We hope you enjoyed the final installment of Packers vs. Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. I think we can all agree that the Packers offense did on Sunday night, scoring on all eight of their drives (until kneeling it at the end of the game), converting on 13 of 18 third downs, and scoring the most points ever by a Packers team at the Metrodome.
Rodgers didn't miss a beat without three of his top four pass catching options, consistently putting the young, inexperienced wideouts in position to make plays, while trusting his most reliable target, Jordy Nelson to make most of the important catches. Eddie Lacy and James Starks provided a powerful combination in the run game, and the interior of the offensive line provided a steady push.
The defensive front seven played another solid game, shutting down Adrian Peterson (60 yards on 13 carries), and providing some pressure on Christian Ponder. The most concerning takeaway from Sunday night's game was the lack of intensity by the defense not only at the end of the game, but at the end of the first half. In both cases, the Packers defenders showed a lack of effort, and some blown coverages that let the Vikings creep back into the game. It didn't matter in this game, but it could come back to haunt this team in the coming weeks. You'd think this unit would have learned its lesson after the debacle in Cincinnati, but that doesn't appear to be the case.
Maybe getting the regular starters back in at linebacker will make a difference, or maybe it's just a mental block that the entire unit needs to get over. Either way, it's a bad habit that needs to get corrected while the Packers continue to have a manageable schedule in the next month.
This was another win that proved the Packers can win with the run (36 carries between Lacy and Starks), overcome an early deficit on the road, and the run defense is for real.
Now, on to the grades.
Aaron Rodgers needed to be sharp. He was in a hostile environment, and without two of his starting wide receivers or his playmaking tight end. Rodgers was not only sharp, but damn-near perfect with his accuracy.
His first touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson was just one example of Rodgers "throwing his wide receiver open". The coverage on the play was great, but the throw was even better. Rodgers' second touchdown pass to Nelson was in a similar fashion. Nelson was blanketed by Chad Greenway, but Rodgers was able to zip the ball past Greenway's helmet and into Nelson's gloves. Nelson would take care of the rest, taking the ball 76 yards for the score.
Rodgers finished 24 for 29 for 285 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 130.6. He also added six carries for 31 yards. Take away a couple low passes that Myles White couldn't come up with, and the few "throw away" passes to avoid sacks, and I'm not sure Rodgers threw a bad pass all game.
Running Back: A+
Eddie Lacy carried the ball a career-high 29 times for 94 yards and one touchdown, and added four receptions for 18 yards. Lacy outgained Adrian Peterson on Sunday night (albeit on over twice as many carries). Lacy had cleaner running lanes on Sunday than he has seen in recent weeks, and he was able to use his quick burst and powerful running style to pick up yards after contact.
James Starks added 57 yards and one touchdown on seven carries in his first game-action in over a month. Starks appears to be running with some added intensity now that he realizes his carries will be at a premium with Lacy assuming the feature back role. If Starks can stay healthy (which has been a problem for him over the course of his career), he could form a dominant 1-2 punch in the run game.
Wide Receiver: A
Jordy Nelson bailed out a short-handed wide receiving corps with big play after big play. Nelson recorded seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Most of Nelson's catches were on third-down plays that kept drives alive or ended drives in the Vikings' end zone. Nelson is by far the Rodgers' most trusted weapon in the passing game, and their chemistry and timing is pretty obvious. I'm not sure if there's another QB-WR combination that has perfected the back-shoulder throw and catch the way those two have.
Jarrett Boykin added five receptions for 89 yards, including an impressive third-down conversion in which Boykin had the awareness to catch a low pass from Rodgers, collect himself, and dive for the first down just a few yards forward.
Myles White added five receptions for 35 yards. White looked athletic after the catch, but doesn't appear to have the upper body strength to break arm tackles that could turn five-yard bubble screens into first downs. He's a serviceable fill-in, but I doubt you will see much more of White once James Jones gets back to full health.
Tight Ends: C+
Andrew Quarless caught two passes for 13 yards on Sunday night. Quarless didn't need to be a playmaker in the passing game due to big plays from Jordy Nelson, and the consistent run game of Lacy and Starks. However, it was painfully obvious on the first few Packer drives that Quarless is not as reliable of a run blocker as Finley has been this season.
That might be the biggest loss in Finley's injury. The Packers can work around not having a playmaker at tight end with four wide receiver sets or using a running back as a wideout, but if Quarless can't hold his ground in the run game, the Packers rushing attack will suffer. It would also be nice to see Brandon Bostick or Jake Stoneburner utilized in play-action, but I'm assuming their lack of targets stems from the coaching staff not feeling comfortable with them to do so.
