The Green Bay Packers went on an 18-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 11 minutes to start the fourth quarter and bury the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
When the marathon drive was over, the Packers led 23-14 with 4 minutes to play. There was little hope that poor Christian Ponder could lead a miracle comeback for our Helga-horned neighbors to the west.
The Packers held the ball for so long on that drive because they looked to move the chains on third down instead of trying for the big play. On this drive, it was better for the Packers to be the tortoise than the hare.
Normally, I’m all for the Packers going deep on third down. They have the personnel to do it.
But it hasn’t been working and you can only bang your head against the wall for so long.
Let’s take a closer look at the third down plays on the game-clinching drive:
Third and 8 on GB 28
Here comes the rollout and inevitable toss 30 yards down the field, right? Wrong. Greg Jennings runs an in-route and gets just enough for the first despite juggling the catch. Nice call and a good decision by Rodgers.
Third and 2 on GB 44
Rodgers was flushed right and managed to run past the marker. It looked like he wanted to launch one downfield, but thought better of it.
Third and 5, on MN 48
Rodgers hits Finley on another in-route and Finely comes up with the fist despite tight coverage from Chad Greenway. This is exactly the type of play the Packers need to run to bust the cover-2 and keep the sticks moving. Of course, they do try and run this type of play sometimes, only to see Finley drop it. Good to see No. 88 hang on and get all fired up. (If you got upset over Finley’s celebration on this catch, please don’t visit this website or watch another Packers game ever again. Emotion is a good thing. Especially after that catch.)
Third and 12 on MN 43
Ok. Here’s where we find out how good your quarterback is. The great ones pick up a first down here. Everything has been set up. Finley and Jennings have first downs on tough in-routes. Rodgers ran for a first. And the Packers had been running the ball decently on early downs. The Vikings defense had a favorable down and distance, but still probably had no idea how the Packers would approach this key play. Rodgers gets flushed from the pocket and manages to hit Randall Cobb for 33 yards on a throw that was between two defenders and harder than it looked. I’m sure Wayne Larivee delivered the official dagger after Blair Walsh missed a late field goal, but Rodgers delivered the real dagger on this pass.
Third and goal on MN 16
The third down run from John Kuhn up the middle needs to be removed from the Packers playbook and thrown into the Fox River. It was a horrible call on third and 1 earlier and it was a horrible call here. Yes, I know that you don’t want to do anything dumb and sacrifice a field goal chance, but there are better options than a dive to Kuhn. A quick dumpoff to Finley or even a quick dumpoff to Kuhn gives more of an opportunity to make a play and maybe score. At the very least, it would have gotten closer for Mason Crosby’s hold-your-breath field goal attempt.
Now compare all of those third-down calls to a few from earlier in the game:
2nd quarter, third and 2, MN 47
Rodgers launches one deep to Finley and it falls incomplete. It looked like Cobb came open underneath (tough to tell for sure on TV), but Rodgers passed him up.
3rd quarter, third and 7, MN 29
Rodgers fires it deep for Jarrett Boykin in the end zone. Really? A deep ball to Boykin was the best option here? Again, the film will have to be reviewed to see what the underneath coverage looked like, but this pass was especially frustrating.
The Packers need to have more of a move-the-chains mindset in the final four games. That means Mike McCarthy needs to call move-the-chains plays and Rodgers needs to move the chains when the opportunity is there instead of always looking for the big gain.
As long as you’re getting first downs, those shots downfield should open up a bit.
It sounds oversimplified, but as more lineman and receivers go down with injuries, it’s what the Packers are going to have to do.——————