As I said earlier today, this was a game the Packers couldn't afford to lose. Yes, the Packers are far from out of the division race, thanks to the Bears loss to the Titans today, but on both a tiebreaker and a psychological standpoint, this game really set the Packers back today.
The game finished 28-27, with a last-second missed field goal by Mason Crosby, but this game was far from some closely matched battle between two NFC North heavyweights. This was a sloppy, messy, undisciplined mess that we almost won in spite of ourselves. Our defensive secondary and punt return team almost won this game for us, but they weren't good enough to compensate for poor play in nearly every other facet of the game.
So, let's get to this week's QuickHits:
* First and foremost, this game has to be hung directly around the neck of head coach Mike McCarthy. In addition to his now-typical strange playcalling, it is evident that this team is continuing to be undisciplined. Ten penalties for eighty yards is unacceptable in any game, but in this one, it was likely the tipping point. And, playing conservatively at the end of the game and trusting the entire result to your kicker who has hit very few game-winners in his career was inexplicable.
Many people piled on Brett Favre for assuming an air about himself when he started believing his own press. I'm beginning to wonder if McCarthy started to believe his own press after last year, coming in this year with a different (maybe smugger) attitude. I have always like McCarthy's ability to connect to his players and get the most out of them in past seasons, but this year it seems like there are far more players underachieving than overachieving.
* The offensive line is officially a major concern. The pass protection for Aaron Rodgers was pitiful today, allowing four sacks and almost constant pressure in the backfield. The Packers gave up two safeties in the second quarter when Viking defenders got into the backfield almost immediately, once with a forced fumble and once with a straight sack.
Daryn Colledge is officially a liability. I like the guy, but face it...he's a serviceable tackle and a poor guard. The fact that guys like Sitton, Barbre, and Moll are sitting behind him and unable to supplant him is a sorry reflection on the state of the talent of our line.
I'm beginning to think that Ted Thompson was all for the switch to the Zone Blocking Scheme because he felt that he could plug in any old mid-level draft pick and, as long as they ran the scheme effectively, they would be serviceable. Thus, he wouldn't have to pay any free agents money to come in and do the job effectively. It would seem that Thompson's approach to the interior offensive line is proving to be a less than passing grade.
* Ryan Grant is a ZBS running back. Today, he had a couple of nice runs, and if you look at each one of them, they came off a zone blocking pattern, in which all the linemen went one direction, and Grant was able to take one cut and run downhill.
This would be perfect, but unfortunately, the Packers try to pull some other kinds of runs, with pulls or stretches, and Grant either isn't that good at those runs, or our line just can't open anything up for him. Either way, his 16 carries for 75 yards were too inconsistent to be a true impact on the game (and 23 yards of those came on the touchdown drive in the first quarter, leaving 12 carries for 52 yards the rest of the game).
The Packers had only 18 rushing attempts all game, compared to the Vikings 41. Tell me...if your quarterback is having a bad day, how do you overcome it and still win the game? You got it...an effective, consistent running game.
* Aaron Rodgers has had two games in a row with some poor decision making. Indeed, the Vikings were in his grill all day, but we got a good look today at a young quarterback that still gets shook up under pressure. Some of his bad habits that we saw from two years ago resurfaced today: he held on to the ball too long, he wasn't aware of blind-side pressure and took unnecessary hits, he zeroed in on one receiver, and threw the ball too low when excited.
When I noted these tendencies during the 2006 season, I said that he wasn't ready to play QB in the NFL at that point. So far this season, he's appeared to have overcome them for the most part, but against a keyed-up defensive rush, he reverted back to old habits.
It's these kinds of old habits that haunt a kid the rest of his days when rushed into the game too early in his career ...just ask David Carr and Alex Smith. The Packers need to give this kid time to throw the ball or that big investment they just made is going to depreciate faster than your 403(b).
Earlier in the season, when Rodgers came off the field after a few tough series, I saw him look angry, frustrated, or focused. Today, I saw him looking bewildered. That's not a good sign when you are facing a defensive line next week that is as good or better than the one that just plastered you this week.
* I am giving official props to our defensive secondary. As a guy who has been particularly critical of our safety play the past few seasons, I think I am at a point where I have to say that those problems have figured themselves out. This is an incredible pass defense.
The obvious awards go to the interceptions by Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Nick Collins (who made a great return for a touchdown). The Packers lead the league in turnovers and points scored off those turnovers. Fantastic job, and great leadership.
