The Green Bay Packers ground out a win that they had to have and in doing so, they put themselves in first place in the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings won the toss and elected to kick off, which is dubious considering the Packers offense had a streak of five straight games with points on their opening possession. However, this would be another of several questionable decisions by Mike Zimmer that would ultimately work out.
The Packers offense started out with no tight ends and John Kuhn in the backfield with Eddie Lacy. On first down, Aaron Rodgers dumped to Kuhn and it picked up an easy 9 yards. After Lacy picked up the first, the Packers ended up with 3rd and 5. With good protection, Rodgers stepped forward in the pocket and then fired for Davante Adams, seeing something that wasn’t there. It isn’t even close to a completion and the Packers had to punt.
The Vikings started at their own 21. The Packers defense opened in their base with Mike Neal on the outside and Clay Matthews on the inside. On their first play of the game, the Vikings criss cross their tight ends in front of A.J. Hawk. Hawk bit too hard on Rhett Ellison crossing to his left and therefore was caught completely out of position by Kyle Rudolph crossing in the opposite direction. Rudolph limped for 23 yards. The Vikings faced 3rd and 7 three plays later and Teddy Bridgewater overthrew Charles Johnson.
Yeah, that’s right. The same Charles Johnson who the Packers drafted in the seventh round, cut and put on their practice squad, only to be signed away by the Cleveland Browns, who then found out Johnson had a bum knee. What Johnson is doing on the Vikings, I have no idea, and what he is doing STARTING for the Vikings remains an even greater mystery to me.
On the Packers’ second drive, Lacy picked up a couple first downs to move the ball near midfield. However, on a 3rd and 1 from there, Rodgers decided to go to Jordy Nelson on the comeback. Vikings’ corner Xavier Rhodes was actually going for a piggyback ride on Nelson’s back. Though the Packers’ sideline went ballistic, there was no call and a punt was forthcoming.
The Vikings picked up one first down on their next drive with a quick pass to the tight end, Chase Ford, on A.J. Hawk’s side for an easy 13 yards. Clay Matthews was sitting this series out while Sam Barrington played inside with Hawk. The Vikings went three and out from there. Morgan Burnett blitzed on second down and Bridgewater was called for throwing the ball away, bringing up an insurmountable 3rd and 22. Punt.
1:35, 1st Quarter – The Packers finally get a scoring drive and go up 7-0.
The Packers got to start at their 46-yard line thanks to a decent return by Micah Hyde. It appeared that the Packers still might not go anywhere as they quickly faced a 3rd and 10 from there. Fortunately, Rodgers picked that play to throw his best pass of the game. Randall Cobb ran the seam out of the slot against the familiar cover-2, and against decent coverage, Rodgers hit Cobb in stride for a 29-yard gain. Two plays later, Andrew Quarless caught a short out, discarded a tackling attempt and ran upfield for 16 yards, down to the Vikings’ 7.
On the next play, Jordy Nelson was held by Harrison Smith in the back of the end zone, giving the Packers the ball at the 1. It was Eddie Lacy over the top from there. Watch out below! Touchdown.
11:10, 2nd Quarter – The Packers do their best to impersonate last year’s defense by giving up a score immediately following a score of their own.
The Vikings went on a 74 yard, 15-play marathon drive that featured runs by guys I’ve never heard of before, catches by Packers practice squad players, penalties, and two fourth down conversions.
The Vikings didn’t complete a pass in moving from their own 26 to the Green Bay 44. They faced 3rd and 10 from there. It ends up being the same play we’ve seen a couple times now and will continue to see throughout the game. The Packers rush four and Mike Neal and Julius Peppers both ran around the outside, leaving lanes up the middle for Bridgewater to take off. He gains 5, which is short of the first down, but certainly enough for the Vikings to consider going for it. The Vikings were called for an illegal shift on the play, which would have made it 3rd and 15 except Mike McCarthy chose to decline it and take the fourth down.
