Legendary senior writer, Packers lead blogger & NFC North columnist jclombardi’s insider final reviews & grades.
Photo credit: Evan Siegle GBPG.
SUMMARY: In a predictable "choke" division road game performance against the desperate Vikings having playoff implications, the Packers lost as their defense failed to stop Vikings RB Peterson, to hold on long third downs, to stop mediocre Vikings QB Ponder, to execute in clutch situations, and to avoid costly miscues contributing to the final losing margin score. We show what happened, who’s to blame, and the adjustments to win Saturday rematch.
GAME BALLS: QB Rodgers; RB Harris; WR Jennings; NT Raji; TE Finley.
INJURY REPORT: WR Boykin (ankle injury); DE Worthy (knee injury).
PASSING OFFENSE: A- vs A- vs A. After another slow start with just 10 points in the first half, the offense started to roll in the second half. Leading several comeback drives, QB Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 131.8 passer rating. Leading a big day for the elite receivers, WR Jennings had 8 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns. WR Nelson had 3 catches for 87 yards and 1 touchdown. TE Finley had 8 catches for 72 yards. WR Jones had 6 catches for 62 yards and 1 touchdown.
The pass protection struggled against the Vikings’ defensive front line. The Vikings got five sacks with DE Griffen getting 3 sacks. PFF identified the biggest culprit:
Four out of five Packers offensive linemen graded positively on the day, with right tackle Don Barclay the lone culprit at -4.1. The undrafted rookie gave up three sacks, a hit, and a hurry, to go along with two penalties. He was unable to keep up with defensive end Everson Griffen’s speed rush on multiple occasions, while DE Brian Robison’s sack with 8:28 to go in the third quarter forced a Rodgers fumble and Green Bay turnover.
During the 3rd quarter, in a big momentum turnover, DE Robison’s strip-sack of QB Rodgers caused the only fumble turnover in the game that lead to a Vikings touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B vs B- vs B. After five games, the Packers' string of rushing for at least 100 yards ended in this miserable performance. They got 72 yards in only 16 running plays. Yet, the offensive line was solid with no real bad runs. RB Harris had 14 carries for 70 yards showing good visions and cutbacks averaging a good 5 yards per carry. He brings explosive power to the running game with good physical pass protection skills.
PASSING DEFENSE: F vs D vs D+. The Packers gave up 444 total yards in an awful performance against a grade C team led by a mediocre quarterback. Facing little pass rush (one Packers sack), Ponder completed 16 clutch passes for 234 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a solid 120.2 passer rating. Without WR Percy Harvin, Ponder still effectively connected with WRs Wright, Simpson and Jenkins picking the Packers secondary that had given him nothing in the first 2012 season game. How bad was the secondary collapse? First, SE’s assessment highlighted key plays:
He had five explosive passes of more than 16 yards, two of those in third-down situations. The longest pass play came on a 65-yard downfield heave to rookie Wright (three catches for 90 yards), who made cornerback Sam Shields look bad on a double move to set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Coupled with a senseless illegal-use-of-hands penalty by cornerback Tramon Williams after the Vikings failed to pick up much on a third-and-12 pass in the red zone, that possession ended with a short touchdown throw from Ponder to Michael Jenkins. Then, at crunch time in the scintillating final quarter, Ponder hit Jenkins inexplicably wide open with three defenders in the vicinity along the sideline for a 25-yard completion on third-and-11 from the Minnesota 27. That play right after the 2-minute warning led to the Vikings' game-winning field goal as time expired.
[Linebackers] Jones and Hawk both were at least partly responsible for short TD passes out of the backfield to Jarius Wright and Peterson. [Williams]…got embarrassed by FB Felton on a sideline stop route, gave up a 21-yard dig to Jerome Simpson off a play-action fake, and picked a terrible time to drill Simpson in the face. On the other side, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward weren't much better. Shields was looking in the backfield so intently that he didn't even know what type of route Wright ran to blow by him for 65 yards. Hayward drifted too far inside on Ponder's play-action fake…on the 25-yard strike to Michael Jenkins. [Safety] Jennings (56) is willing but lacks the size to take on Peterson. After Shields peeked toward Ponder and managed to lose Jenkins in the end zone, Jennings did a nice job picking him up but then fanned on the interception and gave up a 3-yard TD. Jerron McMillian (26) was exploited by Rudolph in man coverage.
