For the second week in a row, the Green Bay Packers won with defense, while the offense sputtered in the red zone. After a field goal fest in Lambeau last weekend, the Packers again found themselves only up 9-0 due to an ineffective red zone offense.
Much like last Sunday, one big play (this time a 64-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson) was just enough to help the Packers earn the victory. The most impressive takeaway from this game, at least for me, is that Packers have become a team capable of winning these ugly games that require a hard-nosed defense, and a steady running game on offense. Those are the kind of games that separate a good team from a great team.
Unfortunately, the Packers also sustained injuries to key players for the second week in a row. After losing Clay Matthews to a broken thumb and Brad Jones to the hamstring gods last week, the Packers had to rely on Nick Perry and A.J. Hawk to carry the work load on defense. Both linebackers recorded impressive performances, but Nick Perry was lost to a broken foot. The Packers also lost Randall Cobb to a broken fibula, and James Jones to a PCL injury. Jones may return as soon as this Sunday, while Cobb will miss at least six weeks.
The Packers have once again been pushed into crisis management mode, and must rely on third-stringers to get the job done. If they can somehow navigate through these next two months of the season with a winning record, they will be a dangerous team come playoff time.
The good news is that the Packers have morphed into a team that can win without scoring 30 or 40 points a game. The bad news is that the defense that has been playing so great lately is getting thinner and thinner at the one position they didn't have a lot of depth at to begin with.
Now, time for grades.
Aaron Rodgers had another sub-par road performance on Sunday, completing only 53% of his passes and throwing an ill-advised interception in the end zone that left points off the board during a game where they were at a premium. Rodgers finished 17 for 32 for 315 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating for 84.8.
While Rodgers did throw a perfect pass to Nelson on the lone touchdown, and to Finley on the play that essentially sealed the win, Rodgers was short on passes, forced passes, and generally seemed rattled at times by the Ravens pass rush. Obviously, some of the blame goes to the offensive line, and the wide receivers need to get open on a more consistent basis, but Rodgers didn't look very sharp on Sunday.
The Packers are down to Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin at wide receiver, so Rodgers needs to be sharper in order for the team to survive without the explosive play-making abilities of Randall Cobb for the next two months.
Running Back: A+
Eddie Lacy carried the ball 23 times on Sunday, and that might be something he should get used to over the next few weeks. The Packers will need him to deliver a few more performances like the impressive showing he had on Sunday in order to move the ball without Cobb and Jones.
Lacy finished with 120 yards on 23 carries, for a 5.2 average. That last part is the most impressive to me. Sure, his 37-yard run on the opening drive might have skewed his average a little bit, but Lacy continually turned 2-yard gains into five or six yard gains. That is something this offense hasn't had since Ryan Grant was in his prime.
Oh, and that 64-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson? That was created off play-action pass, which made both Raven safeties freeze on their initial reads, and allow Nelson to slip past them for an easy score. If the Packers are going to become a running team (6th in the NFL in rushing yards per game), they have a pretty reliable running back to carry the load in Eddie Lacy.
Johnathan Franklin added one carry for -3 yards and one reception for seven yards, while John Kuhn added one rush for two yards and two receptions for nine yards. Kuhn also broke the record for most un-athletic attempt at a fumble recovery by a non-lineman.
Wide Receiver: B
Jordy Nelson led the way with four receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown, while Randall Cobb added four catches for 53 yards. Jarrett Boykin hauled in one catch for 43 yards, and James Jones caught one pass for 10 yards.
It's clear there is a significant drop-off from Nelson, Cobb, and Jones to Jarrett Boykin, but we all knew that. Boykin and Rodgers appeared to be on different pages at times on Sunday. I'm not sure if it was Boykin's route running or Rodgers just not having a good feel for where Boykin likes the ball thrown, but there appears to be a disconnect. Boykin did look dangerous on his 43-yard bubble screen reception, but needs to sharpen his routes and gain the trust of his quarterback in order to help the offense out.
Besides the huge touchdown play, the wideouts didn't seem to get open much. The Ravens, much like the Bengals, have the talent to jam wideouts at the line, which throws off timing between a quarterback and a wide receiver. The Packers will need Boykin to create separation on Sunday against the Browns, because Joe Haden will be draped all over Jordy Nelson. Let's hope James Jones is able to go, otherwise it could be another field goal fest at Lambeau.
