In a rematch with the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers had one of the least stressful playoff games in recent memory, easily dispatching their bitter rival.
9:30, 1st quarter — The Vikings continue their tendency toward fast starts with a 10-play, 53-yard drive that nets a field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The drive was helped by another solid return by Marcus Sherels, a guy the Packers struggled with last week, who took the opening kickoff 37 yards to the Vikings’ 32. From there, the Vikings would run eight straight times for their 53 yards.
On 3rd-and-3 from the 39, Joe Webb runs the read option for the first time. The Packers should have it stuffed with Brad Jones doing a good job of shedding his block and getting into the backfield with Morgan Burnett. However, both defenders take the outside shoulder and Webb loses both of them by running straight up the middle. He then breaks a tackle and gets outside for a 17-yard gain.
Adrian Peterson would follow that with three runs for 26 yards — two to the right and one up the middle. The Packers are already doing a good job of staying in their gaps, but they might be a little tentative to start and seem willing to concede some yards to avoid the big run.
On 2nd-and-5 from the Packers’ 13, the Packers provided their answer for the read option by lining Charles Woodson up at the line of scrimmage. The Vikings try to run the read option for the third time, but this time Woodson tackles Peterson in the backfield for a 2-yard loss.
Forced to throw on a 3rd-and-7, Webb wants to run up the middle, but finds Dezman Moses waiting for him. He throws it away instead. Blair Walsh comes on and hooks his 33-yard kick, but still makes it.
8:20, 1st quarter — The Packers get a decent return themselves with Jeremy Ross advancing the ball to the Packers’ 29, but they go three and out to mimic last week.
The Packers start with what has become one of their staples — the wide receiver screen. It is well blocked and Randall Cobb picks up 7 yards on what would amazingly be his only catch of the game. After DuJuan Harris picked up 2, the Packers decide to pass from the shotgun on a short 3rd and 1. After considering running for it himself, Aaron Rodgers dumps the ball to Harris who drops it.
6:21, 1st quarter — Joe Webb burns Erik Walden on a keeper for 11 yards and Packers fans go, “Here we go again.” But that was essentially the end of that.
On 3rd-and-2, three plays later, the Vikings try the keeper again and this time Walden corrals Webb, who throws a crazy pass straight up in the air that, miraculously, no one intercepts. Punt.
0:33, 1st quarter — The Packers offense drives for a touchdown on its second possession, going 82 yards in 11 plays to make the score 7-3. On the only 3rd down of the drive, the Vikings’ Kevin Williams lined up offsides and handed the Packers a 1st down. From there, passes to the running backs would be the key with the Vikings sitting in their 2-deep cover scheme and dropping their middle linebacker to the deep middle.
A designed swing pass to Harris went for 16 yards and then a check down to Harris went for 12. From the Vikings’ 25, a screen to Ryan Grant went for 16 yards after Antoine Winfield dove at his feet and missed. On the very next play, Harris saw Jermichael Finley blocking down on the backside and cut back to the middle of the field, bursting through to the goal line, where a great effort got the ball across the plane.
3:30, 2nd quarter — After punts by both teams, the Packers drive to the Vikings’ 1, only to come away with a short field goal that makes it 10-3.
On 2nd-and-6 from the Packers’ 41, a keep pass play to the right actually worked for once, with Rodgers flipping it ahead to Tom Crabtree, who hurdled a guy and got 10 yards. On the next play, Rodgers bought more time in the pocket and then found a wide open James Jones for 20 yards on the right sideline. The Packers would be faced with a 4th-and-5 from Vikings’ 34, wisely pass on a 52-yard field goal against the wind and Rodgers would find Greg Jennings on a comeback route at the sticks. Jennings jukes Chris Cook and goes up the sideline for 32 yards.
On 1st-and-goal from the 2, the Packers try John Kuhn behind Josh Sitton on a draw from the shotgun. Kuhn has a shot inside of Sitton, but he tries to go to the outside of Don Barclay and runs right into Brian Robison for 1 yard. On 2nd down, the Packers go play action with Kuhn streaking to the flat. Harrison Smith has him covered, but Rodgers can either run to his left or just wait another second for Crabtree to clear in the middle of the end zone. Instead, Rodgers sees Chad Greenway with his back turned and tries for Finley. Finley dives for it, but the ball goes off his hands on a tough chance.
On 3rd-and-goal, the Packers line up with all bigs, which takes all their playmakers off the field. They try the inside handoff to Kuhn and it gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Most battles are lost before they are fought and that would be the case here. Vikings defensive tackle Fred Evans lined up between T.J. Lang and Evan Dietrich-Smith and slanted hard left at the snap. Lang’s only chance to stop Evans would have been to cut him. He doesn’t and Evans stops Kuhn for no gain.
2:35, 2nd quarter — On 3rd-and-4 from the Vikings’ 18, on their next possession, B.J. Raji rumbled through the middle and chased Webb right into the arms of a suddenly omnipresent Erik Walden.
0:38, 2nd quarter — The Packers run the two-minute drill to perfection, as three passes quickly move them to the 3-yard line.
