The Packers entered Sunday's showdown against the New England Patriots hoping to measure up to a team that was riding a 7-game winning streak and considered by many to be the best team in the AFC, if not the league. The Packers offense had to settle for five field goal attempts by Mason Crosby, but the defense stood tall against an offense that has outscored its last four opponents 170-73. In the end, Aaron Rodgers used an unlikely favorite target in rookie Davante Adams to best Tom Brady and the Patriots for a 26-21 win. The win moves Green Bay to 9-3 with a chance to secure a first-round bye and potentially home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they can finish strong in December.
Let's take a look at the where to give credit and assume blame following Sunday's performance. As always, the Pro Football Focus grades in parentheses.
Aaron Rodgers (+5.0 overall, +4.8 pass, +0.6 run) finished 24 of 38 passing for 368 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating for 112.6. He also added five rushes for 22 yards, including a long of 17.
Rodgers' level of play this season has raised the expectations to the point where I am now surprised when he doesn't drop the ball perfectly into his receivers lap on every throw. He wasn't great in the red zone, and had some overthrows that could have been touchdowns in a game where the offense had to settle for five field goal attempts. He also continues to hang on to the ball too long, and took some vicious hits because of it.
Rodgers had an incredible pump-fake on his perfectly placed 32-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers and his game-clinching pass to Randall Cobb was probably the gutsiest throw of the season to date. He had to trust Cobb to make a play after Cobb had a few costly drops in the second half. The Patriots defense challenged Rodgers to use his secondary options in the passing game, and give Rodgers credit for trusting in an unproven rookie wideout to get the job done.
Running Backs: A-
Eddie Lacy (-1.0 overall, -0.6 rush, -0.4 pass block) rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries and added two receptions for 17 yards. James Starks (+1.4 pass) caught two passes for 34 yards, and added a two-yard carry.
Lacy continues to run behind his pads, square his body up before taking a hit, and gain extra yardage by falling forward with his big, powerful frame. His pass blocking wasn't great, but he continues to become a bigger threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield, which will be valuable as teams decide to blitz Rodgers more. Starks didn't get a lot of snaps, but his 28-yard reception on an out-and-up route was probably the most athletic play he's had since his playoff performances in 2010.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
Davante Adams (+1.4 overall, +1.3 pass) recorded six catches on 11 targets for 121 yards. One week after Adams failed to be a difference maker against a Vikings defense that keyed on Cobb and Nelson, Adams came through in a big way. The Patriots defense wasn't going to allow Nelson and Cobb to beat them, so Adams was force fed the targets. He runs excellent routes for a rookie and seems to have adjusted to the pro level rather rapidly. His dropped touchdown was inexcusable, but it's easy to see why the staff has already made him the third option in the passing game.
Randall Cobb (+0.3 overall, +0.7 pass, -0.5 rush) caught seven of his 11 targets for 85 yards, but none was bigger than his clutch reception to seal the game. He had some uncharacteristic drops in the second half, but his role as a receiver out of the backfield adds yet another dimension to his game and the Packers offense.Jordy Nelson (-0.8 overall, -0.8 pass, -0.1 run block) only caught two passes for 53 yards while on Revis Island on Sunday, but his 45-yard touchdown scamper at the end of the first half gave the team just enough momentum heading into halftime to seal the deal.
Andrew Quarless (-1.1 overall, -1.5 run block) caught two passes for 17 yards, while Richard Rodgers (-0.1 overall, +0.5 pass, -0.5 screen block) caught two for 35 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown reception. Quarless saw almost twice as many snaps as Rodgers and (despite his PFF grade) looked strong in run blocking and displayed some good leverage off initial contact. Rodgers was able to beat Patrick Chung in man coverage for his 32-yard score, but was otherwise delegated to extra blocker duty.
Offensive Line: A
Other than a missed blitz pick-up between Corey Linsley (+0.5 overall, +0.1 pass block, +0.3 run block) and T.J. Lang (+3.9 overall, +1.9 pass block, +1.8 run block) in which Dont'a Hightower came through on a delayed blitz for a sack, the pass protection was the best it's been all season. On numerous dropbacks, Rodgers had more than enough time to survey all of his progressions.
David Bakhtiari (-0.6 overall, +0.8 pass block, -1.7 run block) allowed two hurries and a hit and was displaced on a few running plays. It wasn't a bad game for Bakhtiari, but the rest of the unit nearly pitched a shutout. Josh Sitton (+2.9 overall, +1.9 pass block, +0.8 run block) and Lang were asked to perform pulls on a season-high eight plays with minimal success. Bryan Bulaga (+2.9 overall, +2.3 pass block, +1.3 run block) did an excellent job on Rob Ninkovich, who might be New England's best pass rusher other than Chandler Jones.
