USA TODAY Sports
It's win or go home time now that the playoffs have begun. To keep their season alive the Packers need to avoid getting in a hole, force the game into Christian Ponder's hands, and clean up some things from last week.
There are two ways a Packer fan can look at the previous games with the Vikings. On one hand there should be some serious concern about how the Vikings match up with the Packers. Both games were close, closer than they should have been, and there is the real possibility that the Vikings sneak out of Lambeau with a win.
On the other hand there should be some real optimism for today’s game. Last week the Vikings were desperate, at home, and gave the Packers their absolute best shot….and won only be a last second field goal. What more can they give now that they are on the road (where the Vikings struggle) and now the ones in the hostile environment?
It’s an interesting mix, mostly because the last team in the division I expected the Packers to be fighting tooth and nail with till the end was the Vikings. The lesson is that in the NFL nothing is that predictable, and you never know when a once in a generation talent will put together a once in a generation season. When those things happen then crazy results ensue and now we deal with the fallout of that with yet another game against the Vikings on Saturday.
The nice thing is that now it’s playoff football. The regular season is done and the true nature of a team is tested. The Packers have fought hard to get here and have displayed a toughness not seen since the last Super Bowl run. To win they are going to need to dig deep and bring the fight to the Vikings one more time.
Let’s breakdown the keys to victory –
1. Take the first punch. This is a slightly different spin than "start fast" which I said last week and just about every analyst is giving again this week. Watching last week’s game I never really panicked about the outcome until the final Vikings’ drive. Why? Because I knew the Packers had the firepower to get back into the game. Not only that, but if the Packers could pull away from the Vikings, the Vikings did not have the firepower to catch back up. This is still true this week….perhaps even more so with the return of Randall Cobb and Charles Woodson.
Thus, the Packers need to be able to take the first punch from the Vikings and not end up in too deep a hole. This is what happened in the first game and the exact opposite of what happened in the second game. In the first game the Vikings started fast, but the Packers took that punch…countered…and then came back to take a slightly lead at the half. After that it was basically over. Meanwhile in Minnesota the Packers dropped down into a deep hole (at one point being down 20-7). The Packers were able to recover but never pull away, which left things to who had the ball last. The lesson is that it’s not so important that the Packers jump to a fast start and put the Vikings down early, but they do need to limit the first strike of the Vikings and avoid giving up too much momentum early in the game.
2. Force the game into Ponder’s hands. Christian Ponder had his best game of the year, and possibly his career, last week. Despite that fact, the best course of action is to force the ball game into Ponder’s hands and then see what happens. There are so many reasons why this is the case but the best and simplest explanation is this….this is a completely foreign game to Ponder. He’s never played in the playoffs and he’s never played in a game this cold before.
Now forcing the game into his hands is easier said than done. The easiest way is to get a TD or two lead. Once the Packers do that they can attack Ponder relentlessly and let the secondary clean up. Another way is to stop the run cold….but I doubt that’s going to happen. So more pressure on Aaron Rodgers and the offense….somehow I think they are up for it.
3. Tackle. Sounds simple but it’s still important. Last week was a downright failure for tackling. The sad thing is that we have to put up with Viking fans talking about terrible the defense is because the two games they watch of the Packers were some of the worst tackling of the year. The Packers’ defense is not as bad as the last week’s game showed….well maybe Erik Walden is, but the rest aren’t that bad. Wrap up and bring dudes down. If they can’t do that then expect more heads to roll on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.
4. Win the turnover battle. Last week the Packers lost the turnover battle and there is no excuse for that. There were opportunities for the defense to get interceptions more than once and they just failed to bring them in. Ponder will force the ball into bad spots and he will make bad decisions, but the defense has to take advantage of that. As for the offense, well Rodgers has to speed up his internal clock and do a better job of getting the ball out of his hands quick.
5. Clean up the pass offense. This is really going to be an expansion on the last blurb. At this point in the season we need to face facts on couple things. 1) The offensive tackles are not as good as they were two years ago and 2) Aaron Rodgers holds the ball WAY too long.
Now as for the first point, Marshall Newhouse continues to be serviceable and Don Barclay continues to hold on. Both are going to face a tough challenge, and frankly Barclay is going to be overmatched. The game planning and execution must reflect this. I know many have laid the blame for this at the feet of McCarthy, I have to disagree though….I blame Rodgers.
Rodgers has a nasty habit of wanting the deep play and so he get sloppy. Now this isn’t sloppy like any other QB, because Rodgers is the best in the business, but the way he holds on to the ball instead of getting it out. Rodgers is normally a very smart QB, but holding on to the ball that long is just poor decision most of the time, especially considering the tackle situation the Packers have right now. Too often we see Rodgers go for the bomb…or worse he holds on to the ball and takes the sack...when a check down is open and waiting for the ball.
It's time to clean that up. Get the ball out fast and trust the receivers to make a play happen. Last week Greg Jennings made the Viking defenders look like a bunch of Keystone Cops on more than one occasion. Any of these receivers can do that, so trust them and get the ball out fast….cause the match ups in the back seven of the Vikings’ defense are much better than those along the front four of the Vikings’ defense.