee bit of a difference.

The same thing applies to drive success rates. The average scoring per drive starting at the 35 is higher than drives starting at the 25. Conceding 10 yards every time you catch a punt is a good way to lose games.

I'm sorry you don't get THAT. But neither did Marty Schottenheimer so you're not alone. I liked Marty and rooted for him to get a ring but he consistently lost big playoff games in the same fashion.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 05, 2022 at 05:06 pm

I took a hard look at that Billick quote.

The top 9 teams in turnover differential all had winning records. Including “explosive plays” doesn’t change that.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 05, 2022 at 05:59 pm

I don't think it can get any simpler than this(though I thoroughly expect you to disagree):

"Let’s say a returner catches a punt at their own 20-yard-line (so 80 yards from the end zone). If the offense started their drive at that spot, their Expected Points would be right around 0.473. However, the returner managed to shake off a couple of defenders and gain ten yards on the play. Now, the offense would be expected to score approximately 1.29 points on average. The return specialist is therefore credited with adding 0.817 Expected Points."

Ten yards doesn't seem like much but when it comes to starting field position it is. Now times that by 4-5 punt returns in a game and you have drastically changed the chance of winning the game when a lot of games are decided by one score.

https://www.thespax.com/nfl/assessing-the-value-of-nfl-punt-returners/

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 05, 2022 at 06:21 pm

I'm loving this!! Lol

You make some great points LLC. You've backed your position up rather convincingly.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 06, 2022 at 09:31 am

So each 10 yard return is worth 0.8 points. 30 returns in a year is about 24 points on the season, or about 1.5 ppg.
How much do the fumbles and penalties affect us? The injuries? Or do those just not happen?

You’ve got great QB and a great offense, but let’s put the game in the hands of the bottom of the roster whenever we can bye returning punts. I think that’s a crappy strategy

Btw, averaging 10 yards per return usually means most of your returns were UNDER 10 yards and you had a couple of longer runs. Essentially, you are taking all these risks for a payoff of a couple of longer than average returns. I think that’s not a high percentage bet.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 06, 2022 at 02:30 pm

Somehow I knew you wouldn't let logic get in the way of your stubbornness.

1.5 points a game is the difference between winning and losing quite a few games. Devin Duvernay averaged 13.8 yards per punt return last year for the Ravens, care to guess how many times he fumbled? Zero would be correct. He did fumble once as a receiver, so maybe QBs should stop throwing passes because the receivers might fumble. Just because Rodgers wasn't a very good punt returner doesn't mean you fold up shop, turtle, and stop looking for a better one.

The offense last year wasn't as good as you seem to think it was, and is likely to be less efficient this year.

Maybe you should write Rich Bisaccia a letter explaining your position, maybe you'd believe what he told you if he responded.

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2022 at 10:02 am

I think it’s fairly simple.

Rodgers needs to play with the offense for a couple of quarters, less if we get a good couple of drives, this year for 2 reasons. One should be abundantly clear from the abject results of the opening game last year. The equivalent this year is against a divisional foe. The second is that the new players need at least some time together with him and as a unit against a D they don’t see every day.

Secondly, we ought to see Love get the same with the starting O. We need to see him with the best line and skill players for meaningful evaluation and we need them to have some experience with him in case he has to play with them later. I’d prefer camp reps too, but at least a 3 or 4 extended drives against another team.

The D is a bit different. They are mostly vets. A quarter should suffice. One can always play Walker a little more. There is no particular need to be out there with that much experience at each unit. What we need to see there is depth at DL, ILB, S and CB, as much and as long as we can.

As to STs. I’d play those we know will be starters for a similar number of snaps as offense, probably a game for STs. Since I do not see many true starters being regulars that shouldn’t be too problematic. If we are confident about our returners, the starting ST units should be out with the top couple of candidates for only as long as is essential to confirm that if it’s Doubs, if it’s a backup like Gafford or Rodgers the real test still should come with the projected starters, but we can keep them out there longer with others if necessary I think. That’s why I might choose the first game for that to let those involved focus on D/O in the second and third. After that, it should be those competing for a roster/PS squad place alone and backups.

What this boils down to is a few meaningful drives (2-6) over both QBs for the O, a drive or two for the D and three to six reps for ST starting units (times the number of really valid return contenders in those units) at most.

The rest is for those players fighting for play time or a spot on the the roster and PS.