Tight End: B+
Jermichael Finley picked a good time to make his presence known on Sunday, catching all three of his passes (75 yards) in the second half, including the crucial 52-yard reception that all but sealed the game. Finley was called for a holding penalty that eventually forced a field goal on a promising drive. While I don't like blaming officiating, Finley had good positioning on the play, but his left hand was just wide enough that the ref decided to throw his flag. That's a 50/50 call that doesn't usually get made, but this time it was.
Ryan Taylor added a blocked punt on special teams, but neither Taylor or Andrew Quarless even recorded a target on Sunday. That will need to change moving forward, and Finley can't wait until the second half to become a weapon.
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line is hard to grade without using advanced metrics, but it's hard to argue with yet another 100-yard rusher on the year. The two penalties on TJ Lang (false start and personal foul) were mental errors, the Josh Sitton holding call was bad form, and the David Bakhtiari holding call was simply a rookie getting beaten by an All-Pro.
The unit once again seemed to rebound and make adjustments after a rough start to the game. I would like to see a more consistent pass protection in order to allow Rodgers time to find his targets, who won't be as open as they usually are over the next few weeks.
The run blocking is significantly improved, but the pass protection needs to get better.
Defensive Line: A
The unit of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Daniels, C.J. Wilson, and Johnny Jolly held the Ravens to 47 yards on 22 carries on Sunday. The group continues to shut down the running lanes of opposing offenses, and make teams one dimensional. The goal line stand in the second quarter can be directly attributed to the penetration that the defensive line was able to create.
Jolly and Wilson led the way with three tackles, while Raji and Daniels added two. Pickett added one. If this group can continue to stuff the run, it will go a long way in helping the young back-up linebackers' jobs a little easier.
A.J. Hawk might have had his best performance in recent memory as a Packer. Hawk finished with 10 tackles, including three sacks and two other tackles for loss. Hawk needed to step up big in the absence of Matthews and Jones and he delivered.
Nick Perry added an impressive performance off the edge, recording five tackles, including one sack that forced a fumble late in the first half. That turnover turned into three points, and was a huge momentum swing heading into halftime. Andy Mulumba recorded four tackles, while Jamari Lattimore added three. The two young linebackers passed their first test with flying colors. Let's hope for more of the same as the Packers hold their linebacker corp together with band-aids and duct tape.
For the first three quarters of Sunday's game, the Packers shut down the Ravens offense. In the fourth quarter, for whatever reason, the Ravens wideouts were able to create separation and cause some damage to the Packers secondary. Tandon Doss, Marlon Brown, and veteran tight end Dallas Clark all made big plays in the fourth quarter to bring the Ravens back from what seemed like an insurmountable 16-3 lead.
Micah Hyde led the unit with seven tackles, including one sack, while Tramon Williams added two tackles. Sam Shields and Davon House each added one tackle. Shields was beaten badly on the first Raven's touchdown, which looked like a combination of bad communication and poor reaction to the receiver's route. We still haven't seen this unit play a complete game, but it appears to be improving on a weekly basis.
Morgan Burnett made a game-changing play late in the second quarter when he wrapped up Ray Rice short of the goal line on third and goal. That play forced the fourth and goal, which was eventually stuffed by the Packers defense. Burnett has made a noticeable difference to this team's level of play on defense, and continued that trend by finishing with nine tackles on Sunday.
M.D. Jennings added four tackles, while Jerron McMillian only registered one tackle, and also fell over himself while backpedalling, which allowed the Ravens to convert a long third down that led to a touchdown just a few plays later. Chris Banjo made some solid tackles on special teams that silenced the dangerous Jacoby Jones.
Mason Crosby hooked a 49-yard attempt wide right late in the second quarter, but rebounded with field goals of 31, 50, and 31 yards. I was interested to see how Crosby would respond after he missed a kick, and he didn't disappoint on Sunday. He showed not only a confidence, but resiliency. Let's all be thankful for his turnaround, because if he hadn't these red zone problems would have resulted in losses for the Packers.
Tim Masthay continues his reign of terror on the pigskin, booting six punts for an average of 54 yards, downing two inside the 20. He did allow Jacoby Jones to return four kicks, but only for an average of 25 yards.
Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer forMLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24
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- Packers vs. Ravens: Final score 19-17 in an ugly, but important road win for Green Bay
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