5 things: Packers dominate over Vikings defense

Five things we learned from the Green Bay Packers’ 44-31 road win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8 of the 2013 regular season:

1. Third downs equaled first downs

The Packers’ first drive of the game set the tone. Their four third-down conversions in that series was the beginning of what proved to be one of the biggest reasons for Green Bay’s victory. The Vikings’ defense simply could not get off the field when they needed to, and the Packers made them pay for it.

Green Bay finished the game having converted 13-of-18 third downs (72.2 percent). The best team in the NFL this season on third down, the Denver Broncos, have only converted 52.8 percent of the time. So that demonstrates how dominant the Packers were in this game. On two of those failed third downs, Green Bay went for it on fourth down and earned a first down. On the other three failed third downs, the Packers added Mason Crosby field goals to the scoreboard. That left Tim Masthay’s role as a punter to be meaningless, as he wasn’t needed once in that area (he did kick off twice).

Green Bay ran 73 offensive plays to Minnesota’s 43 offensive plays, translating to a difference in time of possession of 21 minutes and 48 seconds (the Vikings were only on offense for 19:06).

2. A healthy Aaron Rodgers is good enough to help Packers overcome key injuries

It sure didn’t seem to matter that the Packers were playing without Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley. It’s unbelievable for a team to not have three of its top four pass-catchers and still function as well as Green Bay did in this game. And, while football is far from a one-person game, the difference that Rodgers makes when he’s playing well tests that theory.

Rodgers completed 24-of-29 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (passer rating of 130.6). He was completely in control of this game and had that added sense of determination that is part of what’s made Rodgers an elite NFL quarterback.

Somehow, despite the Packers having just one proven receiver on the field, Jordy Nelson was able to break free for seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Nelson’s first touchdown from Rodgers showed impeccable timing between the two. The second touchdown was a mismatch that Rodgers spotted when Nelson had a linebacker on him. For Minnesota to be unable to stop Green Bay’s only credible receiving threat tells a lot about the Vikings’ defense, but it also speaks to how far Rodgers can carry the Packers, even when so many of the team’s best players are sidelined.

3. Greg Jennings: quiet on the field, invisible in the locker room

In the week leading up to the game, Jennings attempted to downplay all of the negative comments he made about Rodgers and the Packers organization. But Jennings would be lying if he said this game wasn’t the first one he circled when the schedule was released in April. Unfortunately, Jennings wasn’t around after the game for any reporter to ask him that. Jennings hurried out of the Vikings locker room before reporters were allowed in.

During the game, Jennings had just one catch for nine yards. That’s it. While Christian Ponder certainly proved again why Minnesota signed Matt Cassel in the offseason and signed Josh Freeman during the season, for Jennings to just get targeted three times and come away with one catch is not the way he pictured this game playing out.

Immediately after the game, Jennings approached Rodgers for an embrace and wouldn’t let go. Television cameras caught the two in a mini-hug at midfield, but Jennings did all the talking. It looked as if Rodgers wanted to make the exchange quick, but Jennings had a lot to say to his former quarterback. Interestingly, Jennings admitted earlier in the week that he never reached out to Rodgers in the past seven months, even as his negative comments about ’12’ continued. Rodgers wouldn’t comment after the game as to what Jennings said to him, and, as mentioned, Jennings had escaped the Vikings locker room and therefore apparently wasn’t ready to discuss that or anything else with the media.

4. A seemingly improbable prediction was easily achieved (Lacy > Peterson)

Last week during a point-counterpoint with Vikings beat writer Brian Hall, we were posed this question: “This might be strange to ask, but which running back will have the bigger day? Adrian Peterson vs. the Packers, who are allowing just 3.4 yards/rush and 79 rush yards/game, or Eddie Lacy (301 yards in last 3 weeks) vs. the Vikings?” The statistics suggested Lacy, but, hello, this is Adrian Peterson, reigning NFL Most Valuable Player and utterly dominant running back. My answer began with: “I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I think Eddie Lacy will outrush Adrian Peterson in this game.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t even that close. Lacy was handed the ball 29 times and rushed for 94 yards. Peterson only got the ball 13 times and gained 60 yards. Yes, Peterson had the better per-carry average, but that wasn’t the question. The Packers have been so committed to the running game throughout their current four-game winning streak. In those four games, Lacy has 97 rushing attempts (24.5 average per game). Green Bay is giving Lacy the ball early and often, and it’s given the Packers the offensive balance (actual balance, not “relatively equal number of passes and runs, regardless of the production of it” balance) that they haven’t had in years.

Meanwhile, Peterson was pulled from the game early in the fourth quarter once the Packers took a 41-17 lead. It’s difficult to give a star running back the ball a lot when a team trails by as much as Minnesota did throughout the second and third quarters, but that negates Peterson and is part of the reason why Lacy seemed like the favorite to outrush him, which is what happened.

5. Green Bay continues to give up fourth-quarter points and yards

It was a major talking point leading up to this game. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers noticed the trend that has tilted the Packers’ statistics: “A lot of the scoring has come against us in the fourth quarter,” Capers said Friday. “So hopefully we can play as well as in the fourth quarter as we do in the first.” Well, that didn’t happen.

The box score has Minnesota with 243 yards on offense and 31 points. But 14 of those points came in the fourth quarter on two drives that totaled 131 yards of offense. Take away those two series and Green Bay would have only given up 112 yards to the Vikings. Though 243 yards allowed is good, 112 yards allowed is a lot better. Keep in mind that seven of Minnesota’s points came on its kickoff return for a touchdown, so that doesn’t count against the Packers’ defense.

The game was out of reach when the Vikings had those successful drives, but it’s a sure bet that Capers and coach Mike McCarthy will take issue with the way Green Bay’s defense finished this game.

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