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TarynsEyes's picture

August 05, 2022 at 10:56 am

This is a tiresome debate.

If starters don't play in preseason, and they lose the opening game or games, it's because they didn't play in preseason games. If they don't play in preseason games and start the season winning, it proves they don't need to play in preseason games.

I simply don't care which way it goes anymore, and I won't accept either as reason or excuse for what happens when the games mean something. You have to play with who you got, regardless of when you lose player(s), preseason or official season.

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LLCHESTY's picture

August 05, 2022 at 11:12 am

Bah Humbug!

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 07, 2022 at 10:49 am

I watched a little of the game between the Raiders and Jags last night and wanted to see how Carr and Adams would be on the field. Additionally I was looking forward to seeing how Lawrence would perform this early in the year under Peterson's guidance.

No such luck. All of those guys were bench riders and as an avid Packers' fan, there were just a bunch of guys on the field who had names that were new and unknown to me.

What it amounted to was a disappointment. Now if the Packers were in that game, at least I would be anxious to see some of the non-starters who were fighting to make the team. Thus I am finding out when the Packers are not involved in the game, the interest wanes. I can't wait until the games count.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

August 05, 2022 at 02:15 pm

It's a long season. Bubble wrap the MVP QB and the other key players. The Rams key players didn't play at all last preseason and they won the Super Bowl. The Vikings new coach comes from the same coaching tree as the Rams coach, so maybe Kirk Cousins will get zero pre-season snaps as well, leveling the field so to speak, for the first divisional game to kick off the season.

And maybe Rodgers and crew learned from the Saints game last year what they need to do to be prepared.

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Rarescope's picture

August 05, 2022 at 03:14 pm

“And maybe Rodgers and crew learned from the Saints game last year what they need to do to be prepared.”

Amen. I think if the conclusion was that they needed to play in preseason games we would have heard it by now. I think I read one quote from MLF that he was considering it a few weeks back but the Packers staff writers remain pretty adamant that it ain’t gonna happen.

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2022 at 05:16 pm

It would appear that in fact it has been accepted that it was a factor. In addition to prior allusions to the subject, just a day or two ago:

“@RobDemovsky

“Interesting question from @gmatzek who asked Matt LaFleur if last year's Week 1 debacle vs. the Saints will impact how he handles preseason playing time.

"Potentially," LaFleur said. "You've got to learn from every situation you've been in. At least it stimulates conversation."”
9:56 AM · Aug 2, 2022

Rodgers however remains firm in his view that pre season doesn’t help. I guess we will see who prevails.

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TarynsEyes's picture

August 05, 2022 at 06:22 pm

"I guess we will see who prevails."

Whom or what decides the prevailed?

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Coldworld's picture

August 06, 2022 at 01:49 pm

A better question than first reading might suggest. I wonder.

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PatrickGB's picture

August 05, 2022 at 05:16 pm

“Practice is more important than preseason games”—Aaron Rodgers

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Since'61's picture

August 05, 2022 at 10:11 pm

Could not possibly agree more with this comment. Preseason games are nothing more than a money grab for the owners and a vestige of an era in football when players needed to play their way into "game shape" after having worked in their offseason jobs and arriving to camp out of shape to play football.

In this era players do not need offseason jobs and they have access to excellent trainers and equipment year round. When they arrive in camp they are already in "playing shape". What they do need is to work on executing the plays and schemes that the coaches have designed for the team. More practice yields better execution, just check with Vince Lombardi if you have any questions.

Preseason games are an unnecessary risk for key players on the team. Two preseason games or even two scrimmages would be enough for an NFL coaching staff to evaluate their younger players. Before TC even begins they know between 40-45 players who will make the team. The evaluations will be used to fill out the remaining 53 and the practice squad players.

The coaches and players have all figured this out which is why we are seeing fewer and fewer starters/veterans play during the preseason. The risks are too high and the rewards too low to allow the starters to play during the preseason. There is no correct formula or number of reps or drives that mitigates the risk of ending the season before it begins due to losing key players in preseason games. Thanks, Since '61

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THESZOTMAN1's picture

August 06, 2022 at 09:55 am

I pretty much agree with the need for "bubblewrapping." Makes no sense to risk a starter during pre-season. Even if we come out flat against Vikes.
HOWEVER...
On the O-Line we should go "all in," mixing and matching players to see who can play and where. We've got to find this out PDQ.
I might limit snaps for Runyan and Yosh.
The Szotman

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