The Packers came into last Thursday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings as heavy favorites. They were preparing to host a banged-up rookie quarterback on three days rest, with no Adrian Peterson, and a defense that hasn't exactly been stellar. A few hours before kickoff, it was announced that Teddy Bridgewater would be held out of the game in favor of Christian Ponder. The results were as many expected, with the Packers rolling to a 42-10 win behind a powerful run game, explosive pass plays, and a turnover-inducing defensive performance.
It was yet another Thursday Night thrashing, and it may have been just what the doctor ordered for a team that needed to get the run game going.
Let's get to the grades.
Aaron Rodgers (+2.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus) finished 12 of 17 passing for 156 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Rodgers didn't seem affected by the heavy rain during the game, and was able to pick on a Vikings secondary that repeatedly sent safety Harrison Smith on blitzes, leaving no safety help over the top. The end result was chunk plays in the passing game, including a 66-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson for a touchdown.
Matt Flynn came in for some mop-up duty and was 3 of 5 for 22 yards with an ill-advised interception. He did convert two third-downs, but his decision to throw back inside while on the run was something you expect out of rookies. He needs to see the linebacker in the flats and just throw that ball away.
Running Backs: A++
For the first time all season, Eddie Lacy reverted to his rookie-season form, finishing with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The two biggest factors may have been the run blocking (obviously) and the fact that the team went back to a more traditional formation. Instead of running out of the shotgun formation with a 230-pound running back that needs to get a head of steam going, the team went under center for the majority of the run plays and the results were impressive.
Lacy didn't hesitate to attack the hole, showed excellent vision, and punished smaller defenders who got in his way. James Starks added 46 yards on 12 carries, while John Kuhn had six yards on two carries.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
With the run game imposing its will on the defense, the wide receivers weren't asked to carry the load like they were last week in Chicago. Jordy Nelson (-0.7 overall, -0.3 pass) only caught one pass for a 66-yard touchdown, while Randall Cobb (+0.1 overall) added three for 34 and one score. Cobb may finally be at 100% both physically and mentally after his gruesome injury because he seems to be creating separation at a steady clip now, and has shown some wiggle in the open field the past two weeks. The run blocking could have been sharper from both Nelson and Cobb, as both were guilty of a few lackluster blocks on outside runs.
Davante Adams caught an 11-yard touchdown pass, and rookie Jeff Janis recorded two receptions for 16 yards. Andrew Quarless (-0.2 overall, -0.6 run block) caught two passes for 19 yards, while Richard Rodgers (-1.2 overall, -1.2 run block) didn't record a single target and continued to struggle in run blocking. Quarless played 31 snaps to Rodgers' 18, and looked much more competent in sealing the edge on run plays. Until Rodgers shores up his deficiencies as a run blocker, he won't have a chance to showcase his athleticism as a pass catcher.
Offensive Line: A+
Corey Linsley (+4.1 overall, +4.9 run block) continues to impress me with his ability to be an absolute mauler in the run the game. He gets off the ball quickly, delivers a heavy punch at first contact, and drives his player out of the way.
T.J. Lang (+2.5 overall, +1.1 pass block, +1.3 run block) was excellent in the run game, sustaining blocks and getting to the second level of the defense with regularity. He and Josh Sitton (+2.8 overall, -0.1 pass block, +2.8 run block) were able to win the majority of the battles against a talented defensive tackle tandem of Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd.
David Bakhtiari (-0.7 overall, -0.2 pass block) didn't grade out well due to his allowed sack by Everson Griffen, but other than that play I thought Bakhtiari pretty much neutralized the talented pass-rusher. Bryan Bulaga (+1.2 overall, +1.6 pass block) shut down Brian Robison, and was able to be a plus player in the run game as well.
Defensive Line: B+
Datone Jones (+0.4 overall, +1.5 pass rush) gave Right Tackle Phil Loadholt fits through his first 17 snaps before going down with ankle injury. Jones only registered one QB hit on the night, but continues to show improved hand-movement, burst, and positioning while attacking the edge.
Letroy Guion (+1.7 overall, +0.6 run, +2.0 rush) was energized for this game against his former team, and had his best performance of the season by far. He wasn't spectacular against the run, but he wasn't blown off the ball either. His biggest plays came as a pass rusher, in which he was able to blow by Vikings center John Sullivan and right guard Valdimir Ducasse to record four tackles, including 1.5 sacks.
