The Minnesota Vikings decided to show up at Lambeau Field on Thursday night — poor decision on their part.
9:40, 1st Quarter – On the Packers’ second drive, Eddie Lacy got rolling for the first time all season and the Packers finally started a game with a lead.
Allegedly, the Packers won the coin toss and elected to receive, perhaps hoping to get an offense that rolled against Chicago going early. Instead, the Packers started as they have in most games this year — poorly.
The Packers offense opened with their three receiver set and Andrew Quarless on the field. Aaron Rodgers tried a quick out to Randall Cobb on first down and threw it out of bounds. On second down, the Packers put Quarless in the backfield with Eddie Lacy and ran a lead left. Lacy banged his way for 5 yards, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes became the first Viking to get run over by Lacy. On 3rd and 5, the Packers split Quarless out wide to make a four receiver set. Rodgers had a good shot at the first down if he delivered quickly to Jordy Nelson or Cobb. Instead, Rodgers dumped it to Lacy and the Vikings defense did well to close quickly and tackle Lacy short of the first. Punt.
The Packers defense started in their 3-4 base with Datone Jones, Letroy Guion and Mike Daniels as the line. Jones beat Phil Loadholt and forced a holding penalty on the Vikings’ second play. There is no way that the Vikings offense under Christian Ponder can recover from that and it is a three and out.
After the punt, the Packers got to start at their 39-yard line. On first down, Lacy got a simple zone right. He saw Josh Sitton cut the backside pursuit to the ground while Corey Linsley had Vikings linebacker Gerald Hodges walled off. Lacy cut between them and rumbled straight upfield for 18 yards. On the very next play, Lacy was alone in the backfield and took a simple zone left for 29 yards. Lacy didn’t hesitate this time and ripped through the gap between David Bakhtiari and Sitton while T.J. Lang slowed down linebacker Anthony Barr. Lacy trucked safety Robert Blanton and got another 10 yards after that contact.
Two plays later, from the Vikings’ 8, Randall Cobb beat corner Captain Munnerlyn on an out at the back of the end zone, and Rodgers found him for the touchdown.
5:20, 1st Quarter – The Packers covered 81 yards in four plays this time to go ahead 14-0.
The Vikings would manage one first down when Matt Asiata took a draw play for 5 yards on 3rd and 4. However, on 3rd and 3 from their 39, Ponder tried Jarius Wright on the short crossing route. Morgan Burnett recognized the route and closed ground quickly, coming all the way across the field. Burnett hit Wright just as he tried to turn upfield and buried him short of the first down. That is a great play by Burnett and the kind of play that Nick Collins used to make.
The ensuing punt forced the Packers to start at their own 21. A dump to Quarless for 10 yards and then a short run by James Starks around the right end advanced the ball to the Green Bay 34. On 2nd and 7 from there, the Packers went play pass with a fake to Starks. Rodgers had plenty of time after he stepped to his left. Jordy Nelson faked a corner route and ran the deep post, badly beating safety Harrison Smith. Rodgers hit him in stride and it resulted in a 66-yard touchdown.
After that big play, the Packers offense seemed to shift into idle for the remainder of the half. The Vikings went backwards and punted from their 7 after Nick Perry got the first Packers’ sack of the game. Receiving the ball at midfield, the Packers had a near identical possession.
The great field position gave Mike McCarthy the luxury of making an aggressive play call and he did. The Packers lined up with Eddie Lacy behind both tight ends in the inverted wishbone. Rodgers play-faked to Lacy and again had time to take a shot downfield. Nelson had Xavier Rhodes beat on the double move and was open down the sideline. Rodgers just flat underthrew it and Rhodes got a gift when the ball deflected off the back of his outstretched left hand.
After Lacy only got a yard on the infamous 2nd and 10 run, it was 3rd and 9 from the 50. The Vikings lined up with seven guys on the line of scrimmage, including safety Harrison Smith. The Packers only had six to block, but Rodgers apparently was content with leaving Smith unblocked rather than bringing Quarless into the backfield. Rodgers tried to spin away from Smith and succeeded, but Smith slowed him down long enough for both defensive ends to get after Rodgers. Rodgers dodged one but not the other and Sharrif Floyd got the sack. Punt.
After the Vikings got one first down and then punted again, the Packers followed with another three and out. Facing 3rd and 1 at the Packers’ 42, James Starks got a zone right play. Randall Cobb lined up in the near slot and blocked down on the outside linebacker. His man, Munnerlyn, simply went unblocked into the backfield and tackled Starks short of the first down. Bryan Bulaga came off the snap and immediately tried to hook the same outside linebacker. So, obviously the Packers didn’t need to double one guy while not blocking Munnerlyn at all. Now punt again.
A three and out for each team would follow to complete what Aaron Rodgers would afterwards politely call a “stagnant” period for the offense.
