Packers report card: Matt Flynn-led offense better; defense again awful

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Handing out grades following the Green
Bay Packers’ 26-26 tie at home against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12:

Passing Offense: B-minus

Scott Tolzien started the game at quarterback and led an
87-yard touchdown drive on the Packers’ second series to take an early 7-0
lead. Tolzien capped it off by making one of the season’s top highlight plays
when he pump-faked Brian Robison up into the air to avoid a sack and then —
after beginning to scramble towards the end zone — executed a perfect spin
move to juke Letroy Guion and score.

Aside from that drive, though, Tolzien was not as sharp as
he was in the previous two games. With Tolzien at quarterback, Green Bay had
four series that ended in a 3-and-out. At the conclusion of the final
3-and-out, which featured a Tolzien overthrow that had the usually calm former
Badger a bit emotional, Matt Flynn began warming up on the sideline. Tolzien
finished the game 7-of-17 for 98 yards and didn’t throw an interception before
being benched.

Flynn entered to huge applause from the Lambeau Field crowd
but struggled on his first drive. After that, however, Flynn gave the Packers
the spark coach Mike McCarthy was looking for when he made the switch. Flynn
helped the offense put up 17 fourth-quarter points to bring Green Bay almost
all the way back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit.

Flynn underthrew a few passes, which might have displayed
the lack of arm strength that partly played into him getting cast out of
Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo. But for a player who had been back with the
Packers for less than two weeks, this is the best performance that could have
been expected out of him. In total, Flynn completed 21 of his 36 passes for 218
yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 85.2

Green Bay’s receivers got involved fairly equally. James
Jones led the team in targets (12), catches (7) and receiving yards (80), but
Jarrett Boykin wasn’t far behind with five grabs for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Jordy Nelson added five receptions for 58 yards. Tight end Brandon Bostick
struggled, dropping three passes.

Starting at right tackle in place of an injured Don Barclay,
Marshall Newhouse got the quarterback crushed on multiple occasions when he was
beat around the edge. If Barclay isn’t ready to return soon, it will be
interesting to see whether McCarthy gives Derek Sherrod a chance to start.
Newhouse certainly hasn’t played at a starting-caliber level.

Rushing Offense: A-minus

Eddie Lacy was at his best in this game. With the Vikings
geared towards stopping the run, Lacy still finished with 110 yards on 25
carries (4.4 average) with one touchdown. He broke tackle after tackle, kept
churning his legs after contact and earned every single yard that he put into
the box score. For Lacy to have that level of success against the type of
eight-man fronts and defensive looks Minnesota threw at him is impressive for
any running back, much less a rookie.

Somehow, with the exception of the cold air causing his
asthma to flare up in overtime, Lacy was once again able to be a workhorse for
the Packers’ offense and remain healthy.

However, the one big negative for Green Bay’s running game
happened in overtime when Lacy couldn’t get in the end zone. The Packers had
the ball 1st-and-goal at the 7-yard line and rushed it twice with Lacy, gaining
five yards. It had started to become apparent that Lacy was wearing down a bit,
so McCarthy opted for a passing play that didn’t work on third down. Lacy
didn’t carry it again over the final 10 minutes due to his asthma condition and
other game factors.

Tolzien’s athletic spin-move touchdown and a 34-yard run by
James Starks also helped Green Bay have a very impressive game on the ground.

Rushing Defense: D

What has happened to the Packers’ run defense over the past
month? After being on a franchise-best pace through seven games this season, Green
Bay has been very bad in this area since. And Adrian Peterson is the last
person that a team that can’t stop the run wants to see.

Peterson pounded the Packers for 146 yards on 32 carries
(4.6 average) with one touchdown. Like Lacy, Peterson forced several missed
tackles and broke away nearly every time a Green Bay defender tried to bring
him down with their arms instead of wrapping up completely.

It’s one thing for an accomplished rusher like Peterson to
do damage, but when Toby Gerhart came in, there was no drop-off for Minnesota.
In fact, Gerhart was even more effective than Peterson, as the backup running
back reeled off 91 yards on eight carries (11.4 average).

The Packers have shown little to suggest they’ll be able to
turn it around against the run over the final five games this season. Even with
all the quality defensive linemen that coordinator Dom Capers is able to
shuffle in and out depending on the situation, Green Bay still hasn’t had the
right combination on the field to free up the linebackers to disrupt the
runners.

Passing Defense: C

For the majority of this game, the Packers let Christian
Ponder look like an above-average starting quarterback. Let me assure you that
Ponder does not fit that description, which is an indication of the issues
Green Bay is having defensively.

Ponder completed 21-of-30 passes for 233 yards with one
touchdown and no interceptions (passer rating of 103.9). Yes, he was sacked six
times and the Packers got good pressure on him at times, but two of those six
sacks were more because of mistakes by Ponder than good plays by Green Bay.

Davon House dropped an easy interception to put an
exclamation point on what has been a horrid season for the Packers when
presented with opportunities to steal one out of the air. It’s been 11 regular
season games and Green Bay is stuck on four total interceptions this season.
There are three individual players in the NFL with more interceptions than the
Packers have as a team.

Greg Jennings barely registered in the box score as the
former Packers receiver had a forgettable return trip to Lambeau Field with two
catches for 29 yards. Jennings dropped a third-down pass in overtime that would
have extended Minnesota’s drive.

A.J. Hawk forced a fumble after a completed pass to
Peterson, which was recovered by Andy Mulumba. However, it appeared as if Hawk
got away with a facemask on the play that likely should have been called.

Special Teams: C-plus

This was a great game for Tim Masthay. Punting in the frigid
temperatures and kicking what felt more like a rock than a football, Masthay
twice downed the Vikings inside the 5-yard line. Minnesota began one drive at
the 2-yard line and another at the 4.

Mason Crosby wasn’t challenged much on field goals, but he
did connect on both of his attempts, one from 27 yards out and one from 20
yards. Crosby’s kickoff to begin the second half sailed out of bounds and gave
the Vikings the ball at the 40.

Perhaps having Minnesota start with that field position,
though, is better than what Green Bay’s kick coverage unit would have done.
Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t have a kickoff return for a touchdown in this game
like he did when these two teams met last month, but the rookie did have a
57-yard return in the first quarter.

In the spirit of changing it up to look for a spark, the
Packers gave Johnathan Franklin a shot at kick return, but he suffered a
concussion on the play and did not return. Micah Hyde didn’t fare any better
than he has on either kicks or punts, as the blocking around him continues to
create little space in which to operate.

Overall: C

So, a tie game. Hmm. On the bright side for Green Bay, this
should have been a loss considering the 23-7 score in the fourth quarter. And,
hey, at least the Packers’ three-game losing streak is technically over. But
after making that comeback, Green Bay should have won the game in overtime but
cost themselves that opportunity by not executing well enough.

The Vikings are not a good team, in case their 2-8 record
coming into the game didn’t make that obvious. The Packers were playing at home
and were in desperate need of a win. But for three quarters, too much of what
was going on was uninspiring football. Green Bay got its act together
offensively with Flynn and that seemed to energize the defense, but this was
settling for a tie. The players weren’t happy about it after the game, saying
it felt like a loss.

The status of Aaron Rodgers remains uncertain heading into a
short week with a game in Detroit against the Lions on Thanksgiving. But what
has been made abundantly clear is that Rodgers does so much for the Packers
when healthy that it covers up other problems. With the former MVP sidelined, a
lot of those issues have come to light.

A 5-5-1 record is far below expectations for Green Bay at
this point in the season, but the consolation is that the Lions and Bears are
only slightly ahead in the division standings.

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