The preseason is a cruel beast.
Each August, we're handed less-than-pristine football with a terrible catch: Injuries still mount, ripping star players off the field long before the games that matter.
They can survive this because no franchise in the NFL has done a better job of drafting and developing their own skill position players. Their wideout depth alone is on par with any other squad league-wide.
Green Bay still has Randall Cobb, one of the game's most electrifying pass-catchers. He's now under pressure to recapture last season's massive numbers, but he won't be asked to do it alone.
Enter second-year receiver Davante Adams, who coach Mike McCarthy called the "MVP" of the offseason. The promising "Making the Leap" candidate has the requisite tools to step into the starting lineup and produce. Nelson's injury also means a larger role for third-rounder Ty Montgomery, fan favorite Jeff Janis and tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers.
Losing Nelson immediately lowers the ceiling of what Green Bay might have accomplished on offense this season, but playoff hopes -- and maybe more -- remain alive. That's always the case when you have a deep roster, plenty of promising young pass-catchers -- and the finest quarterback in all the land.
Here's what else we learned from Sunday's action:
- The Packers made it look easy on their opening touchdown drive, burning through Pittsburgh's defense for 80 yards over 10 plays. It was another example of how explosive this offense can be, but Green Bay was punched in the mouth on the following series. Taking over at their own 1-yard line, the Packers only went backwards, with Rodgers dropped hard in the end zone for a safety by ageless Steelers pass rusher James Harrison. We didn't see Rodgers again.
- Injuries slammed both squads. After Nelson hobbled off, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was carted away with a left ankle injury late in the first quarter. Pittsburgh also saw defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt driven off with a left ankle injury of his own. That's not all: Backup Steelers passer Bruce Gradkowskideparted with an injured left hand, while Packers guard T.J. Lang was examined for a concussion during a grisly afternoon in the Steel City.
- Like Rodgers, Steelers passer Ben Roethlisberger was also in midseason form, connecting on 11 of 14 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Big Ben would have finished with even bigger numbers had Antonio Brown not been flagged for offensive pass interference on a nullified 58-yard touchdown strike in the opening frame.
-- Marc Sessler
- NaVorro Bowman's first game action since shredding his knee a year and a half ago went according to script. The three-time All Pro stuffed the Cowboys on three consecutive plays to open the game, making a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Small sample size or not, Bowman's ability to channel 2013 form is a ray of hope for a fan base that has suffered through a worst-case offseason.
- Despite pregame reports to the contrary, Joseph Randle played through an oblique strain, leading the Cowboys with 30 yards on seven carries. Randle operated as the second back, after Darren McFadden managed just four yards on three carries while running into the brick wall known as NaVorro Bowman. Dallas lost the battle at the line of scrimmage with a pair of starting offensive linemen sitting out. This backfield continues to have the feel of a committee attack -- as the coaching staff has maintained all along.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Bishop Sankey bounced back in strong fashion after being outplayed by rookie David Cobb last week. Benefitting from defenses already respecting Mariota's legs, Sankey broke off as many runs of 15+ yards Sunday night (two) as he managed all of last season. Sankey remains the favorite to open the season as the Titans' starter.
- Outside of a 35-yard bubble screen from Tavon Austin last week, the Rams' first-team offense has been abysmal. An indecisive Nick Foles has not reacted well to pressure. Partially due to Kenny Britt's nonchalance on a slant route, Foles had one pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The coaching staff will want to see signs of encouragement in next week's audition.
-- Chris Wesseling