TiVo Time: Minnesota Vikings
It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 28-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
First of all, TiVo has proven that no matter how many times you watch a backpedaling Brett Favre throw the football into the gut of Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop and the resulting reactions of dismay and disgust from the Vikings’ sideline, it never stops being hilarious.
Besides that joyous play, here are some other insights gained from a repeated, slow-motion view of the Packers’ win.
I scoffed when Vikings coach Brad Childress ripped the officiating in a game where there were so few penalties called, but watch the game again and you might start agreeing with ole Lost in Space.
The Vikings may have discovered the way to stop Clay Matthews — grab his face mask. I counted four obvious face mask infractions on replay, three which weren’t called. And that’s ignoring all the times Matthews was held, including the play Charles Woodson stuffed Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for a loss on the final drive.
Matthews appeared amazed holding wasn’t called. It’s possible the tantrum he threw after that play helped get him the fateful 15-yard face mask call several plays later.
Vikings cornerback Frank Walker was apparently wearing the “allowed-to-molest” jersey, as he pretty much held, interfered with, and otherwise accosted every Packers wide receiver that lined up across from him. The painful Aaron Rodgers interception in the back of the end zone was the direct result of illegal contact by Walker on receiver Greg Jennings three separate times.
Walker also clearly stepped out of bounds on the play before tipping the ball, which was intercepted by Vikings safety Madieu Williams. Walker committed three or four fouls on the play without being called for any. That is probably a record, so props to him.
On the huge fourth-and-1 conversion by Peterson on the Vikings’ final drive, T.J. Lang, who was playing defensive tackle, potentially had the play stuffed, but John Sullivan and Steve Hutchinson combined to essentially tackle him. Sullivan was riding Lang piggyback with his arms wrapped around Lang’s chest, while Hutchinson practiced a form tackle on Lang’s legs.
Of course, not only is holding/tackling/mauling illegal, but it’s also illegal for one offensive lineman to block low on a defensive lineman who’s already engaged by another blocker. Watch the play again if you can. It’s actually pretty comical.
Lastly, the play that perturbed me more than any other was the Vikings’ eight-yard gain to receiver Percy Harvin immediately before the two-minute warning. The play wasn’t snapped before the clock hit 2:00 — it should have been blown dead. Secondly, Harvin never gets set before the snap. Somehow the refs ignored all of this and gave the Vikings fourth-and-5, instead of the third-and-18 they should’ve had.
Since Vikings fans and their coach, who I would not be surprised to learn is on a bowling team with Wade Phillips, Lovie Smith and Josh McDaniels, are convinced the refs were even more egregious to the Vikings, let’s assume the terrible officiating was equal and move on.
Lined up in the shotgun for an obvious passing play, Rodgers was understandably shocked to find defensive end Jared Allen in his line of sight. The play turned into Rodgers’ first interception, which tarnished his amazing red zone efficiency record.
Normally, one would expect Allen to be farther up field, getting after the quarterback. Instead, left tackle Chad Clifton had him stoned two yards off the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, running back Dmitri Nance had only a safety between himself and the goal line. Had the ball been delivered properly, it could have been a touchdown.
The Packers coaching staff was especially pleased with the play of the team’s No. 1 running back, Brandon Jackson, and with good reason.
His decision making is improving with every game. When the holes were there, he got to them and got through them quicker than in previous games. The plays where he was stuffed were the result of breakdowns in the blocking, not poor decisions by Jackson.
Jackson didn’t leave a lot of yards on the field. He could have made some bigger runs by going outside the intended running lanes, but he hasn’t had the chance to develop those instincts yet. Considering he averages only 10-15 carries a game, this is about as far along as anyone can expect Jackson to be at this point. Regardless, the progression is there, and in my opinion, Jackson is showing himself capable of being a 1,000-yard guy in this league, if featured.
Josh Sitton is straight up rag-dolling fools and should be the NFC representative in the Pro Bowl at right guard. On the touchdown run by Jackson, Sitton stood up Pat Williams on the line of scrimmage and then slid off to block linebacker E.J. Henderson, opening up the hole that allowed Jackson to dive through.
