For the Green Bay Packers, their dress rehearsal takes place on the same stage they hope to perform their grand finale: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
Before the Packers can hoist a fifth Lombardi Trophy however, the must play the Indianapolis Colts in their third preseason game. The Packers are coming off a strong showing from their 28-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals last week and hope to build on the promise that was shown last week.
The Colts in the meantime are without their fearless leader, quarterback Peyton Manning, who continues to recover from offseason neck surgery. The Colts are concerned Manning’s’ consecutive games streak is in jeopardy and brought in veteran Kerry Collins to lead the first team until Manning returns.
Breaking down the Colts
The Colts are terrible. In the preseason that is.
For a team that is usually dominant during the regular season, the Colts struggle in the exhibition games. Why? Manning is such a machine that he usually doesn’t need to warm up at all. The Colts have their offense mainly intact for so long that the players can read each other’s minds in their sleep.
That is how good Manning is.
With a formidable receiving corps including reliable veteran Reggie Wayne, young and promising Pierre Garcon, and dangerous tight end Dallas Clark, the Colts rival the Packers in offensive firepower when Manning is under center. Joseph Addai anchors the rushing attack, but this is a team that likes to move the ball through the air. With a solid offensive line, it is very tough to get to a Colts quarterback.
That said, the Packers will face a likely very rusty Collins in this game so they won’t have to worry about facing the four-time MVP unless they meet the Colts again on the same field in Super Bowl XLVI.
The Colts defense has traditionally been their Achilles heel. Still, Dwight Freeney remains their most dangerous pass rusher. Robert Mathis is solid along the line as well. While not the strongest line in the league, the Colts defensive line will provide a challenge to the young Packers charged with protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The linebackers and secondary are both areas the Packers can exploit. With oft-injured cornerback Bob Sanders gone, the Colts are rebuilding their secondary and it’s definitely a unit potent offenses like the Packers can feast on. The linebackers led by Gary Brackett will have trouble matching with Jermichael Finley and other Packers wideouts.
When the Packers have the ball….
With Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings both likely out for this game, this is a golden opportunity for the Packers to flash their depth at the receiver position. James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Chastin West (the star of last week’s game) with likely see extended action as the Packers take advantage of a weak Colts defensive backfield.
The Colts defensive line will challenge the Packers’ youth in pass protection, but given Rodgers’ athletic (note how I spelled that, Rich Gannon?) ability, he should be able to find enough time to find the open man down the field.
The Packers will continue their experiment with Ryan Grant/James Starks as well. Even though some could take the news that Grant took a pay cut as a sign he will be taking a backseat to Starks, he can still be a powerful back. Look for Grant to continue to show he can still get it done while splitting carried with Neo.
When the Colts have the ball….
If he’s given playing time, this will all be about getting Collins familiar with the Colts playbook. With a complex scheme designed for a brilliant player like Manning, it will take time for the recently un-retired Collins to adjust. This means a simple game plan for him and a chance for the aggressive Packers defense to flex its muscles.
Even if Collins doesn’t play, third year quarterback Curtis Painter has struggled mightily as well and a simple game plan may be in the works for him too. This means a lot less audibles at the line of scrimmage and a more watered down dink and dunk approach vs. the deep throws that Manning attempted with ease.
Though Dom Capers may go with a vanilla defense as is his custom in the preseason, still expect him to throw in a lot of blitzes against the Colts. Without Manning, the Packers don’t get a true warm-up against an elite quarterback this preseason but still expect plenty of pressure.
Three Keys to the Game
- Continue the no huddle offense If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Once again, the Packers no-huddle offense broke the first teamers out of a funk and got the offense in some kind of rhythm. With a poor Colts secondary, expect to see more of the same results. It only adds one more card to an already stacked deck for Mike McCarthy and makes this offense even more lethal.
- Show your receiver depth With Jennings and Cobb both likely out, the Packers have a chance here to get their receiving depth chart in order. After Jones and Nelson, there is a log jam of Cobb, Shaky Smithson, West and others. It is going to be near impossible to get all these guys playing time once September rolls around, so McCarthy will need to get his pecking order at receiver set relatively soon.
- Stay healthy There is little doubt Ted Thompson sweats bullets during every preseason game. Despite the very deep roster he has built, he knows it will be difficult to repeat the feat of a year ago with the Packers winning the Super Bowl despite so many injuries. The players (especially starters) cannot take foolish chances in a game that has no bearing on the standings in December.
Packers 35, Colts 21
The starters will likely play the entire first half and depending on the results could see some action to start the third quarter.
This game is a golden opportunity for the Packers to show their strength. Even though I’m sure Capers would like to know how his defense will perform against one of the best quarterbacks of all time, he still has to make sure he has the right players in the right places.
In what could have been billed as a possible Super Bowl preview had Manning played, the Packers again are treated to an exhibition game against an inferior opponent. Still, the Packers should be prepared to get the best from the Colts.
I don’t need to remind everyone of the 1997 game against the pre-Manning Colts as the Packers made their run to Super Bowl XXXII. This game may not count, but you play to win the game.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke