Packers Shine While Division Rivals Show Vulnerability

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2009

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Ryan Grant #25 of the Green Bay Packers runs by Kenyon Coleman #90 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 25, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Playing the hapless Cleveland Browns proved to be the perfect elixir for the Green Bay Packers' offensive struggles.

The Packers played their most complete game of the season Sunday, running the ball effectively and keeping quarterback Aaron Rodgers clean and upright for the first time all season.

Rodgers was brutally efficient with time in the pocket, completing 15 of 20 passes for 246 yards and three scores as the Browns struggled to mount a pass-rush against the Pack.

But the real story was the running of Ryan Grant, who finally broke free for 148 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

Even though the Browns were without standout linebacker D'Quell Jackson, Grant appeared to run with more purpose on Sunday, running tougher than he has in some time.

Perhaps it was the Ahman Green signing that woke him up, or maybe it was just poor tackling, but Grant and the offensive line looked much improved.

Grant doesn't need to put up 150 for the offense to be effective, but he does need to be more productive to take pressure off of Rodgers and the passing game.

A few more solid games from Grant and defenses will at least have to account for the Packers so-far meek running game.

In addition the defense kept up their strong play, albeit against a Cleveland group lacking playmakers and an offensive identity.

Green Bay held their second straight opponent under 150 yards of offense and forced two turnovers, an impressive feat no matter the competition.

The Packers have now beaten their last two opponents by a combined score of 57-3, exactly the kind of dominance you want to see out of your team against inferior competition.

But beating Cleveland convincingly was not the story of the weekend for the Packers. It was the fashion in which two of their main rivals lost on Sunday that may prove to be a turning point in the NFC North race.

Cincinnati dominated Chicago at the line of scrimmage and Carson Palmer led the Bengals offense to scores on all five of their first-half possessions en route to a 45-10 thrashing of the Bears.

The vulnerable Chicago secondary was exposed by Palmer who threw more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four.)

And without defensive standouts Brian Urlacher and Tommie Harris, the Bengals also ran the ball at will on Chicago, with Cedric Benson punishing the team that once cut him for 189 yards and a touchdown.

While Chicago gets a breather next week against Cleveland, injuries have really depleted the Bears defense and the offense has been unable to pick up the slack.

Minus Urlacher and the playmaking defense that Lovie Smith's Bears are known for, it's hard to see them making a strong playoff push unless Cutler, Forte, and the offense can get it going.

After a series of close calls, the Vikings finally lost on Sunday as well, the victim of two costly fourth quarter turnovers that the opportunistic Steelers cashed in for a 27-17 win.

Brett Favre threw 51 times in an alarming trend for Minnesota, as the Vikings have increasingly gotten away from the running game and their all-world back Adrian Peterson.

Minnesota fans got their first taste of the turnover-prone version of Favre Sunday, who coughed up a fumble and a pick for touchdowns in Pittsburgh as the Vikings got away from their bread and butter of running the ball down opponents throats.

At 40, Favre and his historic arm will carry the Vikings only so far.

The Vikings strength is still their running game, and the more that they divert from their gameplan of running AP, controlling the clock, and letting Favre pick apart defenses stacked against the run, the more vulnerable they become.

Though he picked the Packers apart just a few weeks ago, the older Favre often keeps both teams in the game, and the Vikings are a more beatable team with No. 4 shouldering the offensive load.

Let's hope they forget about their defensive back crushing ball-carrier for another week.

Leading into the media frenzy that will be Favre Bowl II, the Packers appear to be slowly improving while their division rivals reveal their flaws.

After all of the issues on the offensive line and a slow start to the 3-4 transition, the Packers are only a home victory away from being just a half game out of first place in the NFC North.

If they can build on their strong performances of the last two weeks and continue to come together, that's not a bad spot to be.


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