UDFAs Guide Green Bay Packers Past Patriots in Preseason Opener

Packers' LB Jayrone Elliott Sacks New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo

The Green Bay Packers used touchdowns from undrafted rookie running backs Alonzo Harris and John Crockett and a timely interception from UDFA LaDarius Gunter to defeat the New England Patriots 22-11 in the team’s first preseason game of 2015.

Green Bay put on a solid all-around performance throughout the night, dominating the Patriots on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The Packers moved the ball with ease for much of the night, while the defense, which recorded seven sacks and an interception, kept Jimmy Garoppolo and the New England offense largely in check.

The Packers first three possessions took them deep into Patriots territory, including two goal-to-go situations, but the drives resulted in two turnovers on downs and a field goal.

Immediately after the Packers’ field goal, the Patriots took an 8-3 lead on a 55-yard touchdown run by Jonas Gray. But two Packers’ drives later, Scott Tolzien connected with Jeff Janis on 4th down for a 26-yard touchdown to give Green Bay a 9-8 lead. A 56-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski as time expired gave the Patriots an 11-8 edge at halftime.

When the third quarter started, Green Bay began to take control of the game. Gunter intercepted a pass from Garoppolo on the Patriot’s first drive of the second half, and Harris followed two plays later with a 25-yard touchdown run. Three Packers’ possessions later, Crockett hauled in a 10-yard touchdown reception to put Green Bay up 22-11 with under five minutes to play.

Harris finished with a team-high 41 rushing yards, and Crockett grinded out 26 yards on ten carries. Both Tolzien and Aaron Rodgers threw for over 100 yards for the Packers, who out gained the Patriots 273-117 in the passing game and 406-211 overall.

Green Bay was successful moving the ball throughout the night. With Tolzien and Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers’ least productive drive still reached their own 47 yard line. Despite the ability to move down the field, the Packers struggled once they reached the red zone. The red zone inefficiency was an issue that haunted Green Bay late last season, and will need to be fixed before this year begins.

Besides exceptional play from Crockett, Harris and Gunter, the Packers saw flashes from a number of their other rookies as well. Fourth-round pick Jake Ryan recorded six tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack, and third-round pick Ty Montgomery had two receptions (and almost two more) and had no issues in the return game.

Green Bay’s defensive backs also kept the Patriots’ passing game in check and did not give up a completion longer than 17 yards. Rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins displayed strong football instincts throughout the game. He had a couple of pass breakups that were nearly interceptions, and was a sure tackler for most of the night.

The biggest play that the Packers’ defense surrendered was Gray’s 55-yard touchdown. Green Bay was one of the worst teams against the run in 2014, so defending the run was a big point of emphasis coming into the game. The Packers buckled down, allowing just 23 rushing yards after Gray’s score.

The Packers defensive line was also strong for much of the night. Second year player Jayrone Elliott, who made a splash in last year’s preseason, was in the backfield for much of the night and recorded eight tackles, including half a sack and a tackle for loss.

Another issue that Green Bay will have to address is its play on two-point conversions. The Packers failed on both of their two-point attempts, and allowed the Patriots to walk untouched into the end zone on their attempt.

Finally, the Packers got another look at Tolzien’s improvement from last season. He appeared more poised in the pocket and displayed more arm strength than last year. He will undoubtedly be Green Bay’s number two quarterback heading into the season, and should give the Packers a little more security in the worst-case scenario that Rodgers gets hurt again.

The Packers’ next preseason game is next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .

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