The Packers are now 5-5-1, the epitome of average that a team can be after 11 games.
This is the world we live in when Aaron Rodgers isn’t around to bail out the defense when they forget what tackling is. This could have been one of those 31-26 wins in which we would be complaining about how the defense gave up a late garbage touchdown to make the game look closer than it actually was.
Instead, The Packers needed a late rally to force overtime against the lowly Minnesota Vikings at home and escaped with a 26-26 tie.
The season is now on life support, but the good news is that the rest of the division is equally average. A 9-7 (or 9-6-1!) team will likely win this division, and the Packers schedule is not insurmountable. The only problem is that this defense cannot stop anybody on a consistent basis. Until that changes, I have a hard time seeing this team beat anybody.
Let’s get to the grades.
Scott Tolzien had a great pump fake – spin move combo on his six-yard scramble for a touchdown, but didn’t do much else for the rest of the day. Tolzien finished 7 for 17 for 98 yards and was replaced by Matt Flynn after one series in the second half.
Matt Flynn finished 21 for 36 for 218 yards and one touchdown. Flynn isn’t going to fix all the offense’s problems, but he did move the ball down the field better than Tolzien did. He doesn’t have as strong of an arm as Tolzien, but his experience, and pocket presence give him the nod going forward.
If I were Coach McCarthy, I would give Flynn the start, run more no-huddle, and see what happens. The Lions secondary is suspect at best, so if Flynn can connect on some intermediate passes; this offense might be able to score some points on Thursday.
Running Backs: A
Eddie Lacy continues to be the team MVP without #12 on the field. After only breaking one tackle last week, Lacy broke 10 tackles on Sunday, and got the majority of his yards on his own. Lacy finished with 110 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries, while Starks added 37 yards (one impressive 34-yard dash) on three carries.
The offensive line isn’t creating many running lanes for Lacy, but he continues to use his powerful running style and bulky body to move piles forward. I would like to see Lacy around 20 carries and Starks around 10 though, as Lacy showed signs of fatigue late in the game Sunday. The last thing this team needs is a worn-out running back against 8 or 9-man fronts.
Wide Receivers: B+
James Jones wasn’t able to create much separation from rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Sunday, but he did make some great adjustments for big plays in the second half. He was able to come back to the ball in time to snag a Flynn floater late in the game, and was generally solid in run blocking.
Jones recorded 7 receptions for 80 yards, while Jarrett Boykin added 5 receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown. Jordy Nelson added 4 for 58 yards.
The wide receivers made plays when they needed to, and tried to help create some balance to an otherwise one-dimensional attack.
Tight Ends: C-
Andrew Quarless struggled mightily on Sunday in run blocking. Both Vikings D-Ends were able to cut across Quarless’ face on stretch run plays, and meet Lacy before the play even got going. Quarless caught 2 passes for 22 yards, but his inability as a run blocker, is what is really hurting this team.
Brandon Bostick recorded a 24-yard reception, but was also unreliable in run blocking. Bostick can be utilized as a pass catcher, but much like Quarless; his inability to get any push on running plays has limited this offense’s potential.
Offensive Line: C
After a solid performance against Jared Allen a month ago, David Bakhtiari lost Sunday’s decision. He didn’t have any misses, but Allen was able to push Bakhtiari back consistently on running plays, and applied pressure on a few pass plays.
Josh Sitton was the most effective run blocker, often pulling on zone blocking assignments in which he usually took out the linebacker at the next level. Evan Dietrich-Smith was solid in run blocking, but gave up too many pressures up the middle to Minnesota’s Audie Cole, who had some well-timed delay blitzes.
Marshall Newhouse didn’t have a disastrous game, but his technique is noticeably stiff and he appears to play straight up at times. I don’t know if he’ll ever regain his 2010 form, but at this point, the Packers don’t have any options with Sherrod limited, and Barclay inactive.
Defensive Line: D
B.J. Raji was once again invisible, other than his one tackle for loss. With Johnny Jolly out, the Packers were low on big bodies, and Raji needed to have a big game. He didn’t need a bunch of tackles, he just needed to shore up the middle in run support. He couldn’t even do that, as the Vikings ran the ball straight up the middle all afternoon.
Ryan Pickett (3 tackles) did the best he could on a bad knee, and C.J. Wilson was above average in his relief duty appearance with 3 tackles as well. Mike Daniels recorded 3 tackles, including a sack. Daniels continues to improve, and might be the best defensive lineman on the team right now.
Jerel Worthy made his 2013 debut, logging 9 snaps, and was generally ineffective. He wasn’t able to hold his ground for the most part, and doesn’t appear to be ready to log heavy minutes. It would be in his and the team’s best interests to limit his snap count until he is fully healthy. I expect to see him as a situational pass rusher from here on out.
The good news is that Clay Matthews is looking healthier after every play. The bad news is A.J. Hawk is looking worse on just about every play.
Matthews finished with 4 tackles, including 2 sacks, while Mike Neal added 7 tackles and one sack.
Hawk and Brad Jones just simply didn’t get the job done. They each logged double-digit tackles (Hawk 11, Jones 10), but many of their tackles were five yards down the field. When you’re defensive line isn’t getting the job done, you need your inside linebackers to be aggressive and meet the running back in the hole. Neither Hawk nor Jones were able to do that, and the Vikings piled up 232 yards rushing because of it.
Other than the 31-yard reception to Simpson, in which he was just out-jumped, Tramon Williams had another solid performance. He finished with 5 tackles; while Davon House also recorded five, including two pass break-ups.
House has been hot-and-cold lately, and proved it on Sunday. He dropped an easy interception, but also made a game-saving deflection on a potential touchdown to Simpson in overtime (which he was out of position on).
Micah Hyde recorded four tackles, while Jarrett Bush added two from his dime package position.
Morgan Burnett led the team again on Sunday, with 12 tackles. He was primarily used in run support, and was able to close down Peterson before he broke out into the secondary. His roughing penalty in the second quarter was one of the worst calls I’ve seen all season.
M.D. Jennings added 8 tackles, but he was clearly not big enough to handle the run support role. The Packers tried to counter this with Chris Banjo, but John Carlson wiped him out on a few plays (particularly the 26-yard rumble by Toby Gerhart).
Mason Crosby was 2 for 2 on the day from 27 and 20, but was pretty poor in his kickoffs.
Tim Masthay had 8 punts for an average of 40.8, pinning 3 inside the 20-yard line.
The Packers travel to Ford Field on Thanksgiving to face the 6-5 Lions in what basically amounts to a playoff elimination game for Green Bay. If Flynn can have another record performance against a weak Lions secondary, the Packers would be able to stay in the playoff hunt in time for Rodger’s inevitable return.
If the Packers lose, it may be time to revaluate whether it would even be wise to bring back Rodgers with nothing to play for.
Regardless of who is under center for the green and gold, this defense needs to step it up. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves on Thursday against an offense that relies on Matthew Stafford lob passes to quadruple-covered Calvin Johnson. If they can force some turnovers from Stafford, who is prone to make a couple every game, then the Packers could find themselves in position to pull of a holiday upset.
Enjoy your gravy-covered cheese curds everybody.
Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24
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