The Green Bay Packers are 2-0 to start the 2016 preseason, despite playing without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and several key defensive players.
The team began its preseason with a 17-11 victory over the Cleveland Browns and followed it up with a 20-12 victory over the Oakland Raiders this past Thursday. The two victories came after the NFL canceled the Packers' preseason opener vs. the Indianapolis Colts because of unsafe field conditions in Canton, Ohio.
FOX Sports Wisconsin takes a deeper look at why the team has found success so far and what fans should watch in the final two weeks before the opener.
Eddie Lacy has looked improved in two preseason games:
Eddie Lacy has rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown on 13 carriers this preseason, a 5.3 yards per carry average, after struggling in 2015. That included a nine-carry, 45-yard performance this past Thursday vs. Oakland, which he capped with a one-yard touchdown run on the Packers' first drive. The Packers offensive line created nice holes for the fourth-year running back on the drive, notably on his first carry, a 20-yard run, but Lacy showed a good ability to carry tacklers and fight for extra yards.
"Our run-blocking unit did a great job, giving Eddie clean looks," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought Eddie ran very well and did a good job finishing runs."
Lacy isn't the only Packers running back who's had a strong start to the preseason.James Starks had a 24-yard rush in the second quarter of Thursday's game. And John Crockett has 87 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the two games.
"I try to make the best of my opportunities," Crockett told Packers.com on Thursday. "Going out there and being hungry for success, that's the biggest thing."
McCarthy said before the game that he wanted Crockett to make a statement, and afterward he appeared satisfied with the second-year running back's play.
"I thought he ran excellent, particularly in the second level," McCarthy told Packers.com. "John definitely took a big step today."
The Packers defense, particularly their secondary, has looked strong:
The defense has yielded just 179.5 yards per game and one touchdown this preseason. It faced the Raiders' first-team offense for the entire first half Thursday, forcing three punts and allowing just three points. The unit's top play came when cornerback Damarious Randall intercepted a Derek Carr pass intended for Amari Cooper, one of two Packers interceptions on the game.
"To have production against that caliber is great for our guys," McCarthy said of the defense's first half.
The secondary has been a key part of that production, especially in the first half Thursday. The group limited Carr to only 36 yards in the half, despite playing without Morgan Burnett and with Sam Shields and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix seeing limited action.
Jordy Nelson continues to make progress:
Jordy Nelson participated in pregame warmups with the Packers on Thursday for the first time since tearing his ACL last August. It came a day after the team took him off the physically unable to perform list, though the Packers have not committed to playing Nelson in the preseason.
"It's been a long time for him, and I'm pretty sure he felt good as well. The fans liked it. We liked it. We can't wait to have him out there," Lacy said Thursday.
McCarthy said Nelson will participate in individual work at practice.
The punter battle continues to be close:
Incumbent Tim Masthay has averaged 42.7 yards on six kicks this preseason with one inside the 20-yard line, but he had one punt blocked Thursday. Undrafted rookie Peter Mortell averaged 57 yards on two punts Thursday and is averaging 49.2 yards on five punts this preseason.
McCarthy said the decision on a punter will take all four games and that the coaching staff is "evaluating everything."
"I think they both clearly stepped it up today," he said after Thursday's game.
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