Hear much from Kevin Williams during the game? Thank Josh Sitton. On the Packers first fourth-and-1 play, where John Kuhn barely picked up the yardage, Sitton actually pancaked Kevin Williams. The Vikings’ push came from Robert Edwards, who drove tight end Andrew Quarless into the backfield and momentarily stuffed the play. Thanks mostly to Williams being on the ground and Ben Lieber losing track of where Kuhn was, Kuhn was able to keep his feet moving and slide to his left for the first down.
The second fourth-and-1, where Kuhn was stuffed, was the exact same play. It was nearly the same result, with Edwards again driving Quarless into the backfield to blow it up. This time Kuhn had nowhere to go because Kevin Williams flopped down in the middle of the field, rather than allowing Sitton to drive him across the formation.
As much as most of us hated the play call, if it were simply run to the opposite side, it would have been an easy first down. The somewhat maligned Daryn Colledge actually drove about two yards off the line of scrimmage and Clifton had Allen neutralized.
Still, I will continue to campaign for Jackson to get the ball in short-yardage situations. Kuhn gives it a great effort, but he runs too straight up. Jackson runs low and can slide through gaps Kuhn can’t. Size isn’t as important as center of gravity in short yardage. Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson are the three best goal line backs I know of and none are huge.
Clifton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s efforts spoke for themselves and were as impressive in review as they were initially. Center Scott Wells was over-matched a couple times, but the guy is a fighter and held his own.
Receivers Greg Jennings and James Jones both had excellent games.
Jennings is underutilized. The Packers need to find a way to get this guy the ball downfield.
Jones has made it clear he is the heir apparent to Donald Driver. The Packers missed Driver, who was healthy enough only to serve as a decoy and take Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield off Jennings.
Rodgers made a valid attempt to get him the ball on the Packers’ final offensive possession, not counting the kneel down. On a big second-and-11, from the slot on the left, Driver ran an eight-yard out on Winfield. Rodgers threw the ball to the outside with Winfield in tight coverage. Driver stumbled out of his cut, probably pushing his injured quad too far, and couldn’t get to the ball.
On the same drive, on the huge third-and-3 near midfield that the Packers failed to convert, Rodgers threw incomplete in the general direction of Jordy Nelson. Driver was wide open in the middle of the field, but it’s understandable Rodgers didn’t look his way.
Rodgers played much the same as he has all year, Favrian — brilliant plays interspersed with poor decisions.
His touchdown to Quarless was a misread similar to the sick touchdown thrown to Jermichael Finley against Detroit. The safety properly shaded to Quarless on top of the tight coverage already there. In true heir-to-the-gunslinger fashion, Rodgers overcame the poor read by throwing an accurate missile that stuck in Quarless’ gut.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Greg Jennings was in single coverage and had an easy score. In fact, for his touchdown in the third quarter, Jennings would run essentially the same route against the same coverage on the opposite side of the field.
Immediately prior to that, Rodgers converted a third down with a ridiculous dart to a well-covered Jones. Rodgers also picked up what could have been a huge third-and-11 on the final drive, immediately following the attempt to Driver, when he rolled to the left, the direction the Vikes wanted him to, and threw a ludicrous over-the-shoulder shotput to a wide open Jennings in the middle of the field.
Rodgers continues to make plays only a handful of quarterbacks in the league can make, but I believe the weight of carrying an entire offense on his shoulders is forcing some questionable decisions. Just refer to previous seasons and quarterbacks in similar circumstances for evidence of that.
The defense held its ground and made enough big plays to win the game.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins pulling up lame in pregame warm ups was a huge blow to the pass rush. The Vikings concentrated on Matthews and did pretty well against him.
Matthews, however, did well against the run to his side, put the first big hit on Favre, and still made the huge play at the end with the face mask call. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers largely neutralized Matthews on the final few plays by only rushing three, allowing the Vikings to block him with two and three guys.
When you have a playmaker like the Claymaker, you need to give him a chance to win the game for you, but what do I know?
Frank Zombo and Brad Jones were mostly ineffective, but they are both no-quit, hustle guys. Jones’ hustle allowed him to chase down Favre from behind and make the tackle that caused Favre’s first interception, and started the downhill slide for Favre.
