Wins don’t always come easy, especially when playing a divisional opponent on the road. After back-to-back blowout wins, Green Bay escaped Minnesota with a close victory in a hard-fought game, 24-21.
It wasn’t a clean game by any means. This team had to overcome more adversity and poor play in stretches. Minnesota found ways to limit the Packers’ prolific offense and attack the defense.
Let’s take a look at how each unit stacked up.
Vikings HC Mike Zimmer put together a great game plan for how to limit Aaron Rodgers. While they have only faced off now four times, Zimmer has shown why he is one of the best defensive minds in the business.
The Rodgers vs. Zimmer sample only comes from 3 games, but here you go: pic.twitter.com/uzzqqXfevC
— Darren Page (@DarrenPage) November 23, 2014
Minnesota’s defense played very well against Rodgers—holding him to 209 passing yards, 19 completions and just two touchdowns. Rodgers had time to throw on Sunday, but the coverage was tight and he often had to throw it away.
Even with the tight windows to throw into, Rodgers still made a few sensational throws. With 3:20 left in the first quarter, he threw a bullet 25 yards down the middle to Randall Cobb, right past Captain Munnerlyn’s arms. He was even better in the second quarter, as he rolled out to his right and dropped a pass right into Richard Rodgers’ hands for a one-yard touchdown while falling backwards—on a throw across his body.
Rodgers wasn’t perfect, but he made plays when he needed to and threw in some magic as well. With 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions so far, he is a strong candidate for MVP at this point in the season.
The Vikings came in with a plan to put two safeties deep, play man coverage and almost dared Eddie Lacy to run at them. They found success early, but in the second half when Green Bay started pounding the football and taking the yards underneath, it came back to haunt them.
Sunday marked Lacy’s first game this season with 20-plus carries. He was the bell-cow this team needed and he helped control the tempo of the game. While his biggest run of was for just 16 yards, he consistently chomped away at this defense—4 yards, 5 yards, 6 yards, 4 yards—just fighting through tackles and moving the chains. Green Bay had a three-point lead with 3:18 left in the game, Lacy delivered with gains of 3, 5, 4, 5 and 10 to put the game away.
Zimmer on Lacy: He’s a load, he’s tough to tackle. We did a good job, they had some new running plays we had to adjust to. — Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) November 23, 2014
This is what Mike McCarthy has been wanting from the running game. When the passing game struggled and the game was tight, Lacy came through in the clutch. He continues to contribute as a receiver, blocker and closer for a team that will need him versus the Patriots.
Wide receiver/tight end:
Green Bay is built on the passing game and the Philadelphia Eagles challenged that last week by playing man coverage with a single-high safety. Minnesota focused on stopping the wide receivers first and foremost and found success.
Xavier Rhodes tagged along with Jordy Nelson for most of the day—banging him around and knocking the ball away at just the right time. Nelson was never able to create the necessary separation from coverage. Even on screens and quick passes, the safety and corner were right there to take away the yards after catch. Cobb was limited as well—held to just four receptions for 58 yards, his lowest total since his last meeting versus Minnesota. Nelson didn’t have any drops like last week—this was just a case of a great showing by Minnesota’s defensive backs.
It was another positive week for the tight ends. Andrew Quarless broke through tackles on a 16-yard gain, moving the ball inside the Vikings 10. He came through again with a 34-yard catch and run to set Green Bay up at the 1-yard line. Richard Rodgers was left wide open in the corner of the end zone and hauled in the first touchdown of his career.
What makes this matchup more important is how it projects for the upcoming game against the Patriots. Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis are two of the most physical corners in the NFL. Now Green Bay can spend the week studying film to find a way to attack them, after getting banged around by the Minnesota defensive backs on Sunday.
While Lacy was the driving force behind Green Bay’s win, he wouldn’t have got the job done without the men in front of him. While some credit certainly goes to OT Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, it was the interior line that did the most work.
T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton once again came into the week with major injuries that they have fought through. Lang’s ankle sprain was aggravated early against Minnesota but he had it taped up and then came back in. The two maulers at offensive guard spend more time during the week with ice and rehab than practicing, but they often win in the trenches on Sundays. And that’s all that matters.
The offensive line controlled Minnesota’s pass rush and allowed Rodgers time to try and find matchups he could try to exploit in the secondary. When Minnesota got pressure, it was largely a product of their coverage versus struggles in pass protection.
Winning at the line of scrimmage is a crucial step to success in the NFL and it played a pivotal role in the win Sunday. Minnesota’s offensive line was a black hole for most of the season and that was proven again this week.
Mike Daniels… “It’s definitely a wake-up call for anybody who might’ve gotten too high on themselves. …You can be beat any week.”
— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) November 24, 2014
Mike Daniels came alive on Sunday—often ripping through the line and forcing pressure on Teddy Bridgewater. He came through on one third-down play with a sack—stopping the Vikings drive to open the second half. When he wasn’t bringing down the quarterback, Daniels opened up more opportunities for teammates to come free unblocked.
The defensive line held Minnesota’s running backs to just 80 yards on 20 carries, which is an improvement from where this defense was just a few weeks ago.
Clay Matthews did not spend as much time at inside linebacker this week, but that could be attributed to limited snaps because of a groin injury and Nick Perry being held out. Matthews playing more on the outside meant more time for A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones to be exposed.
Hawk showed early why he can’t be trusted in coverage, falling behind Kyle Rudolph and allowing a 32-yard gain. He has looked slow throughout the season and lacks the physicality to match up against tight ends, which could cause chaos next week against Rob Gronkowski. Hawk also struggled versus the run, either getting stuck on blocks or getting the tackle when the ball carrier was falling to the ground.
Hopefully, DC Dom Capers will play Matthews inside more as it would allow for different looks with he and Peppers moving around.
Once again the Packers caught a break here as they faced a Vikings team that has been lackluster throwing the football all season. Despite blown assignments and cornerbacks getting fooled by double moves, they faced a quarterback who wasn’t very accurate. Bridgewater was still able to convert some big throws, including one to a wide-open Charles Johnson for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
It was a missed assignment or miscommunication between Tramon Williams and the safety. A problem that would occur again in the fourth quarter when Greg Jennings was left wide open after causing issues while running on a crossing route.
This isn’t just a blip on the radar—it’s been an issue since Drew Brees torched Green Bay’s defense. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced—Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez and Bridgewater—just weren’t accurate enough to hit the open targets.
Tom Brady, however, won’t miss these throws. He will survey the field and exploit mismatches every chance he gets. It’s long overdue for the secondary to step up and come through with a solid performance.