NFL Wild Card Week: Green Bay's Biggest Winners and Losers
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and the Green Bay Packers were serving it up by the gallon.
The Packers are moving on in the playoffs and face the San Francisco 49ers next Saturday in the divisional round. In their 24-10 victory over the Vikings, Green Bay spotted Minnesota the first three points but it was all Packers from that point forward.
Aaron Rodgers and the running game immediately got hot as the offense scored 24 unanswered points to win the game with relative ease.
The defense continually harassed Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, who got the late nod over the injured Christian Ponder.
Green Bay played a near flawless game, but that doesn't mean some players didn't leave some room for improvement.
Here are the winners and losers for the Packers in Saturday's playoff game.
Winner: Erik Walden
One week after Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder shredded the Packers at Mall of America Field, Green Bay did a much better job at Lambeau Field.
Peterson was held to 99 yards and Webb looked lost in place of the injured Ponder. After the Vikings got the opening field goal, their offense was shut down until garbage time late in the fourth quarter.
A big reason for that was the play of Erik Walden. Walden finished with one sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. He had an incredible night as he was consistently in Webb's face even when he wasn't able to get his hands on him.
The 49ers' offensive line will be a tougher out, but if Walden can keep the momentum going, the Packers will have a good chance at stopping the 49ers offense.
Loser: Don Barclay
Rodgers wasn't sacked as many times this week (three tonight versus five last Sunday), but he still was on the ground more than the Packers would like.
Some of the blame rests on Rodgers and his internal clock, but at times the offensive line wasn't much help either. Rookie Don Barclay, who entered the lineup when Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season, again struggled against the Vikings' defensive line.
The Packers were able to overcome the issues Barclay had to move the ball effectively through the air, but Barclay will have to play much better next week if the Packers want to stop the terrific San Francisco pass rush.
Winner: DuJuan Harris
He's no Adrian Peterson, but DuJuan Harris may be the running back the Packers have been looking for for the last couple of years.
Despite his 5'8" stature, Harris is shifty and has begun to emerge as a threat in the screen game. He finished the game with 17 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown. While that's only 2.8 yards per carry, Harris also caught five passes for 53 yards, which gives him exactly 100 yards for the game.
The Packers don't need Harris to be a workhorse like Peterson, but if he can continue to develop and play the way he has, that takes some pressure off Rodgers. Harris' roster spot is all but secured already for 2013.
Now he has his eye on the starting job.
Loser: Third-Down Offense
Here's another situation where the numbers don't necessarily tell the whole story.
The Packers spent a good chunk of the game up by 21 points, but the Packers only converted on third down three times in 14 attempts for a conversion percentage of 21.4 percent. Luckily, the Packers moved the ball well enough on first and second down that this statistic wasn't a factor in the game.
A lot of times the Packers were able to get in 3rd-and-short situations, but McCarthy would then call for the deep ball and the Packers were not able to convert. Green Bay had the game well in hand at that point, but McCarthy is going to have play more conservative against the 49ers next week. The home run ball shouldn't even be an option very often.
Winner: Aaron Rodgers
It was another "ho hum" day at the office for Rodgers.
The Packers quarterback was 23-of-33 for 274 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers didn't turn the ball over and moved the ball with relative ease. He was still sacked a little bit too often (three times versus last week's five sacks) and could have gotten the ball out a little sooner, but other than that it was a typical "Rodgers game" from the reigning MVP.
The scary part of Rodgers' performance is how much he spread the ball around. All of his favorite targets are healthy for the first time since Week 4 and it's beginning to show. Of Rodgers' 23 completions, 10 different receivers caught a ball.
With so many weapons on offense, the Packers will be a tough opponent going forward.
Loser: The Fullback Draw
It's been an issue for awhile with the Packers, but it cost them an even larger margin of victory against the Vikings on Saturday.
The Packers look brilliant moving the ball down the field, but when they got to the Vikings 2-yard line, Mike McCarthy dials up two patented fullback dives and sends FB John Kuhn up the middle. There was no gain on either play.
If the Lambeau crowd can see this coming, judging by the loud "KUUUUUUUHHHHNNN" chant, you can bet the Vikings did too. It didn't work.
Kuhn did have two touchdowns against the Vikings, but one came on a dump-off pass from Rodgers that caught the Vikings off guard.
The FB draw near the goal line has to be dumped. Kuhn up the middle worked well for awhile, but now that everyone can see what's coming, it's time to find other uses for the Packers fullback.
Winner: Clay Matthews
This just in: Clay Matthews is a pretty good linebacker.
Matthews was credited for two sacks (though one was a gift when Webb tripped over his foot) and also forced a fumble that he recovered as well. It was another game that showed how important Matthews is to the Packers on defense since he returned from injury.
Matthews is regaining his stride at a perfect time, and if he can have this kind of success against Colin Kaepernick next week, then the Packers could be looking at a berth in the NFC Championship Game.
Loser: The Soft Zone
This is a bit of a nitpick, but the Packers probably would have won this game by an even bigger margin had the defense kept its foot on the gas a little longer.
Webb got things going a little bit later on in the second half, but it really didn't matter much in the scheme of things. Much like it has all season, the Packers sometimes drop into a soft zone/prevent defense when they get a lead and this has allowed them to let teams back into games.
If the Packers want to get to the Super Bowl, they're going to need to step on teams' throats and not let up. The remaining teams in the NFC are significantly better than the Vikings, so the Packers will have to be on the attack for a full 60 minutes going forward.
Winner: BJ Raji
Many thought that BJ Raji would have to back up his solid performance last week with another outstanding game on Saturday, and he delivered.
Raji didn't put up big numbers, but he was instrumental in helping contain Peterson. The Packers are a much better team when Raji is playing well, and his resurgence this year has played a big role in the Packers' improvement on defense.
If he can continue to be a force up front, Green Bay could go far into the playoffs. The linebackers are playing more effectively with Matthews present, and a disruptive defensive line will only allow them to hunt even more.
Loser: Jermichael Finley
Again, perhaps a bit of a nitpick since Jermichael Finley has been playing well as of late, but he dropped a pass in the end zone. It was a tough catch, but one Finley has to make if he wants to be one of the game's best tight ends.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about Finley's future in Green Bay, and solid performances during the playoffs will only increase his chances of staying with the Packers. He only has one more year left on his deal, but the Packers will unload Finley if they think he isn't worth the trouble he sometimes causes.
The drop on Saturday is not a good start. You have to catch the ball when it is in your hands in the playoffs.