B.J. Raji did well anchoring the defensive line most of the game. He faced a lot of double teams and did well to slide the line of scrimmage on runs to the right or left. Both Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson played valiantly, considering the circumstances. Wilson was pancaked by Hutchinson on Harvin’s touchdown scamper, but he played better as the game wore on.
Wilson forced the epic Favre interception that was returned for a touchdown by Bishop, and he was the Packers’ most active defensive lineman against the run in the second half. Wynn got the lone sack of the game and also seemed to improve as the game wore on.
Bishop and A.J. Hawk played solid games and were bigger factors than any of the Vikings’ linebackers. Bishop has outplayed Nick Barnett and validated himself as a starter. He is the lone Packers linebacker who actually stones guys when he hits them. Bishop is a non-factor as a pass rusher and sometimes lacks aggressiveness, but he has overachieved in pass coverage.
Brandon Chillar was no match for Vikings tight end Vinsanthe Shiancoe, when he was in there. The Packers were actually better off when Bishop was in coverage.
Hawk was everywhere. He led the team in tackles and got a huge interception. The Vikings fullbacks were no match for him — Hawk shed them and got in on tackle after tackle.
Rewind to a two-yard gain over the right side by Peterson in the fourth. Hawk met the fullback in the hole, tossed him aside, and stuffed Peterson.
Yes, Hawk continues to take bad angles at times, including the big screen play to Peterson at the end of the game that was mostly his responsibility. He also rarely stones running backs, meaning they usually get another yard or two after contact. On the big screen to Toby Gerhardt on third and 7 during the final Vikings’ drive, Hawk streaked between three blockers to put a hit on Gerhardt, but Gerhardt dove forward after contact and came within a foot of the first down. If Hawk gets him to the turf within a yard of contact, it’s fourth-and-3, the Vikings punt and their final drive likely never happens.
Still, Packers fans should be damn thankful this guy is healthy and shows up to play every Sunday.
The Packers’ defensive backfield was good enough against a pretty good passing offense and a quarterback who had plenty of time to throw, most of the game.
The Packers did the smart thing by matching up Tramon Williams with Randy Moss. Tramon gave up a couple of plays, but Moss was mostly neutralized. Pretty good for an undrafted free agent against a receiver that makes $8 million a year.
This guy might be the best find of Ted Thompson’s career.
Nick Collins was all over the place and is just an all around playmaker. His bugaboo this season has been dropped interceptions, and that continued in the first quarter, when he jumped a square in by Greg Lewis, but dropped the ball.
He made up for it with a spectacular diving interception in the fourth quarter, stopping the Vikings’ penultimate drive.
Charlie Peprah played his best game of the year. He was solid in both facets, and the only mistake I saw was on Shiancoe’s near touchdown. Peprah had the middle of the field on that play and he shaded to Moss instead.
The worst game by a defensive back was probably put in by Charles Woodson.
He fell down on the simple screen to Harvin that ended up getting to the one, and he was burned one-on-one by Harvin for the biggest pass play in the game right after Bishop’s interception put the Packers ahead.
All of Woodson’s time near the line of scrimmage and in the slot perhaps has affected his out-wide cover skills. He ran stride for stride with Harvin across the field, contrary to announcer Cris Collinsworth’s assertion.
The play was lost at the line of scrimmage. Mysteriously, Woodson took outside position, when a third and 1 would suggest a slant as the most likely pattern. That pattern is the toughest to cover from an off position.
If Woodson takes an inside position, then Harvin has to run over the top, a very difficult pass to complete against an athlete of his caliber. Woodson also appeared flummoxed by a very simple cross on the Moss touchdown. If he and Williams simply switch and Woodson takes the inside guy, he probably picks that pass off and goes the other way with it. Instead, he rubbed Williams out of the play and gave Moss an easy touchdown.
Woodson continued to make plays against the run, but his blitzes have also failed to net anything for the Packers in recent weeks. Capers has to find more inventive ways of blitzing Woodson or stop doing it.
We may be rapidly approaching the time when Woodson should be switched to safety, which is nearly the position he is playing now anyway. Amazingly, two undrafted free agents in Williams and Sam Shields might end up as the Packers’ corners in the near future.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.