Five things we learned from Vikings-Packers

Coming off an impressive road win against the Chicago Bears, Green Bay had four days to fly home and prepare for the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota was coming off a 41-28 win—fueled by an impressive  241 team rushing yards and a great start by Teddy Bridgewater.

But even if Minnesota had a healthy Bridgewater and two weeks to prepare for the Week 5 matchup, it wouldn’t have mattered on this night. Green Bay dominated in all three phases of the game.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Packers 42-10 victory.

Running game finally hitting its stride

After four weeks of pundits questioning if Green Bay would ever find a running game, the team ran for 156 yards on 28 carries. It all started up front—Corey Linsley, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang opened up holes and sealed off the defensive line, opening up holes for Eddie Lacy.

After Sunday’s 2.8 yard-per-carry outing against Chicago, many began to question if Lacy was going through a sophomore slump. He had been slower to react and was hesitant at times, while not showing the same ability to lower his shoulder and power through would-be tacklers.

Tonight we saw the offensive line open up holes and Lacy drove right through them. When a linebacker or safety would attempt to wrap up and tackle, he’d knock them over. Lacy’s 105-yard, two-touchdown night raised his season yards per carry from 3.03 to 4.03. The key might have been Green Bay’s focus on the direct snap instead of the shotgun.

All Lacy and the offensive line needed was one strong performance to build off. Lacy’s powerful first drive also set up a play-action bomb to Jordy Nelson, who was wide open and hauled it in for a 66-yard touchdown. If the Packers can get close to this type of production from the ground game, Rodgers will have even more opportunities to make big throws.

Defense creates takeaways and gives offense more possessions

While the 42-0 lead entering the fourth quarter was certainly impressive, you can’t forget that the Packers’ offense struggled early in the first half. After Nelson’s 66-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter, Green Bay managed just 27 total yards the remainder of the half.

The Packers led 28-0 at halftime in large part because of their defense. After three failed drives by the offense, Julius Peppers intercepted a Christian Ponder pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. Green Bay got the shot of momentum they needed, then two plays later Jamari Lattimore picked up an interception to set up another Packers’ touchdown. Just moments after their second interception, Morgan Burnett punched the ball out of Matt Asiata’s hands inside Packers’ territory, snuffing out any potential momentum for Minnesota.

Three turnovers in the first half were key to the Packers jumping out early and really deciding this game by halftime. It was a team effort. Luther Robinson, who was just activated from the practice squad, forced pressure on the Peppers interception. Robinson again got a hand in Ponder’s face on Lattimore’s interception, providing the key disruption inside. Turnovers were mentioned last week. If this defense forces them consistently, they will give the offense more possessions, which means more opportunities for Aaron Rodgers.

Lattimore has earned the starting job

Brad Jones’ final memory as the Packers’ starting inside linebacker might just be his dreadful performance against the Seattle Seahawks. Jones missed the next three games with a quadriceps injury and Lattimore started in his place. He has now seized the job with Jones back.

Lattimore led the team in tackles entering the game, but showed up more today in coverage. While Ponder made a poor throw, Lattimore did a nice job reaching out and securing it. He has contributed in various ways—the interception and a pass deflection tonight showed off his coverage ability, but he also has eight defensive stops on the season. Jones should now find himself serving on special teams and providing depth at linebacker.

Lattimore has shown he is the best fit for Dom Capers’ defense and it’s clear the coaching staff feels the same way. He should continue to improve as the season goes on as he gains more experience as a starter.

Big-name playmakers on defense are earning their paychecks

While Peppers’ pick-six is certainly the highlight from this game, he provided pressure on Ponder as well. He recorded a sack when Ponder attempted to scramble, and he helped force Ponder to step up in the pocket and right into the arms of Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion.

Daniels has been inconsistent this season. He struggled against Seattle and Chicago, but has come up big against the Jets and Vikings. His tenacity and ability to rip through blocks and burst into the backfield was key tonight. He walked off the field with 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits and will certainly be in Ponder’s nightmares tonight.

Guion has been bad this season—grading out negatively against the run and as a pass rusher. But against his former team, Guion found revenge by fighting through blocks and attaining 1.5 sacks. It was an impressive performance, but now you just hope he can use it a stepping-stone for the rest of the season.

The best defensive player on the field tonight was Burnett. He manned up in coverage and punched the ball out of Asiata’s arms and seemed to be everywhere on the field, finishing with 12 tackles. This is what Green Bay needed from their safety and what they saw from him back in 2012. Burnett’s best game in two years should hopefully give him confidence going forward.

After a slow start, this team is finding its rhythm

After a 1-2 start to the season where the offense looked lost and the defense sieve-like, it seems the team is now hitting its stride. Green Bay has outscored opponents 66-17 since the second half last week against Chicago.

Rodgers is looking sharp once again. Seven touchdowns and a quarterback rating over 140 combined over his past two games have helped lift his season numbers to a 12-1 TD-INT ratio, 1,155 yards and a 67 completion percentage. He is making sure Nelson and Randall Cobb both play big roles—Nelson leads the NFL in receiving yards (525), while Cobb leads in touchdowns (six). And now rookie Davante Adams is emerging and is earning his confidence as we saw when Rodgers hooked up with him for a touchdown inside the red zone. If the offensive line and running game can put it together, this offense can reach the potential everyone knew it had.

The defense has had mixed results. The secondary has been stout, ranking fifth in the league entering Thursday and they are now generating more turnovers and sacks. But they’re still struggling against the run. Even in a blowout, facing a third-string quarterback, Minnesota still finished with over 100 rushing yards. When they face offensive powerhouses like the Philadelphia Eagles, they’ll need to shore up that area.

A strong passing game and secondary are an excellent start. Now the Packers must improve with the running game on both sides of the ball. Even with Detroit currently sitting atop the division, the Packers should be the favorites to win the NFC North at present time.