The Packers secured a badly needed win, but plenty of questions still surround the team in the aftermath, particularly on offense where the passing game remains a work in progress.
As it has since Green Bay's bye week, the passing game went through long stretches on Sunday where quarterback and receiver could not get on the same page. On one of the unit's rare trips to the red zone, Aaron Rodgers twice threw the ball to a different spot than his receiver, turning seven points into just three. In other cases, Rodgers couldn't get the ball out before the Vikings' pass rush met him in the backfield. This still doesn't look like the offense that led the league in points a year ago, and the Packers are running low on time to fix it.
Meanwhile, the defense seems to have figured out how to rush the quarterback again. The six sacks it produced represent the team's entire total since the bye week, and yet it doesn't quite illustrate the full story. Teddy Bridgewater could never get comfortable in the pocket on Sunday, and rarely did he get much more than two seconds before a pass rusher pummeled him. Unlike the offense, this unit does appear to have rediscovered its form.
Even though I picked the Packers to win this week, that was more aspirational than rational, and I'm surprised by how easily they won. Part of this was luck as the all-penalty drive to end the first half was a gift, and the Packer special teams showed up big time. But this is also a vindication of the advanced statistical opinion of the Vikings. By DVOA, the Vikings entered this game not as a 7-2 juggernaut, but as one of the weakest teams in football, ranking 24th on offense and 20th on defense, made respectable only by their 7th ranked special teams. I admit to not completely believing the Outsider numbers myself, but if you take a closer look they do make some sense and should have made us all more confident about this game.
The Vikings have played an extremely easy schedule, and while they've capitalized on it for their gaudy record, they were actually outperforming their Pythagorean Record by a fair amount. It's one thing to skate by against playoff teams, but eeking out victories over the Bears and Lions, and getting destroyed by an awful 49er team does mean something. Basically, they've lucked into a number of close wins against bad teams, and the Packers, for all of their struggles, are still pretty good. The Vikings have an extremely difficult schedule in the back half and it seems likely that they are what the numbers say they are, and may very well collapse. This was a huge win, so let's all celebrate.
So that's what a comfortable win looks like...
That felt good, like something we haven't seen in two months. While the Packers' offense still looked disjointed at times, the fact that they were able to put up 30 points on the league's second-ranked scoring defense is more than enough reason to be optimistic for the unit moving forward. Eddie Lacy's hard running helped the Packers get into more favorable down-and-distance situations, which in turn helped out the passing game greatly. As much as Lacy's and James Jones' reappearances were critical, I feel the need to call out the play of JC Tretter, who came in for the injured Corey Linsley. Tretter played so well that from the second quarter on, you could be easily forgiven if you had forgotten that the Packers had a backup center in the game.
Then there's the defense. Oh, that defense. Holding Adrian Peterson to 45 yards (and just 3.5 yards per carry) is terrific, but then once the pass-rushers got to pin their ears back, they were relentless in pursuit of Teddy Bridgewater. There were still a few issues in coverage (mostly involving covering tight ends) but all in all it was an impressive defensive performance that should give Packers fans optimism for the coming weeks.
Now let's all just be glad that Aaron and Olivia figured out their issues so he can work on his communication with his receivers instead of with his girlfriend.
This was arguably the best team win of the year. In the biggest game of the season to date, the Packers showed up in every phase and reminded everyone whom the division still belongs to. The offense wasn't lights out, but it may not have to be if the defense can come up with more performances like this one.
Some people may look at the box score and say the offense looked a little sluggish, but it seemed to me like they came in with a game-plan built around the run and were able to stick to it for the first time in months. This success helped put the offense in more manageable second and third down situations and limit the dreadful three-and-outs. Rodgers and company didn't need to put up 40 points to win, and found ways to sustain drives by leaning on Lacy. Yes, the passing game still has issues to straighten out, but a huge load is lifted off Rodgers' shoulders when the run game finds success.
The defense also played with a fire not seen from them since before the bye week. Limiting the league's best rusher to 45 yards is a huge statement from a unit who has shown leaks for most of the season. Six sacks is also a big accomplishment and shows that there really are a lot of different effective pass rushers within the front seven. Just when you think it's time for Capers to go, he goes and draws up the perfect gameplan to shut down Peterson and Bridgewater.
This team hasn't played with a lead since the San Diego game over a month ago, but looked poised and confident while never allowing the slightest chance of a comeback. The offense remembered how to gain first downs and control the clock while the defense proved they were just fooling us this whole time and actually do know where the backfield is. This was a reassuring victory and a great way to kick off Bears Week.
The Packers finally got back to resembling their former selves yesterday. Aaron Rodgers threw a few darts, the defense learned to pressure the quarterback again, and the play-calling was even semi-acceptable. But let's be real, the star of the show yesterday was none of these things.
(Photo: Hannah Folsien, Getty Images)
Yes, folks, James Jones wore a damn hoodie to an actual NFL game yesterday. I suppose as someone who was spotted earlier this season wearing the equivalent of a patch quilt, this shouldn't come as a surprise. But I still can't get over the fact that James Jones - a professional wide receiver, geared up like he was playing in the family backyard Turkey Bowl. The thing is though, the hoodie worked! Jones sprang to life yesterday for six catches and 109 yards including a ballet act touchdown that all but sealed it for the Packers. Is Jones' hoodie actually a magical cloak? And if so, can he give one to Randall Cobb because man did Cobb suuuuuuuuuccckkkk yesterday.
Fortunately, that was somewhat mitigated by A.) the aforementioned defense, but more importantly, B.) Eddie freakin' Lacy. The Packers still need Rodgers to be right and Cobb's drop- to-catch ratio to be a bit better than 1:1, but the version of Eddie Lacy who showed up yesterday makes things so much better for their offense. I assume Lacy's time off last week had something to do with him getting healthy, but I also wonder if Mike McCarthy locked him in a film room for a few days, because Lacy's vision and decision making was noticeably improved. He almost always hit the right holes and, like the Lacy we all know and love, showed great patience in letting things develop before fully committing to trucking fools.
There's still a lot that needs improving and there were points yesterday - particularly on offense - where they again looked downright anemic at times - but they got a division win and for at least one week, got their stud running back again. That's something to build on and at this point in the season, that's exactly what you want to be doing.