NFL Week 7: Green Bay Packers Report Card vs. Minnesota Vikings

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIOctober 26, 2011

NFL Week 7: Green Bay Packers Report Card vs. Minnesota Vikings

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    A 6-0 team going against a 1-5 team may look like a mismatch, but a quick preview of the game could tell otherwise.

    The game played out almost as expected, with the Vikings winning the ground battles and the Packers the air battles.

    Just like in modern warfare, the superior air power has the advantage.

    Once again, the coaching took the air out of the Packers offense after getting a lead, and it almost cost them.

    But at the end of the game, it could be argued that the live practices they use fourth-quarter leads for are paying off.

    Mid-game adjustments and opening schemes were not the problem, as Packers coaches were once again ahead of their counterparts. However, the Packers were not ready to play from the snap. That is on the coaches and the players.

    After looking foolish on the first defensive play, Green Bay woke up.

    In the end, more good than bad expressed as a grade would be a B, and that opening play makes it a B-.

    But what would be the grades of each position?

Quarterback: A+

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    Aaron Rodgers was literally perfect (in passer rating) through almost three quarters of football Sunday.

    He finished just 11 points shy of perfection (146.5), going 24 for 30 (.800 completion percentage) with 335 yards, three scores and no picks.

    Take into account two dropped passes and one spiked ball, and Rodgers might have remained perfect throughout the game.

    He is the first quarterback in NFL history to have seven straight games with a 110-plus passer rating to open the season, and increased his season rating to 125.7.

    But that is a pure measurement of statistics. How was he in calling plays, evading the rush or drawing or committing penalties?

    He did get only one nine-yard scramble plus a kneel-down while being sacked four times for 28 yards. Only a fraction of that is on Rodgers, but he did not seem to have his characteristic sixth sense for blindside blitzers.

    He seldom changed plays, but when he did he used both runs and passes. Once, the team was called for a delay of game.

    Overall, this contributed to a Total QB Rating of 90.8. Ironically, that was only third in the league for the week, but his 86.5 rating for the season is almost eight points ahead of runner-up Brady.

    That is obviously as good as anyone could hope for.

Running Backs: B

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    The Green Bay running game finally helped seal a game.

    Getting the ball back with a six-point lead and 2:30 remaining would not have been the first choice for Packers fans tired of seeing the team run into the line three times and punt.

    When the run defense is in the top six of the league in both total yards allowed and yards per carry, that result seems likely.

    With all three of its timeouts, it looked like Minnesota could get the ball back with more than two minutes left in the game facing a tired defense. Then Mike McCarthy put the ball in the hands of James Starks, who proceeded to ice it with five carries and 51 yards.

    Until that point, the Packers running back had just 24 yards on eight carries (3.0-yard average), but he did have three receptions for another 24 (8.0 per catch). Ryan Grant led the team with 29 in nine (3.2) carries, while John Kuhn had a one-yard carry and a two-yard touchdown catch.

    The final five plays involving this unit mean more than the previous 22—the final 51 yards more than the previous 78.

    Even without weighting the final possession's importance, the Packers running backs gave the team a respectable 129 yards on 27 touches, or a 4.8-yard average.

    In the bigger picture, if the Packers can keep teams honest on pass defense until they wear down, then run it down their throat in the fourth quarter, that is all they will ever want in a running attack.

    Anything more, and they might not get the most out of the league's best player under center.

Receivers: A-

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    Packers tight ends and wide receivers dropped another two passes this week and were called for two five-yard penalties.

    But they had 21 receptions for 309 yards (14.7-yard average) with three scores while drawing two pass-interference penalties.

    Greg Jennings again led the way with seven catches for 147 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown in which he slipped behind coverage and was so open when he caught the ball that he simply trotted in for the score.

    An argument can be made for Jennings as the best in this league over anyone except Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson.

    Of course, it helps to get support. James Jones had four catches for 63 yards (15.8), Jordy Nelson added four catches for 52 yards (13.0) and Randall Cobb had one for seven.

