When it comes to the postseason, it's a matter of survival. The Packers defense wasn't great against the run, allowing DeMarco Murray to rush for over 120 yards, but they made enough stops to help a one-legged Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense to close out the Dallas Cowboys and advance to the NFC Championship game in Seattle.
Let's take a look at how the some key positions grading out on Sunday. As always, the grades in parentheses are based off of Pro Football Focus' grading system.
Aaron Rodgers (+2.7 overall, +2.6 pass) finished 24 of 35 passing for 316 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 125.4. Rodgers was inconsistent through three quarters while protecting his injured left calf, but like all great quarterbacks, he saved his best for last. He finished 9 of 9 in the fourth quarter for 116 yards and one touchdown.
He missed high on a few throws early in the first half, and held onto the ball too long on the strip-sack in which he fumbled the ball. His lack of mobility is concerning, especially against an aggressive Seahawks defense. If he can compensate for that with the accuracy and football IQ that he showed in the fourth quarter, the Packers will have a chance at the upset.
Running Backs: B
Eddie Lacy (+1.4 overall, +1.3 rush, +0.3 pass block) rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries, while James Starks (-0.6 overall) added 16 yards on five carries and John Kuhn (-0.2 overall, -1.1 pass, +0.9 run block) added a four-yard rush.
Lacy was on pace for an impressive outing before his asthma flared up on him. He only broke one tackle on the day, but showed good vision in following his initial blocks to the second level and turning on the accelerator for gains of 19 and 29. James Starks was unimpressive in back-up duty and didn't make any decisive moves on his five carries. Pro Bowler John Kuhn had some excellent blocks in the run game, but his drop on a check down was inexcusable.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-
Jordy Nelson (-1.5 overall) caught two of five targets for 22 yards, while Randall Cobb (+3.9 overall, +3.0 pass, +0.5 screen block, +0.5 run block) caught eight of 11 targets for 116 yards. Rookie Davante Adams (+2.1 overall, +2.5 pass) caught seven of 11 targets for 117 yards and one touchdown.
While Cobb's 12-yard reception over Orlando Scandrick to seal the victory was the most important catch of the game, his awareness and athleticism on his 31-yard reception at the sidelines to help set up the crucial field goal before the end of the first half was easily the most impressive catch he made on Sunday. Adams' improved route-running and double-moves helped him create separation against nickel back Sterling Moore, and Adams displayed his agility and top-end speed once he caught the ball to the tune of 78 yards after the catch. Jordy Nelson struggled to create separation against Brandon Carr for the majority of the game, but both his receptions helped keep drives alive. The Packers will need more from Nelson if they are going to come out of Seattle with a win.
Andrew Quarless (-1.7 overall, +0.7 pass, -0.6 run block, -1.9 penalty) caught four passes for 31 yards and one touchdown, while Richard Rodgers (-0.9 overall, +0.7 pass, -0.9 pass block, -1.3 run block) added a 13-yard touchdown reception. While both tight ends made memorable touchdown catches in a critical spot for the team, their blocking was sub-par. Quarless' two false start penalties are fineable offenses if you ask me. You can't afford to have brain farts in playoffs games like that and expect to win.
Offensive Line: A
David Bakhtiari (+2.0 overall, +1.3 pass block) allowed one sack on a stunt from Jeremy Mincey, but was otherwise solid against Demarcus Lawrence. Josh Sitton (+2.6 overall, +1.0 pass block, +1.4 run block) dominated from start to finish and was an anchor in the run game.
Corey Linsley (+2.0 overall, +2.5 run block) allowed one sack to Lawrence when he allowed himself to get turned around on an inside move by the rookie end. He was also responsible for the premature snap to Rodgers that led to the strip-sack by Mincey mentioned above.
T.J. Lang (+0.1 overall, +0.5 pass block, -0.8 penalty) had an excellent performance on Sunday, but that will likely be overshadowed by his decision to plow into Nick Hayden after the whistle and turn a third-and-one into a third-and-16. Although it's always good to have your linemen play aggressive and with toughness, you need to be smart and cost your team points in the playoffs. Bryan Bulaga (+1.0 overall, +1.8 pass block, -1.1 run block) might be performing at a career-high level right now. He's anchoring well in pass protection and punishing defenders in the run game.
Defensive Line: C+
Letroy Guion (-2.5 overall, -3.4 run, +0.8 rush) drew the difficult task of taking on double team by Travis Frederick and Zach Martin. While he didn't allow himself to get pancaked or completely taken out of the play, he wasn't able to create much of a pass rush either. His biggest play of the game was knockdown of Tony Romo late in the third quarter that left the Cowboys signal caller gimpy and immobile.