It was no surprise here that the Vikings went for it. Bridgewater tried for Cordarrelle Patterson on the corner route, and it was intercepted by Burnett. Wrong. The refs called Hyde for grabbing Patterson and the Vikings got a fourth down conversion via penalty. After another easy dump in the middle of the field to Greg Jennings got 9 yards, the Vikings faced 4th and 1 from the Packers’ 22. With how their defense has been playing, kicking the easy field goal and getting on the scoreboard would make sense. Not for Mike Zimmer, he ran Jerick McKinnon over right guard, which picked up three yards when A.J. Hawk decided to fill the same gap as Josh Boyd.
The Vikings scored rather easily on the next play when Charles Effin Johnson ran a simple go route on Tramon Williams, and Tramon appears to have better things to do. It was a lob pass that Johnson merely jogged under for the touchdown.
Ah… okay. I am trying to think of a more bizarre event than Charles Johnson scoring a touchdown against the Packers… and coming up empty. I am surprised the Vikings didn’t unveil Alex Green and have him pound it down their throats. It would have been no less shocking.
5:30, 2nd Quarter – The Packers score again to go up 14-7.
The Packers got to midfield and then punted on their next drive. On 3rd and 9, David Bakhtiari was called for holding Everson Griffin right after Jordy Nelson was ruled out of bounds on a 40-yard pass up the sideline. Nelson looked inbounds to me, but the questionable holding call made it a moot point. That may be holding, but if it is, it sure as hell isn’t called every game. I’ve seen Bakhtiari push guys past Rodgers like that all season. The one positive about this referee crew is that they at least called it that way for both sides, as the Vikings were hit with a couple too.
Teddy Bridgewater responded with another floater on third down that was picked by Micah Hyde. That gave the Packers the ball at their 47. After Lacy took it across midfield on his best run of the game, which was shortened by a holding call on Nelson, Rodgers found Cobb on a quick screen for 12 more. On the next play, Quarless faked the square in and ran the corner. He was wide open and Rodgers found him. He shook off another tackle and dove to the 1-yard line.
Defying the logic of simply running Lacy straight ahead, Rodgers rolled to his right where the Vikings have the end zone flooded. At the last possible second, Rodgers saw Richard Rodgers clear on the other side of the field and threw it up for him before getting hit. I could have smoked a full cigarette in the time that ball was in the air. It finally came down in Rodgers’ hands for the touchdown.
The Vikings ran off the final five minutes of the half in driving for a field goal to make the halftime score 14-10. Frankly, the Packers don’t seem that concerned with playing defense. They seem to think it is inevitable that the Vikings will screw up and hand the ball over. It almost happens when on only the second third down of the drive, a 3rd and 8 from the Packers’ 21, Bridgewater throws too high again and right off the hands of Tramon Williams. The field goal followed.
6:45, 3rd Quarter – The Vikings got a 51-yard field goal to narrow the lead for the Packers to 14-13.
The Vikings went nowhere on their first drive of the second half. Mason Crosby, who obviously is no Blair Walsh, having tried nearly everything else, tried a pooch kick to start the half. The Vikings were ready for it, fielded it with an up-back, and returned it to their 39. If it seemed like the Vikings were starting every drive from their 40, it’s because they nearly did.
On 3rd and 4, Mike Daniels made his one play of the game and managed to push a backpedaling Bridgewater to the ground for the sack. The Vikings punted.
The Packers followed with a nine-play drive that netted 8 yards. That was mostly thanks to a holding call on David Bakhtiari followed by an illegal block by Davante Adams that wiped out a screen to Lacy that went for 24 yards. Regardless, the drive ended the same as every other Packers’ drive to start the second half has ended as of late — with a punt.
To cap the poor start for the Packers, Demetri Goodson lost track of the ball and hit the Vikings’ punt returnman before the punt arrived. That’s a 15-yard penalty, which enabled the Vikings to start at the 50.
The Vikings immediately faced 3rd and 2 from the Green Bay 42. They went with a sweep around the right end. Julius Peppers allowed himself to be single blocked by tight end Kyle Rudolph while the right tackle, Phil Loadholt, pulled right and blocked Clay Matthews. That gives the corner to some guy named Joe Banyard, who gets 8 yards.
