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Vikings vs. Packers NFC Wildcard Edition: Offensive Review

Sometimes numbers lie. Sometimes an answer changes depending on how you frame the facts. This week's performance by the Packers' offense shows why box scores alone don't tell the whole story.

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s sweet to end the season of a division rival. While the Packers came close to doing this by beating the Bears in week 15 and put the handwriting on the wall for the Lions by beating them in week 11, neither of those two victories were quite as final and one-sided as the Packers win against the Vikings this past Saturday. The only time the end result was in question was during the first two drives. After that, and the Packers first touchdown, it was all downhill from there.

The offensive performance of the Packers seems to be the culmination of what has been brewing for the first five weeks of the season and the last five weeks of the season. In the first five weeks of the year the Packers were learning to be a more balanced attack. They were also figuring out how to use Cedric Benson effectively. It all seemed to be clicking during the first half of the Colts game in week 5 but then Benson went down and the offense fell apart. Tough loss. The next few weeks of the year tended to be fantastic games from Aaron Rodgers or ugly games the Packers survived in order to win (well except for the nightmare in New York). Then a funny thing happened during the last five weeks, the Packers committed to the run once again. They changed up the offensive line and the play calling and found balance. On Saturday night that balance was put on display for the league….to mixed success.

Overall on offense things were pretty straight forward. The receivers looked good generally despite some rust from Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The running game seemed good enough, even though the vanilla running attack of the second half seemed to bog down the stats. There are a few questions that arise from this game though, the largest of which lies along the offensive line.

While most people around here rightly point out that T.J. Lang had an awful game (seriously, it seemed like when he wasn’t getting beat he was just running around lost rather than actually blocking a guy), PFF pointed out that Evan Dietrich-Smith also had a poor game as well. Mr. Monson even went so far as to question whether the Packers would bring back Jeff Saturday since EDS was so bad. EDS has not had many games since getting the starting job from Saturday, but overall he has not been too bad. The interesting thing about this particular question is that Monson notes that EDS did okay in pass protection but terrible in the running game. My first instinct is to question how much of EDS struggling was due to Lang’s own troubles, but I also wonder if the reverse is true as well with Lang struggling due to EDS. Either way it was clear that the middle of the line did not hold up its job on Saturday night and one of these two players holds the lion’s share of the responsibility.

Passing Offense Review

Key Performances

Aaron Rodgers – 22/33 274 YDS 8.3 AVG 1 TD 104.9 RTG

Greg Jennings – 4 REC 61 YDS 15.3 AVG 32 LG 6 TGTS

James Jones – 4 REC 51 YDS 12.8 AVG 20 LG 4 TGTS

DuJuan Harris – 5 REC 53 YDS 10.6 AVG 16 LG 6 TGTS

I find it hilarious when I swing by comments from opposing fans and see a comment along the lines of…."They held Rogers [note: this is a purposeful misspelling of Rodgers ‘ name in order to get the fan style comment across] in check since had under 300 yards and only 1 TD!!!! We have a better defense so we are sure to stop him."

Numbers lie sometimes. Earlier in the year I slammed Rodgers’ performances with a similar line because the numbers seemed inflated and failed to convey the full measure of his game. This time the reverse is true. There is no way on God’s green earth that someone can convince me that Rodgers couldn’t of thrown for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns on Saturday if he and the Packers really didn’t want to. The Vikings’ defense could simply not find an answer for the Packers passing attack. Case in point, PFF also notes that the Vikings top two corners, Antonie Winfield and Chris Cook both allowed 100% of the passes thrown in their direction to be caught.

Perhaps the best part about the Packers passing game on Saturday was that Rodgers finally started to get the ball out of his hands. He worked checkdowns and the passes underneath instead of waiting for the big play every time. This resulted in lots of touches for DuJuan Harris who looked to be a nice option out of the backfield. It also meant that Tom Crabtree got a look (which I’m pretty open to) and Ryan Taylor even got a pass thrown his way.

