Move-the-Chains Mindset Produced Good Results for Packers on Long Drive

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Adrian Peterson
The best way for the Packers to stop Adrian Peterson on Sunday was their 18-play drive in the fourth quarter.

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.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • Mike

    Agree. On numerous occasions this season, Rodgers has looked deep on 3rd and short and come up empty when far easier short throws have been open (some wide-open) for 1st downs. This point is illustrated throughout this Vikings game but has been a relevant point since week 1. On the opening drive of the second half, with Green Bay trying to get a score to get back in the game, the offense got it to 3rd & 1 on the first drive of the half. Rodgers went play action and attempted to throw a deep bomb into double coverage. However, Kuhn was standing 5 yards downfield and could have comfortably done 10 jumping jacks before receiving the ball, as no 49er was within 15 yards. This season, especially against all the cover 2 looks Green Bay has been getting, Rodgers needs to play more like he did on this game securing drive from yesterday’s game, in order to both extend drives and rest the defense.

    • http://none TomTD

      I agree and have said as much at least a couple times here in the previous two weeks. Was that TD pass to Jones on an obvious off-sides by Vikes: if not, it should not have been thrown and lucky it was completed-the deep ball interception was poor too-Rogers had to scramble to his right numerous times and had no one to throw to-perhaps a left to right short crossing pattern should work as the short middle is wide open-get some run after the catch-I am not ready to jump on the Barclay band wagon just yet-I hope we have a veteran OT on speed dial!

  • jclombardi

    You are correct…Cobb was open in the middle zone.

  • Kevin

    I have been hoping the Packers would find their identity as an offense and that it would be similar to that of the 2011 Packers. Against the Texans they looked like the packers of last year, but that seems to have been an aberration. The dink and dunk described by Adam may be their true identity circa 2012 and might fit with Cobb’s special skills and not detract from those of the rest of the gang. It would certainly help the O line cover its deficiencies and would keep the Packer defense resting on the sidelines for longer periods. Hopefully they will embrace this and begin to define what this year’s offense really is all about.

    • toolkien

      The Packers played the 27th easiest schedule in terms of pass defense last year. Through a few weeks ago it hadn’t been even close to that easy – so far this year they have played 5 of the top 9 defenses in terms of qb rating surrendered (and yet Rodgers still leads the league in QB rating, thanks be unto Aaron). Every year is different with a different mix of teams. A 30 minute analysis of the up coming schedule in June indicated more pedestrian offenses and stronger defenses – less takeaways for the defense and less likely of coming anywhere near the point total of 2011 on offense. I predicted about 440 scored and 330 given up. The Packers were steaming toward that until that dammed NYG game last week. Oh well.

      To amplify, the Packers since 2009 have enjoyed playing teams that the Packers could generate a QB rating surrendered BETTER than the other teams’ abilities to do the same, and hence why they won a vast amount of the time. A few pot holes here and there but seldom. And this year? A bunch of defenses with better abilities regarding QB rating surrendered and the low hanging fruit is a further and far between. And the Packers STILL should be 9-3*. And AGAIN, this is with Rodgers with the highest QB rating in the league. The Packers simply have played a lot of very good defenses.

      Sorry to be so patronizing, but a team’s ability is not static from one year to the next. The NFC West has been pretty lousy, and then all of a sudden they’re stacked with defenses, just in time for the NFC North for 2012. That’s the luck of the draw. The good news is, based on this year, the Packers’ likely schedule will have appreciably easier defenses, particularly passing.

      • Adam Czech

        Well said, Tool.

  • Joe

    Adam,

    I was at the game and I totally disagree with your assessment of the Kuhn run on 3rd and goal from the sixteen.

    It was smart football from a smart coach. Even a little dump off pass has a chance of getting picked off. Rodgers throws a pick about one in every fifty attempts this year, and Kuhn has just one fumble in 150 some carries. Just based on those simple facts there is three times the chance of a disaster happening if you throw the ball. Not to mention that any incompletion stops the clock. If Mason is McCarthy’s guy then McCarthy has to act like it. Take the short run, keep the clock running and let Mason make it a two score game. Smart football!

    • Adam Czech

      Fair point on keeping the clock moving. I still think you could run a very safe play that’s a little less vanilla, though.

  • Tarynfor12

    (“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”)

    Adam,this is a totally un-necessary addition to a nice article.This is along the lines of another who stated ‘you’re not a true Packer fan unless you wear something Packers everyday no matter the occasion’.

    Don’t be that kind of writer.
    Just saying!

  • Corporate cheesehead

    Kudos to mm. The balanced approach was chicken soup for my packer soul. The injuries to the Oline may have a silver lining and force mm to continue to move the chains. The pack will keep seeing tampa two’s. It may not be fun to drive a corvette in 2nd gear for three hours but every packer win this year has been with at least 25 run attempts. Barclay should also get a game ball.

  • Chad Lundberg

    Let’s just see how long this “move the chains” change in strategy will last with McCarthy.

    • Dan

      Let’s hope Muscle-Head Mike has learned his lessons and maintains this strategy, as it is what is needed the rest of this year. With a weak Oline and with the fact that every defense on the schedule , and in the playoffs, will be playing the Tampa 2 against us, this is the recipe for success . It’s ok to take a few deep shots down the field , but, stick with the chain moving mentality. As Corp says; Driving the Corvette in second gear .

      • Lucas

        It’s more of A-Rod’s ability to be patient. My understanding of the MM “west coast offense” is having triangles created to give the QB a good look in his progressions. A triangle will always have a deep route, possibly two, in this offense. So…MM cannot really call a shorter passing game, it’s not in his playbook. He can, however, reinforce to Aaron the need to hit the open guy.

  • buckeyefanindaphils

    Actually, it looked like Boykin was open in the end zone, AR just missed it.