On the following 3rd and 9 from the Packers’ 33, Charles Johnson badly burned Sam Shields on a simple deep out. Fortunately for the Packers, Johnson remembered who he was and dropped the ball on the sideline. Blair Walsh entered the game and kicked a 51-yard field goal like it was an extra point.
2:50, 3rd Quarter – With their lead narrowed to a single point, the Packers did what they had to and drove for a score.
The biggest play of the 50-yard drive was the second. On that play, Rodgers threw a curl route to Jordy Nelson, who broke a tackle and picked up 14 yards. On the same play, Vikings’ nose tackle Linval Joseph hit Rodgers late, which tacked on another 15 yards. The Packers then picked up one more first down by converting a 3rd and 6 with a 13-yard pass to Cobb in the middle of the field.
On the 3rd and 11 that followed, the Packers were only on the edge of field goal range, and thus it was a prudent call to throw Nelson a screen. He only got six, but that made the field goal much easier for Crosby. He put it through, and the Packers were out in front 17-13.
8:40, 4th Quarter – The Packers appeared in good shape after they scored a touchdown to go up by 11.
The Vikings followed the Packers’ field goal with a punt. It appeared they might be on the move again when McKinnon got two carries for 16 yards to start the drive. However, on 2nd and 4, Hyde blitzed from the slot and took Bridgewater down for a 7-yard loss. Bridgewater scrambled on 3rd and 11, of course, but Brad Jones shut him down after only a 4-yard gain. Punt.
The Packers started from their 13 and went 87 yards in 11 plays. Facing 3rd and 1 from their 29, Rodgers fired a missile to Nelson on the slant that picked up 11 yards. On 3rd and 6 from the 44, Rodgers pulled a Bridgewater and scrambled out of the pocket and up the left sideline for 18 yards, the biggest play of the drive. After Rodgers found Nelson for 8 more, Lacy popped a seam between Bryan Bulaga and the pulling Josh Sitton and rumbled into the second level for 15 yards. Two plays later, Rodgers tossed a shuttle pass to Lacy, who picked up a block and then spun his way into the end zone. The touchdown gave the Packers a seemingly comfortable 24-13 lead.
In this game, all three times the Packers scored a touchdown, the Vikings answered with a scoring drive of their own. The Packers defense here resembled a unit guarding the four-minute offense, when there was actually over eight minutes left in the game. The Vikings used short passes in front of the zone and Bridgewater scrambles to advance to ball into Packers’ territory without ever facing a third down.
The one real good chance the Packers had to get a stop came after Matt Kalil, the Vikings’ embattled left tackle, was called for holding on second down, making it 2nd and 20. However, Rudolph merely ran a deep out from the slot on the next play and picked up 16 yards when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was late getting over. On the following 3rd and 4, Mike Neal jumped offsides and gifted the Vikings with a first down, which is one of my favorite plays in football. Well done, sir.
Of course, a central tenet of the bend-but-don’t-break defense is that the closer you get to the end zone, the tougher the defense gets. Wrong. The Vikings scored just three plays after Neal’s penalty. On 2nd and goal from the 5, Greg Jennings ran a drag route from out of the bunch set. Tramon Williams lined up in a position conducive to getting picked and his biggest obstacle may have been the referee. Regardless, Williams couldn’t get through traffic to stay anywhere close to Jennings and it was an easy touchdown.
For the two-point conversion, the Vikings essentially ran the same play with one wrinkle. They brought the tight end, Rhett Ellison, in motion from the left side to join the bunch on the right. When Ellison took position outside of Charles Johnson, Tramon shifted outside to cover him, even though Morgan Burnett followed Ellison across the formation and appeared to think he had Ellison in man. After the snap, both Burnett and Williams jumped Ellison, who ran into the flat and no one covered Johnson, who was then wide open on the drag route. It’s pretty sad when the two most experienced members of your secondary can’t get their assignment straight.