Offensive Line: B+
Jared Allen was not only held in check, but was held without a tackle, sack or quarterback hurry. Rookie David Bakhtiari did an excellent job protecting Rodgers' blind side against one of the best edge rushers in the game.
T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, and Evan Dietrich-Smith were excellent in run blocking, and allowed Rodgers plenty of time in pass protection. The Vikings defense is obviously not as good as it once was, but it was still impressive to see the consistent push by the interior of the line.
Don Barclay struggled. First it was Brian Robison, and then it was Everson Griffen. It didn't matter who he was up against, Barclay was getting pushed straight back into Rodgers' lap on multiple occasions. Barclay appeared to stand straight up at times, and displayed pretty poor footwork as well. It wouldn't be terribly surprising to see Marshall Newhouse start getting more reps at practice this week.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line showed great gap disciple (unlike last year's game in Minnesota), which went a long way in holding Adrian Peterson to only 60 yards rushing on Sunday. The front line also produced a solid pass rush for the second week in a row.
With Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy coming up in the next two weeks, and the health of linebackers Nick Perry, Brad Jones, and Clay Matthews still in question, the defensive line will need to help aid the young linebackers with a couple more run-stuffing performances.
A.J. Hawk had another solid performance at middle linebacker with five tackles. Hawk has really stepped up in the absence of Mathews, Perry, and Jones. He appears more aggressive, and is making reads at a quicker pace than he has been in recent memory.
This young group of linebackers hasn't shown any serious glaring errors since being asked to step in for their veteran teammates. Lattimore appears to not only be a serviceable back-up, but a legit contender to push Brad Jones for playing time when he does return. Mulumba has also made some plays in spurts, as has Nate Palmer.
Micah Hyde led the unit with six tackles, including an explosive 93-yard punt return in the second quarter. Sam Shields added three tackles, while Davon House recorded two. Tramon Williams added two tackles and a pass deflection, while Casey Hayward recorded one tackle in his first 2013 regular season action.
Williams was the victim of a couple questionable pass interference calls that resulted in eventual Vikings' touchdowns, but he generally applied quality press coverage throughout the game.
The Vikings leading receiver on Sunday was Kyle Rudolph with 51 yards on four catches, which is proof that the cornerbacks did their job. Need more evidence? Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, and Cordarrelle Patterson combined for 53 yards on four receptions. Granted, the pass defense wasn't going up against a Pro Bowl quarterback, but that is a pretty impressive outing.
Morgan Burnett led the entire defense with eight tackles, but also had a few plays where he either took a poor angle or simply tried to arm-tackle Adrian Peterson (you can't do that). He paid the price on Peterson's touchdown run late in the second quarter. That is something that is easily corrected, and shouldn't become a consistent issue.
What is troubling is M.D. Jennings continually getting beat in pass coverage. A play that sticks out to me is on 3rd-and-10 from the Green Bay 38 yard-line in the second quarter, Ponder heaved a prayer of a pass up to his large tight end Kyle Rudolph, and Rudolph bailed him out with a very good catch. As much as you have to give Rudolph credit for making that play, you can assess equal blame to M.D. Jennings for not locating the ball or swatting that ball away.
Chris Banjo can also be partially blamed for losing contain on the opening kickoff return that gave Minnesota some early momentum. Banjo allowed himself to not only get taken out of position and out of the play, he also ended up taking out a teammate in the process, which opened up more than enough room for Patterson to take it to the house.
Mason Crosby was 3 for 3 on field goals, with a long of 45 yards, and added five extra points. Crosby also took over for Tim Masthay on kickoff duty after Masthay kicked directly to Patterson on back-to-back kickoffs. Crosby had better luck with directional kicking, and may need to continue his directional work against Devin Hester this Monday night.
For the second week in a row, Tim Masthay was less than impressive. It doesn't help his grade that the Packers never punted in a game for the first time since the Majkowski era, but his second kickoff of the game was not good. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on the first kick because he was inches away from getting a touchback, but to allow a running start for the same returner on the next kick? That's unacceptable. We'll see if he still gets the nod as the kickoff specialist, but hopefully Masthay can redeem himself soon.
Another NFC North victory for the Packers as they move to 5-2 on the season, and prepare for the Cutler-less Bears on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Packers Teammates of the Week: Running Backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks
- Packers vs. Vikings in Review: Game Balls Go to Rodgers, Nelson, Hyde
- Packers vs. Vikings Final Score: Nelson, Rodgers Lead Green Bay to 44-31 Win