Mike Daniels (+3.8 overall, +3.6 run) played almost every defensive snap for the Packers defense, and they needed every ounce of his energy.
Datone Jones (-0.6 overall, -1.0 run, +0.8 rush) played the majority of the game in place of the injured Josh Boyd, who injured his knee eight plays into the game and was only able to come back for three more snaps before leaving the game for good. Jones shed blocks well in the run game, but wasn't able to create much pass rush. His ability to get off the initial block and pursue the ball carrier allowed him to be in excellent position to recover the crucial fumble by Murray in the third quarter.
Julius Peppers (+3.8 overall, +2.2 run, +1.2 rush) turned the momentum of the game when he shed a lead block by Pro Bowler Zach Martin and got his hand on the ball to knock it lose from DeMarco Murray. If he fails to get off that block, Murray likely scores from 59-yards out and the complexion of the game would have been a lot different. He was the team's best pass rusher and was a difficult assignment in the run game as well.
Sam Barrington (-2.2 overall, -0.9 run, -1.2 coverage) played aggressively and was a punishing tackler as always. He was a little flat-footed on his zone coverage plays, but his biggest asset is his physicality and that will be tested on Sunday against Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks power run game. Clay Matthews (-0.6 overall) almost had an even split between duties as an inside linebacker and outside linebacker on Sunday. His offsides penalty was costly, and he wasn't as effective as a pass rusher as he had been in recent games. Let's hope he is able to pin his ears back and create more pressure against a Seahawks offense that doesn't have the firepower that the Cowboys receiving threats do.
Mike Neal (+0.7 overall, +1.7 run, -1.1 rush) played 36 snaps and was able to set the edge effectively against a powerful Cowboys run game. He isn't as big as Perry, Barrington, or Peppers, but he plays angles well, has great pursuit to the ball, and tackles well. Nick Perry (-0.4 overall, +0.9 run, -1.5 coverage) played 16 less snaps than Neal, but was able to record an impressive sack over Tyron Smith and was involved on another half-sack when he helped Mike Daniels bring down the quarterback. Much like Neal, Perry's pass coverage skills are sub-par and Perry's lack of hip fluidity and agility in space got him caught out of position on a long gain to Jason Witten.
A.J. Hawk (+0.3 overall) made three tackles in 19 snaps, including two impressive tackles on Murray near the line of scrimmage. Hawk also allowed himself to get pushed 10 yards backwards on one of Murray's big gainers. Brad Jones only played seven snaps and wasn't able to defend without grabbing a receiver's jersey. As usual, the penalty came on third down and kept the unit on the field instead of forcing a punt. At this point, I'll never understand why he sees the field.
Tramon Williams (-2.1 overall, -2.4 coverage) struggled against both Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant on Sunday. Williams was called for two pass inference calls, both of which were questionable. His missed tackle on Williams' touchdown reception was the result of a poor angle and an equally poor effort. Morgan Burnett (-3.8 overall, -3.6 coverage) struggled mightily in coverage of Witten. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hyde or Hayward be the primary defender this coming Sunday because Burnett looked uncomfortable when asked to cover Witten and got caught looking into the backfield too much when Romo extended plays.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (-2.7 overall, -2.2 run, -0.6 coverage) led the defense with six tackles, but took poor angles a few chunk plays allowed by the defense. His lack of pursuit on Williams' long touchdown reception and Murray's 30-yard rush are unacceptable at this juncture in the season. Sam Shields (+0.3 overall) was in good position to break up the controversial "catch" by Dez Bryant, but the uber-athletic Bryant just simply out jumped him for the ball.
Micah Hyde (-1.3 overall, -1.0 coverage) was a sure-tackler in open space, but he can't slow down on a corner blitz like he did on his hurry of Romo. If he sprints from start to finish, that's a sack or maybe even a fumble. Casey Hayward only played nine snaps, and didn't show very good awareness in allowing a reception get past him for a first-down.
Mason Crosby connected on field goals from 40 and 20 yards out and averaged 64 yards and 4 seconds of hang time on five kickoffs.
Tim Masthay isn't hitting the ball like he was earlier in the season. The Ginger Wolverine averaged only 37 yards and less than four seconds of hang time on his only two punts.
Mike McCarthy's decision to challenge the "catch' by Dez Bryant on fourth down with four minutes remaining was a gutsy call. If he got it wrong, the team would be without a timeout, likely down by two points, and have to drive the length of the field with a gimpy quarterback. He chose an excellent time to win his first challenge of the season, and it was a big reason why the team was able to close out the game and advance to the NFC Championship game. Say what you want about the rule, McCarthy took advantage of it.
Next up: The Packers try to exorcise some demons when they travel to Seattle to take on the red-hot Seahawks in front of a hostile crowd on Sunday at 2:05 PM CST on FOX.