Packers report card: Rodgers' masterful performance
Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers' 44-31 road win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8:
Passing Offense: A
This was a masterful game from Aaron Rodgers. To play without three of his top four receivers and still have the kind of performance that Rodgers did is just another example for the large group around the NFL to give when touting his credentials as the league's best quarterback. Rodgers completed 24-of-29 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 130.6.
The basic numbers don't even do full justice to what Rodgers accomplished in this game. He was a perfect 9 for 9 on third-down throws, with both touchdown passes coming on third down. Rodgers also completed both of his fourth-down passes to keep drives alive. In total, Rodgers was 11-of-11 on third- and fourth-down passes. Statistics like that aren't supposed to happen.
Jordy Nelson came up huge for Rodgers. The impact of not having Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley added more pressure on Nelson, as defenses should be able to focus their attention almost entirely on him. Yet, Nelson was able to take apart Minnesota's secondary with seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. For the second consecutive game, Jarrett Boykin really provided a consistent presence as a No. 2 receiver. After breaking 100 yards in his first career start last week, Boykin had 89 yards on five catches against the Vikings.
Green Bay's offensive line protected Rodgers quite well. Rodgers was sacked twice, but rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari kept Minnesota star defensive lineman Jared Allen completely off the box score. Allen not only didn't have a sack, he didn't even have a tackle. Bakhtiari was called for a 15-yard face mask penalty, but, other than that, he passed a major test with Allen. Right tackle Don Barclay struggled early and was called for one holding penalty, but he got better as the game went on.
Rushing Offense: A-
Two games ago in Baltimore, rookie running back Eddie Lacy had 47 yards on his first two carries. This was a much different game for Lacy but is one that he can likely provide on a consistent basis. Lacy is a big man to bring down, and when opposing defenses spend a lot of time on the field -- as Minnesota's did in this game (40 minutes, 54 seconds), he's the last type of runner that a fatigued defender wants to see.
Though Lacy had just two yards on six rushing attempts on Green Bay's opening drive, he reeled off 46 yards on seven carries and a touchdown to open the third quarter. Lacy finished with 94 yards on 29 carries, which gave him a relatively unimpressive 3.2 average, but consideration needs to be given for his final four carries late in the fourth quarter when the Packers were just trying to run out the clock and the Vikings were playing run all the way. Aside from Lacy's first and final drives of the game, everything else was very impressive.
With James Starks back from an injured knee, he proved to be a very strong No. 2 running back. Taking over for Lacy on two drives, Starks had 57 yards on seven rushes (8.1 average) with a touchdown. If Starks stays healthy (always a big if with him), he and Lacy will be a tough duo as the season gets into the colder months.
Rodgers didn't just throw the ball effectively in this game, he also ran it well. Rodgers had six rushes for 31 yards, and, as if he didn't do enough damage to Minnesota's defense through the air, he also converted three third-down plays into first downs with his feet.
Rushing Defense: B
Last season, Adrian Peterson had 409 rushing yards against the Packers in two regular-season games. On Sunday night, Peterson had just 60 rushing yards. While that's a plus for Green Bay, Peterson got those yards on 13 carries and still posted a 4.6 average and had a touchdown run. Peterson also didn't take the field for the Vikings' final two drives, time in which he could have been racking up big yards (albeit in garbage time).
For whatever reason, this is the second game in a row in which Minnesota only handed it to Peterson 13 times. Compare that to last season's two games with Green Bay when Peterson had 21 rushes in Week 13 and 34 rushes in Week 17. Have the Vikings forgotten how dominant Peterson can be? Those lack of touches for Peterson can't be attributed to the Packers leading the entire game, because they didn't lead the entire game. Minnesota scored first and also had the game tied midway through the second quarter. Until late in the third quarter, this was a close game. When the Vikings did give it to Peterson in a situation that was questionable for a running play (2nd-and-4 from the 8-yard line with less than 10 seconds remaining before halftime), he delivered with a touchdown the likes of which only he can.
Peterson's longest run was 17 yards, so in that sense, the Packers contained him from having any breakout plays. But Green Bay didn't have any tackles for loss on Peterson and benefited greatly from Minnesota' poor play-calling (and Christian Ponder's poor play).
Aside from Peterson, the Vikings got 38 rushing yards and a touchdown from Ponder, as well as one carry for 13 yards and a touchdown from Toby Gerhart. So, in total, that's three rushing touchdowns that the Packers allowed and a 5.8 rushing average. Certainly not a bad day for Green Bay against the run (especially considering Peterson), but those are still solid numbers that Minnesota posted on the ground.
Passing Defense: B-
First Cleveland's Brandon Weeden and now Ponder. Yikes. Oh, and in the Packers' next two games, they'll see Chicago Bears backup Josh McCown and will then likely see Philadelphia Eagles' third-stringer Matt Barkley. Not exactly a stellar group of quarterbacks to test Green Bay's passing defense.
However, the Packers did most of the things they needed to do against Ponder. Though Ponder led two long, quick touchdown drives in the fourth quarter that will have defensive coordinator Dom Capers once again disappointed in his team's late-game mentality, the rest of the game he didn't do much. Ponder finished 14-of-21 for 145 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions (86.4 passer rating). Green Bay sacked Ponder three times, two coming from Mike Daniels, who now has four sacks this season.
Here's the problem: The Packers continued their struggles in forcing interceptions. Still stuck on just three interceptions this season, Green Bay couldn't capitalize on a below-average quarterback to create turnovers. Coach Mike McCarthy expressed some disappointment with the lack of interceptions in his Friday press conference last week, and though the Packers currently have a four-game winning streak, if the interceptions don't start coming, Green Bay will struggle against better teams (especially in the playoffs).
Special Teams: B-
Oh, the extreme highs and the extreme lows of the Packers' special teams unit. First, the bad: Allowing a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the game. That's never the way a team wants to start on the road against a division rival. Then, the good: a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown by Micah Hyde in the second quarter. Hyde is clearly the real deal as a returner and is really earning the Charles Woodson comparison that McCarthy gave him recently.
Also on the bad end of things for Green Bay, what was Johnathan Franklin doing on his kickoff return right before halftime? We'll find out what special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum has to say about that. Whatever Franklin was thinking, it got him benched in the second half in favor of Hyde adding kickoff return to his growing list of responsibilities.
On the positive side for the Packers, Mason Crosby hit all three of his field-goal attempts, from distances of 20 yards, 45 yards and 30 yards. Crosby is now 17 for 19 this season (89.5 percent). Crosby also replaced Tim Masthay on kickoffs midway through the game, which is another question for Slocum as to why that decision was made.
Masthay was not needed as a punter because Green Bay scored points on every offensive possession.
Wins don't come easy for Rodgers and the Packers in Minnesota. In Week 17 last season, Green Bay could've kept the Vikings out of the playoffs with a win in the Metrodome but couldn't get it done. This victory improves Rodgers to 3-3 in Minnesota in his career as a starter. While the Vikings are proving to be among the NFL's worst teams this season, divisional road wins are always big, and the Packers got this one in convincing fashion.
With the list of key players sidelined (Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Brad Jones, Cobb, Finley, James Jones, Bryan Bulaga, DuJuan Harris) and Green Bay to not only survive but to be in the midst of a winning streak is something that most teams simply wouldn't be able to do. Now the Packers maintain their NFC North lead and will eventually get Brad Jones, James Jones, Perry, Matthews and Cobb back (likely in that order).
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