Sunday’s game against the red-hot Patriots was a big test for the Packers. It might have even been a Super Bowl preview.
The game came down to the final drive. And while Green Bay’s offensive unit never delivered the knockout punch, the defense stepped up in the final moments. The game had a playoff-like feel, and the Packers emerged victorious against the AFC’s hottest team.
With a 26-21 win in the books, let’s take a look at how each position group graded out.
Rodgers learned his lesson about avoiding shutdown cornerbacks in Week 1. Rodgers ignored Richard Sherman’s side of the field and was left to work with limited real estate. Fans hoped they wouldn’t see that again against Darrelle Revis.
Things changed. Revis moved around the field, taking on Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Rodgers didn’t ignore his favorite targets, he exploited man coverage when the opportunity arose. It proved to be crucial to his success.
Credit goes to Mike McCarthy for drawing up creative packages to create favorable matchups for his wide receivers. Rodgers may not have always had Nelson and Cobb open, but Davante Adams and Andrew Quarless were there in big moments. Rodgers delivered once again at home, finishing with 368 passing yards and two touchdowns.
This is pretty amazing: The last time Aaron Rodgers was intercepted at Lambeau Field was Dec. 2, 2012.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) December 1, 2014
Rodgers’ numbers this season are ridiculous—33 touchdowns and 0 interceptions at home. He is clearly the best player in football and it goes beyond the numbers. The way he moves around the pocket with his unmatched ability to throw on the run, Rodgers could be on track to win his second Most Valuable Player award.
The running game was a bag of mixed results. It started well. Eddie Lacy powered the first drive with 12, 13 and 24-yard runs. His first three plays accounted for 49 of his 98 rushing yards for the game.
Success was hard to find after that. Over his next 10 carries, Lacy’s longest run went for four yards. Even when running lanes were there, Lacy was slow to find them and they closed before he could get there. Lacy’s power often saves him at times, but the moments of running into his teammates or into a tackle are frustrating. Lacy picked things up again in the fourth quarter.
On Green Bay’s final scoring drive, he racked up 31 total yards. And when Green Bay was ready to kill the clock, Lacy delivered. James Starks was a non-factor for the running game, but made a nice 28-yard catch. Lacy is set for a favorable matchup next week against the Falcons, who have the worst run defense in the NFL.
Wide receiver/tight end:
Facing Revis and Brandon Browner, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Cobb and Nelson had quiet games. Revis is an All-Pro CB and Browner is allowed to be physical thanks to All-Pro S Devin McCourty behind him.
The X-Factor coming into the game was Davante Adams. The rookie needed to have a big game versus Logan Ryan and provide a go-to target for Rodgers. Adams dominated on Sunday—finishing with six receptions and a career-high 121 receiving yards. It would have been an even better game had he not dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter. This was a promising outing for the rookie and will help build his confidence going forward.
Cobb and Nelson contributed as well on Sunday. Nelson was held to two receptions for 53 yards, but he made them count. Nelson got past Revis on a slant route and was off to the races for a 45-yard touchdown. McCarthy used Cobb brilliantly—often lining him up in the backfield and moving him around, forcing New England to put a linebacker on him. Cobb finished with seven receptions for 85 yards and has earned every dollar likely coming his way this offseason.
While it was a quiet statistical night for Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers, their four combined receptions came at key moments. Rodgers hauled in a 32-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and Quarless helped out on third down.
From snap to throw, Rodgers had the ball for 11.75 seconds according to my @RobDemovsky autograph model stopwatch.
— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) December 1, 2014
There are many words to describe the offensive line’s performance. But none say it more perfectly than what we saw on one of Rodgers’ incompletions. While it goes as an incompletion on the stat sheet, the offensive line gave Rodgers nearly 12 seconds to throw. That kind of time is unheard of in the NFL, but Rodgers had enough time to write a novel on that play.
It was the highlight of an inspiring performance by the men up front. While you can certainly go back and find plays where an individual player struggled, it was still an impressive team performance.
The unit excelled in pass protection—giving Rodgers time to sit back and move around in the pocket. While Rodgers was sacked three times, part of that must be credited to New England for tight coverage.
Next week should be easier on the front-five. The Atlanta Falcons entered Week 13 ranked 31st in sacks (14) and have been horrendous on the road this season. It will provide an excellent opportunity to establish the running game.
Mike Daniels was the star of the show once again—creating the most trouble for New England and making life easier on his teammates. While the Packers didn’t record a sack until the fourth quarter, there were still positives.
Daniels may have saved the game for Green Bay. He teamed up with Mike Neal to sack Brady on third down—forcing New England to punt with just under three minutes left in the game. Daniels managed three quarterback hits and did everything possible to get Brady off his game.
Datone Jones put some pressure on Brady after disappearing for a stretch of games. New England didn’t dominate with the running game, but their 4.7 yards per carry was partially due to missed tackles. The defensive line is stringing together some solid showings, but the unit needs to post a standout performance in the coming weeks.
There was another change at linebacker. Just weeks after moving Clay Matthews inside, DC Dom Capers cut down A.J. Hawk’s snaps and started Sam Barrington in his place.
Sam Barrington stuffs Vereen (2 yards) and Blount (0 yards) on consecutive plays to force a Patriots punt.
— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) November 30, 2014
While Hawk was brought in on passing downs, Barrington was stout against the run. He finished with five tackles—stabilizing a run defense that has struggled throughout the year. While it’s uncertain if Barrington has taken over long-term, his performance has certainly earned more snaps.
No one else really made an impact at linebacker. Matthews brought pressure, but was fooled by Tom Brady on one play, leaving Shane Vereen open on a wheel route. Julius Peppers had a quiet day and Nick Perry’s snaps were limited.
There will likely be a time when the secondary earns a high grade and delivers a quality performance. But it hasn’t happened yet. While there is certainly talent on the field, it hasn’t translated to execution and success.
Sam Shields left early in the game with a concussion—forcing Davon House into a starting role. House was completely lost during Brandon LaFell’s second touchdown. He never turned toward the ball and let LaFell bring it in with ease. Tramon Williams was also exposed in coverage on several occasions, but he at least made some nice third-down tackles in the first quarter.
Safety is still a position of need for Green Bay—specifically one that can wrap up and tackle. Rookie Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix has impressed in coverage, but is still learning to wrap up ball-carriers the right way. He did fare well in his coverage of Rob Gronkowski—one of the best offensive players in football.
Morgan Burnett—now five years into his career—has not learned proper technique. LeGarrette Blount punished Green Bay players on a few runs, but it wasn’t a consistent issue.
Still, tackling in the secondary needs to improve.