7:00, 2nd Quarter – Julius Peppers returned an interception for a score to make it 21-0.
Somehow, Ponder managed to convert a 3rd and 12 with a dump in the flat to tight end Chase Ford. On the following play, Ponder ran a play fake looking for Cordarrelle Patterson on the deep out. Ponder initially had time, but last second practice squad call up Luther Robinson pushed through and got pressure right up the middle as Ponder released the ball. The pass slightly deflected off Robinson’s forearm and wobbled right into the arms of Julius Peppers, who had made a rare drop into coverage. Peppers motored across the field with running back Jerick McKinnon trailing him. As Peppers turned up the sideline, McKinnon still hadn’t made up any ground, but Jamari Lattimore took him out to make sure he wouldn’t get the chance. Peppers picked up a block from Clay Matthews and went untouched to the end zone.
We then had Julius Peppers of all people doing a Lambeau Leap. What can you say? Life is like a box of chocolates.
4:50, 2nd Quarter – Davante Adams joined the party with an 11-yard TD catch, and things are beginning to get ugly at 28-0.
Two plays after throwing his first pick of the game, Ponder decided to throw his second. He was looking for McKinnon on a circle route all the way. Lattimore tracked McKinnon and baited the throw. Ponder threw behind McKinnon and right into the hands of Lattimore, who headed upfield on the trail that Peppers just blazed. Ponder made a nice play to cut Lattimore down at the Vikings’ 20.
The Packers scored three plays later. On 2nd and 10, the Vikings blitzed Harrison Smith again and Rodgers hit Quarless immediately for a 9-yard gain. On 3rd and 1, the Packers ran Quarless quickly into the flat. When Smith jumped the route, Rodgers hit Davante Adams in the vacated gap for an easy touchdown. That is Adams first touchdown catch, on a play very reminiscent of James Jones. Fitting because it is Aaron Rodgers’ 200th TD pass and Jones caught the 100th.
The Vikings actually advanced the ball past midfield on their next drive, only to fumble it away. Matt Asiata broke off an 11-yard run against an unconcerned Packers nickel defense, but Morgan Burnett flew up and punched the football out of his arms as he was falling to the ground. Casey Hayward recovered at the Packers’ 34.
10:35, 3rd Quarter – If it hadn’t already been done, the Packers put the game away with their first drive of the second half. Eddie Lacy finished the 70-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to make the score 35-0.
The Vikings started the second half with the ball. They went three and out.
The Packers started their first drive of the second half at their own 30. On 2nd and 7, Rodgers threw a pass we haven’t seen in a while and hit Randall Cobb streaking across the middle for 20 yards. Lacy would then take two carries over the right side for 19 yards. A couple plays later, Nelson drew a pass interference call on corner Josh Robinson that was good for 24 yards. On the very next play, Lacy took a zone left run, bounced off a hit by the left defensive end, Everson Griffen, reversed field, broke the tackle attempt of the other end, Brian Robison, picked up a couple late blocks by Quarless and Nelson and dove into the end zone.
Not only do you have to love a running back that signs the cross immediately after scoring a touchdown, but Lacy deliberately approached the wall for his Lambeau Leap until seeing a lady holding her arms wide, inviting him up. Lacy made a bee-line and jumped right into her arms. Haha… Nice.
3:45, 3rd Quarter – The Packers’ second drive of the second half ended the same as the first as Lacy scored from 10 yards out to run up the score to 42-0.
Again, the Vikings managed one first down on their next drive. On 3rd and 7 from the Vikings’ 37, Mike Daniels got instant pressure and Ponder threw it behind Greg Jennings, who dropped it. Punt.
Even punter Jeff Locke, pretty much Vikings MVP at this point, joined the crapfest with a 33-yard punt. To compound matters, Viking receiver and special teamer Adam Thielen was flagged 15 yards, possibly for being both a Viking and attending Minnesota State, which I believe is a flag for sucking.
That enabled the Packers to start from the 48-yard line. Three plays later it was 3rd and 10 from there. Without much of a look downfield, Rodgers flipped it to Lacy out of the backfield. Lacy spun away from Hodges and rumbled straight up the middle of the field. The Vikings didn’t look too excited about tackling him and Lacy got 21 yards before finally going down.
Lacy took himself out after the catch and run. James Starks entered the game and found a seam between Quarless and Sitton to gain 17 yards. Two plays later, Lacy was back in and took a lead right, with John Kuhn leading the play. Even though Quarless was one-on-one with defensive end Brian Robison, he properly sealed him off to the outside. T.J. Lang, Corey Linsley and Josh Sitton all managed to delay the inside pursuit enough that Lacy was able to hit a seam inside of Quarless. Lacy took a full head of steam straight into Robert Blanton, whose helmet went flying, with Blanton lucky that his head wasn’t inside of it at the time. Lacy bulled Blanton into the end zone for his second score in two possessions.
