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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