The biggest miscue was when the Vikings had third and goal from the 12. Vikings Gerhart gained just 5 yards on a screen pass, but CB Williams drew the penalty flag and safety Jennings’ failure to get an interception summed up the Packers defense’s day:
That left the Vikings at the 7. Peterson was stacked up for gains of just 2 yards on the next two plays. On third down, Ponder bought time with his feet and scrambled left. Jenkins worked into the middle of the end zone against Shields. Then Jenkins broke his route back outside where he was picked up by free safety Jennings with Jennings appeared to be the free man in coverage. Ponder threw hard to Jenkins who made diving catch in front of diving Jennings for touchdown. "It kind of went through my hands a little bit," Jennings admitted. "I touched it, but he made a great catch and he threw a great ball."
RUSHING DEFENSE: D vs C- vs B. Vikings RB Peterson rushed 34 times for 199 yards, 1 touchdown run and 1 touchdown pass. While the Packers front line had a strong performance, the linebackers and cornerbacks failed to hold gaps and to make tackles.
Again, BM’s assessment nailed it:
Of the 14 missed tackles on defense, four fell on [linebackers]. The outside linebackers generally set a poor edge against tight ends. [ILBs] Hawk and Jones weren't sure with their steps, combined to miss three tackles, and were disappointing. [Secondary had] eight missed tackles including three by Tramon Williams and two by Morgan Burnett. Williams had a brutal game. Against the run, he didn't really want in on the rough stuff and gave Peterson the outside once or twice.
Again, the weak link in the Packers defense was cornerback Williams. B & C provided the brutal assessment based upon other confirming insider sources:
If a defense covers its gaps, it’s going to be in good shape. If it doesn’t, even if it’s just one player out of 11, a good back will make a team pay and Peterson will destroy it. Bottom line: The Vikings game-planned to attack Williams unrelentingly and not always by running right at him. Either way, Peterson’s mindset was clear: Know where No. 38 is at all times and if you have to cut back, do it in his gap. Williams’ unwillingness to fill an alley or even play contain and take on a pulling lineman or the fullback allowed Peterson to either cut inside the block or step back and run around it.
How awful did Williams perform? PFF summed up Williams’ disgusting evaluation:
It’s rare to see a -3.8 run stop grade for a cornerback, but that’s what Tramon Williams posted on Sunday. He had a difficult time fighting off blocks from Vikings wide receivers, and he got outrun to the edge on Peterson’s 20-yard run early in the third quarter. Williams even found himself mixing it up with fullbacks and guards at times, but to no avail. In the passing game, he gave up only three receptions for 46 yards, but they all went for first downs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B vs B vs A-. Replacing injured WR/PR/KR Cobb, WR Ross averaged solid 20.5 yards in two punt returns and 28.7 yards in 3 kickoff returns. Shockingly, kicker Crosby hit two long field goals from 51 yards and 40 yards. His six kickoffs averaged 68.8 yards and 3.99 seconds of hang time. Punter Masthay had three punts averaging 42.7 gross, 30.7 net and 3.83 hang time. However, the coverage units has soft coverage giving the Vikings good field position on several kicks.
COACHING: F vs D vs ?. Head Coach MCarthy & DC Capers failed to deliver solid game plans and game management. At CBS Sports.com, Packers writer JC summed it up:
Whether they weren't ready, were poorly motivated, or the Vikings simply played better and harder, the Packers appeared outcoached. A first-round bye...should have been ample incentive to match Minnesota's fire. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn't have his men ready....There simply has to be a better game plan to slow him down than what the Packers have done in two games allowing him 408 yards. Their four leading tacklers were defensive backs, a clear indication of how often he got into the secondary.
Yet, McCarthy failed at time management too with two glaring examples:
In the 1st half, the Packers used two timeouts inside Minnesota's 10-yard line leaving them without a timeout to later challenge the tipped completed Vikings pass, when the replays clearly showed the tip of the ball hit the ground and was an incompletion; the Packers had failed to intercept it leading to a Vikings touchdown drive. Then, McCarthy almost repeated famed Jim Schwartz Thanksgiving Day mistake when he threw a challenge flag at wrong time with WR Nelson trying to bail him out by covering it.
OVERALL: C- vs ? vs C+. The Packers choked failing to get the NFC 2nd seed and 1st round bye. Instead, they face an encore home game against the laughable Vikings and their mediocre quarterback. Revenge is a dish best served cold in Lambeau Field. Then it is on to face the 49ers.