Defensive Line: C+
Mike Daniels (+3.8 overall, +4.2 rush) was a menace, recording two hurries and one sack. He got off blocks well and made life miserable for rookie center Bryan Stork with his low leverage and powerful jolt off the line. His off-sides penalty at the goal line was terrible and he did get pushed back on both of LeGarrette Blount's big runs, but he is by far the most valuable player in this unit.
Letroy Guion (-0.2 overall, +0.5 run, -0.8 rush) and Josh Boyd (-1.2 overall) didn't make a lot of splash plays in the run game, but they didn't get blown up either. Datone Jones (+0.7 rush) came in as a designed pass rusher and showed some fluidity off the line, but didn't make much noise either.
The biggest story on defense might be that the coaching staff decided to play Sam Barrington (-1.1 overall, -2.1 run, +0.3 rush, +0.6 coverage) over A.J. Hawk (-0.1 overall, +0.2 rush, -0.1 rush, -0.2 coverage). Barrington played 49 snaps, while Hawk only played 27. Barrington brings a physicality to the run game that Hawk just simply doesn't have at his current slimmed frame. Barrington recorded five tackles, including a head-on collision with Blount for no gain on third-and-two. He also flew around in coverage pretty efficiently and recorded a knockdown on Brady in pass rush.
Julius Peppers (+0.9 overall, +1.1 rush) recorded two hurries in pass rush and almost had another interception when he batted a pass out of the air in the red zone. Peppers did miss a tackle on Brandon Bolden's six-yard touchdown run, but I'm continually impressed with how he doesn't shy away from contact in the run game. Maybe I'm still scared from the Erik Walden experience, but Peppers is a special talent.
Clay Matthews (-0.5 overall, +0.6 run, +0.6 rush, -1.9 coverage) recorded 6 tackles and added two pressures in pass rush. He wanted to hand out some punishment on Sunday, and he usually won most confrontations. He did get a beat in coverage pretty badly when Shane Vereen snuck out of the backfield for a long gain. It almost appeared like Matthews thought there was safety help behind him, but I expect that to get cleaned up the more he gets comfortable as an inside linebacker.
Mike Neal (+1.5 rush) only played 19 snaps, but he made them count. He showed great quickness off the ball on his sack of Brady on the Patriots last play of the game. He is a plus-player when he is only asked to be a pass rusher and not a coverage linebacker. Nick Perry (-0.7 overall, -0.7 rush) only played 10 snaps due to a banged up shoulder, and didn't contribute much.
Tramon Williams (+1.6 overall, +1.4 coverage) recorded 9 tackles to lead the entire defense. His tackling in open space was exceptional and his coverage was just as good. He was targeted 10 times and didn't allow any big plays.
Morgan Burnett (-2.7 overall, -0.8 run, +0.4 rush, -2.5 coverage) recorded 8 tackles, but also had two missed tackles and was beat in coverage by Rob Gronkowski for a 19-yard gain. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (-0.6 overall, +0.2 run, -0.9 coverage) recorded 6 tackles, and had arguably the defensive play of the game when he broke up a potential game-winning touchdown pass to Gronk in the endzone. He does need to be careful with hitting bigger targets too high, as he went for shoulder-high tackels on both Gronk and Blount which both resulted in missed tackles.
Sam Shields (+0.1 overall, -1.0 run, +1.1 coverage) missed two tackles and suffered a concussion when he ducked his head on an attempted tackle on Bolden. Davon House (+0.5 overall) replaced the injured Shields and was beat multiple times by Brandon LaFell on double moves. The 15-yard touchdown pass House gave up on a simple stutter-step move was frustrating, because House is usually physical enough to not get beat on moves like that.
Micah Hyde (-1.5 overall, -1.5 coverage) and Casey Hayward (+0.4 overall) split time at the nickel back position and neither really stood out. Hyde does need to be careful on punt return duties, as his attempted "heads-up play" on a touched punt almost turned into a disaster.
Mason Crosby was busy on Sunday, connecting on four of five field goals and two extra points. He hooked his lone miss wide left from 40 yards out, and his kickoffs were below average. It was a cold day so the ball wasn't traveling far, but there's no excuse for kicking the ball out of bounds at the professional level.
The Ginger Wolverine (Tim Masthay) only punted once for 38 yards. He's not used to punting at home so leave him alone.
Offensively, the Packers knew they had to get Adams involved and they force-fed him the targets. They also gave Lacy a healthy dose of carries to establish a balanced attack.
Defensively, the team made stops when they absolutely had to and they showed great resolve in the fourth quarter. The run defense is still suspect, but it's good to know that the offense doesn't need to score 50 points a game to win big games.
Up Next: The Packers host the Atlanta Falcons (5-7), who are somehow tied for first-place in the NFC South, on Monday Night Football at 7:30 p.m. CST.
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