That makes the score a ridiculous 42-0, which it remained until the first play of the fourth quarter.
Apparently a 42-point deficit was all Ponder needed to finally start moving the offense. With the Packers sitting in nickel and dime throughout, the Vikings moved the ball downfield with a mix of runs and Ponder passes underneath the coverage. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ponder scrambled in from 6 yards out to save the Vikings from the embarrassment of a shutout, which would be pretty much the only thing they would be saved from.
Matt Flynn entered the game at that point. After two Starks’ runs gave Flynn a manageable 3rd and 4, Flynn rolled out of the pocket and looking for Richard Rodgers coming across the field late, Flynn threw the ball right to Harrison Smith. Smith was being blocked, illegally, by Starks and picked a bad time to disengage.
The Vikings would make the 6-yard line, but go backwards from there with Micah Hyde and Peppers dropping McKinnon for a 4-yard loss, followed by a Guion sack for another 6 yards. After a dump to McKinnon got the Vikings halfway there, they oddly decided to kick a meaningless field goal. Alrighty then. If that makes you feel better about yourselves, then whatever.
Matt Flynn would then manage to do what he does by completing short passes to move the chains, with both third down passes going to Jeff Janis. The Packers would manage to mercifully take nearly six minutes off the clock before finally giving the ball back to the Vikings for their last hurrah.
Ponder would take up the remainder of the game in driving the Vikings to the Packers’ 8-yard line. Once there, Dom Capers decided to get aggressive again and called three straight blitzes. The final one, on 4th and goal, saw Ha Ha Clinton-Dix bury Ponder as he desperately lofted the ball to no one. Game over.
It is difficult to take too much from this game, since the presence of Christian Ponder and the slow Vikings’ start pretty much settled this game early. I had the feeling that the Packers would have the chance to get their running game going in this one and they did. Eddie Lacy was more decisive in his running, but he also had slightly bigger lanes to get through. The offensive line did a better job of spacing the defense out and creating cutbacks on the backside.
Strangely, Lacy had nearly all his success on just three drives and was ineffective in the others. The Packers and Lacy will take it however they can get it.
Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense was barely mediocre. However, by the middle of the second quarter it was pretty obvious that the Packers were going to win the game barring something really stupid. Basically, all the offense had to do was not screw up and Rodgers made sure that they didn’t do that. Plus, the offense did score on its first two possessions of the second half, which should go a long way towards forgetting the stagnation of the second quarter.
Besides getting the running game going a little, the other obvious positive takeaway from this game was the Packers’ pass rush. The Vikings had been pretty good at protecting their quarterback until this game. The Packers sacked Ponder six times and hurried and hit him many more. And most of the pressure did NOT come from Clay Matthews. The Packers have literally a multitude of guys that can get to the quarterback.
Here are some other quick points that I want to highlight from this game.
The established opinion among Packers fans is that Morgan Burnett was not worth the money that he was signed for. Well, he was on Thursday. That was Burnett’s best game in a long time and with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a physical presence next to him, Burnett could be turning into the player that the Packers have been hoping for.
Casey Hayward took back his spot in the nickel slot and he had his best game of the season. When you combine these corners, these safeties and the pass rush, you have a very strong pass defense. The Packers finished week 5 at No. 6 in the NFL in passing yards allowed and they rank second in lowest passer rating against. I believe the Packers will remain vulnerable against the run, but the pass defense has a chance to be something special.
Andrew Quarless also clearly has his spot back as the starting tight end and this game should only cement that. Quarless blocked well in this game and he threw key blocks in both of Lacy’s touchdown runs and the 17-yard carry by James Starks. The improvement in tight end blocking was part of the reason why the Packers finally found success on the ground.
Nick Perry had two sacks and only missed out on a third because Ponder dumped the ball to his running back as Perry was taking him to the ground late in the game. Amazingly, the Vikings actually chose to double team Perry several times in the game. It sure would be nice if this guy could stay healthy. Just when Mike Neal looked like a blossoming defensive end, he has tapered off and Perry has stepped forward. That’s fine. These guys can take turns just as long as someone is getting to the quarterback.
Corey Linsley is the Packers’ center as long as he stays healthy. He faced off with Linval Joseph in this one and could you tell that Joseph was even playing? On a 9-yard run over the right side by Lacy in the third quarter, Linsley drove Joseph 7 yards downfield and then buried him. Truth.
One week after I praised him, David Bakhtiari was one of the few Packers to have an off game. He was easily the Packers worst run blocker and had a hard time handling both Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd, both of whom got sacks against him. True, both sacks came when Rodgers was scrambling away from other pressure, but still, probably a C- performance from Bakhtiari.
The Packers get 10 days rest and then a very interesting match up against the Dolphins. If they can get a win on the road, then they will have matched their six game record from last season. If you look at the remainder of the schedule, that would put the Packers in a very good spot.