NFC North: Green Bay Packers Unit Grades vs. Minnesota Vikings
Packers Nation was sick of hearing it, and apparently Dom Capers was, too: This is not a championship defense.
The Packers only allowed Minnesota one score. That was after a turnover gave them the ball at the Packers 14.
The game plan had the highest percentage of blitzes in Capers' tenure as defensive coordinator. New players got involved in the pass rush, with Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams coming at rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
This may not work against the best quarterbacks who pick apart blitzes, but it sure worked Monday night.
The offense came ready to play, too. Mike McCarthy's game plan only resulted in 356 yards but got Green Bay 38 of the 45 points scored. Special teams even got into the act with a touchdown.
The coaches deserve an A for what was probably the Packers' most complete performance. Granted, they were playing at home against a 2-6 team. But a division rival coming off a win and a bye week is still not supposed to be this easy.
Of course, it helps when you have great players. For their part, the Packers' units earned the following grades...
We had a Matt Flynn sighting!
The Packers backup quarterback had thrown just one pass this season, at the end of a blowout victory over Denver. It was to a wide-open receiver but badly overthrown and picked off.
Monday, he threw two more passes. Not only did he complete both for 38 total yards (19 per attempt), but he capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run.
He got his chance because Aaron Rodgers was his usual, unstoppable self. After recovering an unforced fumble on the first possession that counted for the first sack, Rodgers went 23-of-30 for 250 yards (8.3 average) with four touchdowns.
Neither quarterback had a turnover, and while they combined for just 21 yards on 10 carries, that includes four kneel-downs.
In reality, their feet generated 25 yards on six carries, a 4.2-yard average, and kept the Vikings formidable pass rush from having more than two sacks for 15 yards outside of Rodgers' first-play gaffe.
Since that mistake did not cost the Packers a score, it was inconsequential. Add in the three penalties drawn and they get a perfect grade.
Running Backs: B-
Green Bay did not run the ball well...wow, what a shocker!
A team in the bottom third of the league in almost any rushing statistic could not get it done against a team in the top third of nearly every defensive statistic when they spent almost an entire half predictably running to eat the clock? You don't say!
Considering the degree of difficulty, the backs did quite well. James Starks gave the Packers some semblance of a running threat with 13 carries for 63 yards (4.8 average), but Ryan Grant struggled (eight carries, six yards) because he is a guy who exploits holes, not creates them.
However, Grant had the backfield's biggest play, a 17-yard catch. Starks added three for 11 yards and John Kuhn had two for nine, including a touchdown. There were no exceptional blitz pick-ups but also no blown assignments...an average day.
Jermichael Finley exploited the Vikings' linebackers and safeties three times for 67 yards (22.3 average). But since the Vikings' corners are their biggest defensive weakness, Rodgers spent most of the night throwing to his wide receivers.
Jordy Nelson had five catches for 63 yards and two scores. Fourth and fifth options were their most active, with Donald Driver and Randall Cobb each catching three passes for 36 yards.
Meanwhile, Greg Jennings was hardly used (three catches for 32 yards and a score). James Jones continues to be the least important signing of the Packers offseason with one catch for nine yards, after which he fumbled out of bounds. Andrew Quarless added an eight-yard catch but fell en route to the end zone.
Collectively, 20 catches for 251 yards (12.6) and three scores with just one false start and no egregious dropped passes is pretty impressive no matter who you are playing. They also drew a pass interference and illegal use of hands penalty for 25 total yards.
Finally, Packers quarterbacks completed more than three of four passes because their receivers were open, and multiple catches were made over at least one defensive player.
Offensive Line: D+
Marshall Newhouse has been unable to contain Jared Allen in either contest. While that is not unique to him, many of the playoff teams the Packers could face have elite pass rushing defensive ends.
Not only did Allen get a sack, but he was in on seven tackles and had multiple pressures. The rest of the line was little better, leading to another sack and several quarterback scrambles that expose them to injury as well as few holes with which to run out the clock.
That being said, they did face the best component of the Vikings defense and did not commit a penalty. It was good enough to allow the rest of the offense to function.
Defensive Line: B+
Ryan Pickett had one tackle. C.J. Wilson had three solo and an assist, allowing the team to rest B.J. Raji, who was thus held off the statsheet.
But while four tackles and an assist without a sack is not good even for a line even in a 3-4, it is only one measure of success.
The pressure was there enough to help linebackers get three sacks and there were plenty of hurries.
More importantly, gap control led to the defense shutting down Adrian Peterson (14 carries, 51 yards fora 3.6-yard average) and containing other backs (six carries, 36 yards).
This was a full unit effort.
Clay Matthews had two sacks with a fumble forced and was in on five tackles. Desmond Bishop got the other sack and was in on eight tackles. A.J. Hawk was in on seven tackles, and Vic So'oto (in his first appearance), Erik Walden and Brad Jones combined for two tackles and two assists.
More than their stats, the linebackers created pressure and forced mistakes, including two holding penalties. They contained backs to a mere three catches for 19 yards and helped hold talented tight ends to four receptions, though they racked up 70 yards.
Christian Ponder was just 16 of 34 (.471) for 190 yards (5.6 per attempt) without a touchdown. His passer rating was just 52.3, and most of the credit for that goes to the secondary.
Tramon Williams had another interception, as well. The Packers have more of them than touchdowns yielded despite a below-average sack percentage, and this is one reason the Packers are actually a top-10 pass defense, no matter how they rank in yards allowed.
While Vikings wide receivers are hardly elite, they caught just 10 passes for 110 yards. That is an exemplary job by the cornerbacks, and safeties partnered with linebackers to hold the Vikings talented tight ends to 70 yards.
But the backs did much more than that. Even though they did not get a sack, the pressure they put on was essential to their own coverage success. They even drew an offensive pass interference.
The secondary was also swarming to the ball, combining for 14 tackles and nine assists led by Charles Woodson's eight and one. Both safeties, Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett, had two tackles and four assists.
Special Teams: B
Randall Cobb had a punt return for a touchdown, but his other three returns netted no yardage and included a fumble that led to Minnesota's only score. Still, a 38-yard and 17-yard kick return gave him a respectable average of 27.5, and two penalties were drawn on returns without the Packers being flagged.
Mason Crosby was not tested, hitting all six extra points and his field goal attempt, a 25-yard chip shot. He put only five of his eight kicks into the end zone and they resulted in four touchbacks, but one was intentionally short.
Packers coverage was excellent, allowing just an average of 14 yards per kick and 6.5 per punt. Tim Masthay was not very active but quite effective, averaging 49.5 yards on his two punts.