After an injury-riddled season filled with pain and misery, the Green Bay Packers’ 16-0 loss to the divisional rival Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night didn’t seem to carry as much heartache as in years past.
Playing an exhibition game in December with nearly its entire playmaking cast on the sideline, the Packers looked like the AAA squad it was coined as by a number of media writers. With one week to play and another home loss in the books, here is my best attempt at a few thumbs up storylines this week.
Thumbs Up: Justin McCray has had his number 64 called to fill-in at various points of the season and once again, he finished with a positive showing. Starting at right guard in place of Jahri Evans, McCray was forced to shift to right tackle after the first offensive play as a result of a knee injury to Jason Spriggs. From that point on, McCray’s name really wasn’t heard again. That was a plus, as the versatile lineman showed up in pass protection against the Vikings’ Brian Robison and others. At this point of the season, one has to believe McCray is in line for a starting spot in 2018.
Thumbs Down: Drops. Drops. And more drops. It’s very difficult to win when a team combines for five or more dropped passes in a game, but that’s what the Packers’ receiving corps did on Saturday. Making matters worse, the drops often came on third down, with Lance Kendricks dropping a pair of those critical passes. Even the reliable Jordy Nelson had an enormous first down drop. Count Trevor Davis’ inability to put his hands out on a well-thrown deep pass as a drop and this was a very rough night for the passing game. Green Bay needs to find additional weapons this offseason.
'ALLIGATOR ARMS' Trevor Davis.. Not a very good effort pic.twitter.com/i4LDMzbevI— truthteller4ever (@mickeyfinnagain) December 24, 2017
Thumbs Up: Continuing on the offensive line front, David Bakhtiari had another outstanding showing. Combined with McCray’s admirable play on the right side, the other bookend tackle kept Brett Hundley upright most of the night. At one point near the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bakhtiari had held Pro Bowler Everson Griffen to zero pressures in 20 dropbacks. That’s the kind of shutdown production you want from a franchise left tackle that Pro Football Focus recently listed as the top graded offensive tackle this season.
Thumbs Down: Former Packer Tom Crabtree pretty accurately summed up my thoughts on a third-and-five call in the first half in which the Packers threw a backwards swing pass to Randall Cobb that had little chance to succeed with the yards to gain and porous blocking on the play. It almost appeared Cobb wanted to throw the ball, but there didn’t seem to be any receivers in sight on the replay.
There should be a non X and O guy on the staff whose only job is to veto dumb calls like that. He hits a red button when the call goes into the QB and a different play must be called.— Tom Crabtree (@itsCrab) December 24, 2017
3rd and 5 on a slippery field so let’s make Cobb change direction multiple times with motion and then throw it to him 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage against one of the best defenses in the league.— Tom Crabtree (@itsCrab) December 24, 2017
Thumbs Up: On third-and-one in a 10-0 ballgame late in the first half, Kyler Fackrell set the edge nicely on a pass play, ripping through a blocker and pursuing Case Keenum for a sack and four-yard loss. That led to one of seven punts for the Vikings on the evening. The defense, for perhaps the first time all season, found a way to make critical drive-ending stops with the help of an above-average pass rush.
Thumbs Down: Josh Hawkins started opposite Davon House in place of battered Damarious Randall and had a less-than-stellar outing. Hawkins was flagged twice for pass interference in the first half, one of which that led to a Vikings touchdown when he was beat on a playaction crossing route in the corner of the end zone by Stefon Diggs. Hawkins unofficially lost his role in the second half to undrafted corner Lenzy Pipkins.
Thumbs Up: A few of the Packers’ other undrafted players stepped up last night when forced into action. Although he nearly gave up a vertical touchdown after getting beat by Adam Thielen, Pipkins was one of the eye-catchers. He ran step-for-step with his assignment on another long route that was incomplete and also made a solid one-on-one tackle on a running play on third-and-goal later in the second half. From the start of preseason, Pipkins’ confidence and physicality has been noticeably high and his performance against the Vikings may earn him some additional opportunities against the Lions next week. Likewise, Reggie Gilbert stepped in at edge rusher with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry out with injuries and created pressure at times with his speed rush. Gilbert provided some fresh energy and legs for the Green Bay defense that I would expect to see against the Lions as well.
Thumbs Down: The sheer number of drops in drive-sustaining pass opportunities did Hundley no favors. Honestly, Hundley seemed to get into a rhythm on a few second half drives deep into Vikings territory. But Hundley threw two more interceptions to Harrison Smith, including a disastrous red zone pick right before halftime. He also couldn’t find his touch once again with the deep ball outside of Davis’ miscue. Hundley’s inconsistency, along with the exceptional number of dink-and-dunk throws early in the first half short of the first down, left a lot to be desired.
Thumbs Up: Kenny Clark just continues to increase his value to the defense, totaling two sacks and six total pressures according to Pro Football Focus. Clark has now registered all 4.5 sacks this season in the past four weeks, while continuing to dominate in the run game. As an ascending three-down player, Clark should be a Pro Bowler next season.