As for the receivers they were all pretty good. It wasn’t the return of the Greatest Shown On Tundra from last year, but it did not need to be. James Jones still was catching everything thrown to him. Nelson made some clutch plays and two very nice grabs (although he’s still getting back on the same page with Rodgers which is a bit concerning). Cobb wasn’t a great factor but was not a liability either. Same with Finley who had to leave the game early due to a hamstring injury.

Rushing Game Review

Key Performances

DuJuan Harris – 17 CAR 47 YDS 2.8 AVG 1 TD 9 LG

John Kuhn – 3 CAR 4 YDS 1 TD

So many things in life depend on the framing of the issue. Facts framed one way can lead to one conclusions, but those same facts framed another way can lead to a totally different determination. It’s why people pay tons of money for lawyers.

Case in point, this week’s rushing attack for the Packers. Do we view it in terms of the game as a whole? Then they averaged 2.5 yards a run for the night off of 31 carries. Those are fail numbers folks. Do we view the numbers in terms of what the first few quarters were when the game was actually in question? Early on in the game Harris was running for about 3.5 yards per carry. Not bad and probably just enough for this offense. Do we forget the numbers and only look at what the run forces a defense to do? Then Harris seemed to have a pretty good night and the Packers had a successful running attack.

Heck, we could even change the facts a bit and throw in screens, taking out some of the passing yards and put it here…inflating all the numbers a bit. This makes sense since the screen is often used in the same fashion as the run in this particular offense and has the same basic purpose. The only real difference is how it tracks on a box score and possibly in fantasy football numbers.

The running game is something Packer fans can feel both good and bad about right now. When it really matter the Packers ran the ball well and kept the Vikings off guard. The running attack opened up the passing attack and cut down on the pass rush that got to Rodgers five times in week 17. All this is good. Then again the Packers failed to grind out the game against the Vikings like they did in the first matchup between the two teams. When everyone knew they were going to run the ball to kill the clock they couldn’t effectively execute those plays. That’s a problem because the 49ers are not he anemic offense of the Vikings. If the Packers want to protect a lead in the same fashion they are going to have to find more ability to run the ball at will.

There is still one more question I have about the running game….where was Alex Green? I love me some DuJuan Harris, and Ryan Grant is okay, but why not get Green some carries in there as well? Over the last five weeks of the year Green has been a more explosive runner than Harris or Grant. He’s the back with the best top end speed and operates the best in space. Why wasn’t Green given at least a couple carries down the stretch when it was clear that Grant wasn’t getting things done?

Special Teams Review – Field Goal Kicking

Mason Crosby – 1/1 20 LG

Some have suggested that the Packers going for it on 4th and 5 showed a lack of confidence in Crosby. I have to disagree. At that point in the game the Packers were driving and only up 7-3. It was a one score game, and while the Vikings offense seemed to be coming apart at the seams, it would only take one big Adrian Peterson run for the Vikings to pull ahead. Watching McCarthy for a few years now he has always struck me as being extremely aggressive at moments like these. He wants to get a team on its back early and put the game away as fast as possible….especially considering how well the Packers were playing on both sides of the ball.

Other than that, Crosby was only called out for one attempt and he made it. Not much more to say about the subject. He probably not over the yips yet so all we can do is buckle up and hope for the best.

Special Teams Review – The Return Game

Key Performances

Jeremy Ross – 2 KR 28 YDS 14 AVG 28 LG

Randall Cobb – 4 PR 17 YDS 4.3 AVG 6 LG

After Cobb hurt his ankle McCarthy made a special point to say that he "won’t play scared" and pull Cobb off of special teams. I get the reason for this, Cobb is a playmaker and if he’s the best guy for the job he should do the job. Then Ross had a big day last week. I think this week’s split was him trying to live up to those words but still cut down on some of what Cobb does. It’s a nice theory, but let’s get one thing straight….Ross is only on this team to return punts and kicks. Cobb is a core offensive guy. If you aren’t going to let Ross do what he’s on the team to do then shut him down for the week and activate Davon House or Donald Driver.

Otherwise, Ross was okay this week. He had only three tries which isn’t really enough to get a good sense of what the kid can do. Cobb got a few more tries but was once again going backwards as much as forward. Not great.