Mike Daniels (+3.2 overall, +3.6 rush) was able to use his leverage to push back LT Matt Kalil on several occasions, and blew up John Sullivan on a stunt for a sack. He wasn't great against the run, but if he can continue to play like he did on Thursday night, teams will have to start sending tight ends and fullbacks his way to slow him down.
Mike Pennel (-0.1 overall, +0.5 run, -0.7 rush) was decent against the run in place of an injured Josh Boyd, but he needs to work on lowering his pad level, and getting a better push with initial contact, as he sometimes gets pushed backwards right off the snap, and has to battle the whole play just to establish the line of scrimmage.
Luther Robinson (-2.1 overall, -1.4 run, +0.2 rush) played 34 snaps in his Packers debut. He should get direct credit for both of the Packers interceptions on the night, as he hit Ponder's arm on the Julius Peppers pick-6, and was in Ponder's face when he threw an ill-advised interception to Jamari Lattimore. He was pushed around too much in the run game, but if he can help create turnovers, he will continue to see his snap count increase if Jones is dinged up for an extended period of time.
Julius Peppers (-1.0 overall, -0.8 run, +1.0 coverage) showed impressive speed on his interception return, and was quick to the flats whenever he dropped back into pass coverage. He continues to get washed out in the run game at times, but at 34-years-old, he is going to have glimpses of All-Pro play and some instances that remind us that he is a 14-year veteran at the twilight of his career. The first sign of aging for an elite professional athlete is when the player is not consistently excellent on every play, and that might be the only downfall to Peppers right now.
Clay Matthews (-0.2 overall, -0.6 pass rush) didn't grade out well, but I thought his pass rush moves and stunts helped key a lot of the pressure that the defense was able to create throughout the game. A.J. Hawk (+0.7 overall, +1.3 coverage) recorded seven tackles, and might have had one of his best performances in pass coverage, while also adding a few impressive inside blitzes as well. His open field tackle on the explosive Cordarrelle Patterson was textbook form.
Jamari Lattimore (+0.9 overall) started over an active Brad Jones (seven snaps) and his performance in the last two weeks will likely keep him on the field. Nick Perry (+0.7 overall, +0.3 run, +0.3 rush) recorded two sacks on the night, and his bull-rush sack over Loadholt reminded me of just how good Perry could become over time. The guy has excellent strength and balance and an initial jolt will knock just about any offensive lineman backwards. If he ever learns some finesse pass rush moves, he may live up to his billing.
Mike Neal (-2.0 overall, -1.0 rush, -1.0 coverage) recorded two tackles and three pressures on the night, but continues to struggle in pass coverage. He got sucked inside on a play action pass that netted 12 yards, and just appears flat-footed when forced out in open space.
Morgan Burnett (+3.6 overall, +3.2 run) had one of his best performances in run support that I have seen in some time. He finished with 12 tackles, including two critical third-down stops and one play when punched the ball out of Matt Asiata's grip to force a fumble as well. His play in run support will likely be a key factor in whether this team turns things around against the run.
Micah Hyde (+1.2 overall) started over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (+0.7 overall), but Clinton-Dix ended up playing 26 more snaps. Much like Lattimore, Clinton-Dix makes aggressive mistakes from time to time, but appears to be the superior athlete in the position battle.
Sam Shields wasn't tested much by the Vikings, after being tested early and often by Jay Cutler a week earlier. Tramon Williams (+0.2 overall, -0.2 coverage) recorded seven tackles, but had a couple of close calls in coverage and was probably lucky it was Ponder throwing the ball around instead of Bridgewater or Matt Cassel.
Casey Hayward recorded five tackles, two pass break-ups, two quarterback hurries, and a fumble recovery. He was the most active cornerback on the team on Thursday, and seems to be rounded into form nicely after a few shaky outings earlier this season.
Mason Crosby was six for six on extra points and averaged 75 yards per kickoff with 4.04 seconds of hang time.
The Ginger Wolverine pinned five of six punts inside the 20-yard line for average of 50.7 yards per kick. He tilted the field position in Green Bay's favor on a night when the conditions were awful.
The decision to stop attempting to run the ball out of shotgun was a big plus for Coach McCarthy and company, and I expect to see more of the same moving forward. The offense seems to have found its groove, but the defense still needs to find a way to at least slow down the run game.
Up Next: The Packers travel to Miami this Sunday to take on a well-rested Dolphins (2-2) team that is coming off a bye week following their impressive win over the Oakland Raiders in London a week before.