The not-so-obvious award goes to Al Harris, who you heard little from today. That's because he was busy completely shutting down Bernard Berrian, allegedly the Vikings #1 receiver. Even the one penalty called against Harris was questionable. Great job.
And a great job to all the pass coverage. I saw on numerous occasions Viking quarterback Gus Frerotte standing in the pocket--one-two-three-four-five-six-seven--and have no one to throw to. Bad rap against our pass rush, but a great day for our secondary. Without them, Frerotte had all the time in the world to gash us.
* Not one Packer receiver had more than 50 passing yards, and while I don't have the official stats, I would guess that none had more than 10 YAC. The Vikings wrapped up quickly and the Packers biggest asset among their receivers was negated.
Our tight ends had two receptions for 11 yards, but Rob Demovsky can rest assured that that percentage of all completions (15) was close to the same percentages as last year (13% today). Seriously, though...they were completely invisible today after the first quarter.
Incidentally, all five receivers were active today, which begs the questions:
1) If you whine about being inactive, are you made active the next week?
and 2) if you activate all five WRs and all 3 TEs, who sits instead of one or two of them? Golly, I hope it wasn't someone important that could really be contributing in an area of weakness. More on that later.
* If the Packer run defense was hoping to improve their tarnished image coming into this game, they failed. Miserably.
They allowed 220 yards on the ground, with 192 to Adrian Peterson, who single-handedly won the game on the final drive. In addition, running backs Peterson and Chester Taylor had 117 yards receiving on the day, too.
Peterson made the Packer defenders look silly. In contrast to Grant's "downhill" style, in which he gets on a line and rumbles as far as he can before getting knocked (or falling) down, Peterson mixed a deadly blend of strength, speed, and agility to constantly change direction and create new running lanes, leaving the Packer linebackers and linemen grasping at air and forcing the secondary to bring him down.
You will not win if you can't stop the run. Period.
* Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.
I read all over the forums and blogosphere this past week about how people wanted to bench Nick Barnett and see what Desmond Bishop could do. The answer is...not much more than what Barnett was doing. Bishop had a stupid unnecessary roughness penalty and gave up a huge touchdown play in his time replacing Barnett today.
However, Barnett was really struggling before his injury in this game. One play in which Peterson came out of the backfield and caught a pass with Barnett in coverage was abysmal.
For that matter, our other starters were also terrible. Poppinga had repeated arm tackles that missed, and AJ Hawk looked as bad as he has at any point in his career today, tentative and ineffective.
Oh, and by the way, Brandon Chillar was inactive today. Thank goodness, because we sure needed James Jones and Jermichael Finley in the game instead of Chillar's good coverage skills.
* Why in the name of Vince Lombardi would you play so conservatively at the end of the game, barely trying to gain any yards in order to give a young kicker a nearly-50 yard kick to win the game? The pressure of this entire game came down on Mason Crosby, and the Packers could have done so much more to give him just five more yards to work with.
The kick missed by probably less than five feet, wide right, the difference in the ball game. Funny how one week we are talking about how overly aggressive Mike McCarthy is, and the next week we are wishing he would have pushed a little harder to win the game.
* Tell me again why we let Jon Ryan go on the last day of training camp and signed a guy who had never kicked with us because we thought he might be better. And, go slowly for me. I just don't get it.
* Wil Blackmon returned a punt for a touchdown today, a critical play that put the Packers ahead in the game. This made up for a rather idiotic mental error in which he fair caught the ball inside the ten yard line, with a safety resulting two plays later.
It's great to have a big play like that, and without those big plays, we wouldn't have been close in this game. But the Packers have lived and died by the big play this season. The Vikings had a consistent run game and a consistent pass rush all game long. They outlasted the Packers and survived the big plays.
In the end, the Packers were in a game they really didn't deserve to be in. The Vikings gave them opportunties to get back in the game, and while the Packers took advantage of them, it wasn't enough to compensate for a terrible offensive performance and an even worse run defense. If it weren't for two defense/special team scores, the scoreboard would have reflected the blowout it really was.
The Packers looked undisciplined and frustrated all day. The Vikings looked like they wanted this game for every reason, and now stand in a tie for first place in the division. The Packers fall to 4-5 and face the division-leading Bears next week. A loss to the Bears at Lambeau Field will certainly end much of the optimism for this season, and the microscope will fall firmly on Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, who will not likely be up for any post-season honors this year.
Next week is a must-win for the Packers, a game against an opponent they don't match up well with. It's too bad that we lost a game that many of us assumed was an given.