GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – This is not exactly how the Green Bay Packers expected their preseason to go.
Two losses at home (insignificant). Jordan Love nursing a strained shoulder (concerning) and sitting out Jets game Saturday. Kurt Benkert showing resilience and poise in starting against New York (pleasant surprise) and looking better than his stats.
Head coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst now have a dilemma on their hands: do we keep two or three quarterbacks?
As my Yooper boss would say: that’s why those guys make the big bucks. Although Benkert aligns as a perfect candidate for the practice squad, his play is worthy of consideration for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
“I think Kurt has done a real nice job and definitely is going to make it tough on us to decide which way we want to go,” LaFleur said in his post-game press conference.
One more preseason game remains—in Buffalo on Saturday—and Green Bay is hopeful Love will be ready to start and gain more game experience. LaFleur said Sunday that Love is “day to day” and would most likely get the lion’s share of the snaps against the Bills.
While the scoreboard means nothing in the preseason, players are fighting for jobs and to make a talented Green Bay roster with few open spots.
Benkert made his case against New York, leading the Packers to two first-half touchdowns. His numbers were solid: 18 completions in 25 attempts, 251 yards, a perfectly thrown touchdown pass to Jace Sternberger, and a 83.9 quarterback rating.
His only blemish was an interception that was thrown grossly behind running back Patrick Taylor on a slant, which could indicate a miscommunication on the pattern/blown assignment.
The scrappy third-year quarterback showcased his best on a stellar 19-play, 81-yard drive. After tripping and falling on two consecutive plays early in the march—on one he bounced back up and produced a 5-yard run—Benkert completed several key passes on third down and one on fourth down to keep the drive alive.
His 21-yard back-shoulder strike to Malik Taylor down the left sideline and his perfect 5-yard touchdown pass to Sternberger on third-and-goal over the outstretched hands of two Jets defenders were big-time throws.
Production and resiliency like that keep coaches and administrators up at night when final roster decisions need to be made.
“Obviously it’s under a bad circumstance with Jordan dealing with the injury and this was supposed to be a big preseason for him too,” Benkert told the media after the game. “But I’m ready for my opportunity and I’m just going to keep preparing like I’m the guy and always be ready and just show that I can operate and do my job.”
Offense: Zach Wilson, quarterback, Jets. Wilson looked sharp in his 28 minutes of play in the first half, completing nine of 11 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns for a stellar 154.7 quarterback rating. The Jets offense did not turn the ball over, while the Packers incurred three turnovers. Both of Wilson’s scoring passes went to tight end Tyler Kroft—his only receptions of the game for 36 total yards.
Malik Taylor, receiver, Packers: Taylor led the team with four receptions for 66 yards (16.5 average) and every catch netted a first down. He was clutch on third down and showed good chemistry with Benkert. His first reception of 23 yards was at first ruled out of bounds/juggling the ball, but a LaFleur challenge and replay showed a magnificent catch and toe-tap to stay inbounds.
Green Bay offensive line: greatly improved play from Texans game, as Packers averaged 4.2 yards on 32 rushing plays.
Defense: J.T. Hassell, safety, Jets. Hassell, a second-year back-up safety from Florida Tech, stated his case for more playing time with a sold all-around performance. In addition to five total tackles, Hassell forced a fumble of Patrick Taylor early in the third quarter and sacked Kurt Benkert for an eight-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: Corey Ballentine, kick returner, Jets. Talk about a momentum-changer. After the Packers took a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter and secured the game’s momentum with an impressive 19-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, Ballentine snatched it back with a 73-yard kick-off return to set the Jets’ offense up at the Green Bay 30. Three plays later, Wilson hit Kroft with his second 18-yard touchdown pass of the half for a 17-14 New York lead at intermission. The Packers woes on coverage units continue to plague the team.