The conversion made the score 24-21. To help matters, Mike Neal finally got a hit in on Bridgewater, late, and the personal foul was marched off on the kickoff. This set up an ideal situation for Mike Zimmer to go with the onside kick, considering the game was going to be over if the Packers got two first downs anyway. I guess Zimmer had more faith in his defense than in his special teams, and the Vikings kicked it into the end zone one last time. In doing so, the penalty on Neal became meaningless.
After Eddie Lacy pushed the pile forward to set up a 3rd and 2, Mike McCarthy made probably his best call of the game. The Packers lined up in their standard three-receiver set, spreading out the defense. Rodgers then gave it to Lacy going straight over Josh Sitton. He easily got 4 yards and a first down.
After Lacy bulled for 5 more yards on the next play, it was 2nd and 5. The Packers ran a stretch play to the right. With both lines moving to the right, Corey Linsley has Joseph locked up. That became the end of the line when Everson Griffen shot between Sitton and Bakhtiari and got into the backfield. However, when Lacy took the handoff and immediately headed downhill, Griffen found himself out of the play. This left Josh Sitton as the swinging gate. He swung down on Joseph and opened a big hole between the rest of the line and Anthony Barr trying to hold the left edge. Lacy barreled through the hole, running right through Barr’s diving attempt to tackle him. He rumbled straight ahead for 10 yards and another first down. Game over.
The Vikings played the defense that everyone was expecting and the defense that they should have played. It successfully slowed the Packers offense down by limiting Nelson and Cobb, who had been torching defenses. The Vikings also tackled well, which further helped stifle the offense. However, the Vikings were not able to pressure Rodgers and they were not able to contain Eddie Lacy. Frankly, if not for a couple penalties, the Packers still probably would have scored over 30 points.
The Packers defense also helped keep the scoring down by playing unaggressive and uninspired ball. They allowed several long drives that helped keep the Packers offense off the field. Dom Capers went to his normal playbook against rookie quarterbacks and basically sat back and waited for Bridgewater to make mistakes. Bridgewater did not make many. Not only was he poised, but he also was helped in that department by the fact that he did not face many 3rd-and-long situations. The defense was willing to surrender short gains on first and second down and for the most part, Bridgewater willingly took them.
The defensive game plan was no doubt also influenced by the fact that Nick Perry was out and Clay Matthews was injured. With Clay active but slowed, the defense could have used a good game from Julius Peppers and this time around he did not deliver. In fact, this looked like one of those off games that he has the reputation of recording.
However, regardless of what the Packers did in their front seven, that does little to excuse the lackluster effort by Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett. These guys have a long track record of not playing zone coverage well and this game was no different. Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at least showed up to work and both made some plays.
Frankly, with the flat effort that the Packers displayed, this was a game that they likely lose if it wasn’t for one guy — Eddie Lacy. In the end, the Vikings cleaned up most of the areas they were embarrassed in at Lambeau Field, but they were not able to handle Lacy any better than the first time around. And that was the difference.
I wouldn’t take too much from this game. Divisional games can lead to odd results. The Packers got a win on the road that they had to have. That is the bottom line. I expect a totally different effort and attitude against the Patriots this weekend.
Good review, Shawn, as you have us accustomed to.
Completely agree that both, offense and defense have to play their best against the Patriots.
Hope you’re right re: effort & attitude this weekend! Thanks for the recap.
GO PACK GO!!!!
Ready for whatever happens against the Patriots because at least you’ll know where the Packers really stand. I’ve (mostly) loved watching them this year but the hype surrounding the Pack in Vegas and Power Rankings is kind of absurd in my opinion.
Agree with most of this except:
1) Not just Lacy showed up, the O-line was great again and Rodgers took what he was given (sans the pass behind Starks that could’ve been a TD but almost ended in a pick-product of the cold, methinks).
2) Hyde was having a terrible start to the game, then he got the pick and played well for the remainder.
3) WTF is a shuttle pass? Is that how Buzz Aldrin made it onto the Apollo 11?
Great read as usual. Not sure why any team blitzes with Lacy in pass protection. Lacy again stones about anyone left free to Rodgers. It is no wonder Starks and Harris get little if any plays.