    Cobb even added a carry for a yard when motion put him in the backfield for a draw. We may be seeing the end of Donald Driver, who looks like a fifth option right now, with a late catch for six yards.

    Tight ends got into the act as well. Reserve tight end Andrew Quarless had a catch for 21 yards, and Jermichael Finley added one for 11 yards and a two-yard score.

Offensive Line: C-

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    Backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse had an almost-impossible task for the fourth start of his career.

    Jarred Allen was on pace for a 25-sack season before lining up across from the 2010 fifth-round pick, and added two more in the first half.

    From there, the Packers rolled help toward Newhouse, and the protection settled in. But four sacks for 28 yards is not very good, and while the Packers added 4.4 yards per carry, eight of those 26 carries failed to get beyond the line of scrimmage.

    Still, the line did its job well enough against a tough defensive line while getting penalized just once for five yards is just good enough to get credit.

Defensive Line: D

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    Statistically, this unit had five tackles and two assists along with one sack.

    That is not many tackles when the opposition ran the ball 31 times. That the team allowed 218 yards (7.0 average) and a score is as much the line's responsibility as any other unit.

    On the other hand, getting even one sack is enough from the line on 33 drop-backs.

    They also helped apply pressure enough for another, were without a penalty and drew a holding and a false start. That is just enough to stave off a failing grade against a very shaky Vikings line.

Linebackers: B

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    Clay Matthews was called for one of the worst roughing the passer penalty calls in memory.

    The rest of the time, his impact was positive for the Packers.

    Matthews seems to be having an off-year if you look at sacks and turnovers. But he is among the best in the league in the little-seen stats of quarterback hits and hurries, and now has five passes defended.

    He got his third sack of the season and added four tackles and two assists.

    Desmond Bishop led the team again with six tackles and two assists. A.J. Hawk had two tackles and four assists and Erik Walden added one of each. That gives the unit 13 tackles and nine assists.

    Where the linebackers played best as a unit was in pass coverage. Young quarterbacks like to check down their passes to running backs, and Christian Ponder had just one to Adrian Peterson for no yards.

    This was significant in him going just 13-of-32 (.406), and their support on tight ends was also evident as Visanthe Shiancoe was the only Vikings tight end to produce anything (four receptions, 45 yards, TD).

Secondary: B

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    hen Aaron Rodgers took over as the Packers quarterback, I remember hearing how he was going to struggle to keep up with the scoring of opposing offenses passing over old corners.

    Three years later, Charles Woodson is still one of the league's elite players at the position.

    He picked off Ponder twice, getting 26 yards on returns while adding three tackles and an assist. Charlie Peprah had seven tackles, Morgan Burnett added three and both Jarret Bush and Tramon Williams had two.

    Vikings receivers did get 219 yards on just 12 catches (18.3 average) and two scores.

    However, broken coverage on the first play did account for 72 of those yards, so the team was pretty good in holding Vikings receivers to just 11 catches and 147 yards after that.

    Minnesota might not have the best receiving corps, but it is deep enough to give even a rookie quarterback options.

    Primary credit for Ponder's 59.2 passer rating (TQBR was 51.1) goes to the secondary and has to earn them a solid grade.

Special Teams: B

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    One of the most questioned signings in the offseason was Mason Crosby, including by me.

    It looks as though I am wrong, and I could not be happier.

    Crosby has broken the franchise record for consecutive field goals and for the longest ever, hitting on four more including the 58-yarder.

    He put all seven of his kickoffs into the end zone, getting four touchbacks. On the other three kicks, potent Vikings returners averaged just 25.3 yards with a 28-yard long.

    Tim Masthay pinned the Vikings inside the 20 on all three punts, yet averaged nearly 60 yards per punt. The Vikings returners got just 12 yards on two returns, and also lost 12 yards on two penalties.

    Packers returners kept this from being an A grade, however.

    While Randall Cobb got a 42-yard punt return and had a 31-yard kick return, the rest of his day was bad. He had just 40 yards on the other two kicks and no other yardage on punts, including one fumble.

    The Packers M.D. Jennings also got called for a holding penalty that pinned Green Bay deep.