On 1st down from the Packers’ 38, Rodgers hits the 2-deep killer — the deep in for 22 yards to Jordy Nelson. On the next play, Rodgers finds Greg Jennings on the left side for 14 more. After that, the Packers go with the keep pass to the right once again. Rodgers throws a tremendous sideline pass to Nelson for 23 yards, down to the 3-yard line.
Two plays later, the draw to Kuhn from the shotgun works and he walks in to give the Packers a 17-3 lead at half. On that play, Lang pulled to the right and handled Kevin Williams. Barclay blocked up Greenway, leaving Robison unblocked on the end. Robison held the outside, but was too flat-footed to stop Kuhn when he cut up the middle.
9:30, 3rd quarter — The Packers offense may not start games well, but it has started the second half well, especially down the stretch this season. They go 80 yards in 12 plays to run the lead to 24-3 and essentially end the game.
The Packers faced a 3rd-and-2 right away, from their 28. Rodgers found James Jones, who ran a slant from the slot for a quick 9-yard gain.
Three plays later it was 3rd-and-4 from the Packers’ 43. Rodgers hit the deep in again, this time to Jones for 19 yards. Two plays later Rodgers finds Harris on the check down again and he bursts up the middle of the field for 14 yards, down to the Vikings’ 20.
The Packers would pretty much stall there, with Harrison Smith knocking down a pass to Finley on 3rd down. However, apparently 16 games wasn’t enough for the Vikings to figure out who is supposed to be on the field on field goals. A 12-men on the field penalty would give the Packers another down and that is all they would need. Rodgers rolls slightly to his right and somehow finds Kuhn in the middle of the field. Kuhn spins off a hit at the goal line and scores.
Unfortunately, this would conclude the offense’s participation in this game.
4:06, 3rd quarter — The Vikings basically do the Packers’ job for them by holding onto the ball for nearly five and a half minutes while getting nothing.
On 4th-and-3 from the Packers’ 38, Clay Matthews flies around the outside, dislodges the ball from Webb with his left hip and then falls on the ball.
0:15, 3rd quarter — The Packers go three and out thanks to an 8-yard loss on 2nd down by Harris when Evans got by Lang again and met Harris in the backfield.
The Vikings would then run out the remainder of the quarter, advancing into Packers territory again only to have Webb throw an interception to Sam Shields down the left sideline.
The Packers would follow this interception with a three and out, a recovery of a muff by Sherels on the ensuing punt, and then another three and out, eventually giving the ball back to the Vikings at their own 9.
Of course, the Vikings would go nowhere with that and on 4th-and-2 call a timeout only to decide to punt anyway. Someone explain that one to me.
The Packers would post their fourth three and out in a row and again rely on the Vikings themselves to run the clock down. The Vikings would advance to the Packers’ 43 only to face a 4th-and-4. Webb tried Jerome Simpson on the out, but apparently this game ranks as important to Tramon Williams and he knocks it down.
3:45, 4th quarter — After the Packers rung up their fifth three and out in a row, going run-run-sack, the Vikings manage a meaningless score with a 50-yard TD pass to conclude the scoring at 24-10.
It is really simple on the TD. Michael Jenkins lined up wide right with Kyle Rudolph in the slot. Tramon Williams has the outside coverage on Jenkins, as one would expect. Woodson comes up to apparently cover the slot. When Jenkins simply runs deep, Williams sits in the short zone to cover Rudolph on the out. Unfortunately, Woodson also sits in the short zone, which leaves no one covering Jenkins. Either Williams is supposed to be in man-to-man or Woodson is supposed to drop off into the deep zone. Personally, I would bet on Woodson blowing the coverage since everyone else on the field appears to be in zone.
On 3rd-and-5 for the Packers after the score, the receivers finally run some reasonable routes and Rodgers hits Nelson on an out for 6 yards. That allows the Packers to run all but the final 30 seconds off the clock.
The Packers showed up and took care of business on Saturday. It likely made things easier that Christian Ponder decided to one up Jay Cutler and sit down before the game even started. But whatever, the Packers had no control over that. They still had to stop Adrian Peterson and they did that.
As expected, Charles Woodson helped the run defense and provided a little pressure on the QB. Perhaps more importantly, recent no shows Erik Walden and Tramon Williams showed up to play. Walden had arguably his best performance of the season and a viable pass rusher and run stopper on the other side from Clay Matthews changes the entire outlook for the defense. Because of a weekend in jail, Walden missed playing against his old team in the first game of the season. Let’s hope he’s got something for them this time around.
The Packers offense was far from stellar in the run game, but that was mostly thanks to just one guy — T.J. Lang. He was abused by Fred Evans all game. That doesn’t exactly bode well for his likely matchup with Justin Smith next week.
On the plus side, the Packers offense has made some adjustments against the 2-deep scheme they will likely see a lot of from San Francisco. Ever since Greg Jennings came back, Rodgers has thrown the deep in with more regularity. Plus, the checkdown to Harris is another weapon that’s been added, which is especially dangerous against those defenses that like to drop their linebackers to cover the middle of the field.
The Packers defense needs to play just as well or better against the 49ers. However, I put the brunt of this upcoming game on the offense. The Packers offense needs to execute against one of the better defenses in the game and put the pressure on Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense to keep up. If it goes the other way, then the game could end up resembling the Giants’ game last year.