Using five forced turnovers and a balanced offensive attack, the Green Bay Packers (13-0) raced out to a 34-0 lead over the Oakland Raiders (7-6) before finishing their 19th straight win overall, 46-16, Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Fast start
This game, which some thought could be the one where the Packers would fall for the first time in 2011, was over within the first 20 or so minutes. Following an interception from D.J. Smith on the Raiders’ initial possession, Ryan Grant took the Packers’ first play from scrimmage 47 yards for a touchdown. The vision in the hole and burst at the second level reminded some of the running back that racked up consecutive 1,200-yard seasons from 2008-09. The Packers would score on their next four possessions to go up 31-0 with 7:06 left in the first half. Game, set and match. The rest of the game was played on cruise control.
2. Ground game gets going
After a stretch of games where he was either ineffective or invisible, Ryan Grant had his best game of 2011 on Sunday with 85 yards rushing and two scores on just 10 carries. While the interior of the Packers’ line and the Raiders’ 28th ranked run defense were important factors, it has to be encouraging this late in the year that Green Bay’s offense can run the football with some success.
On his long touchdown to kick off the game, Grant set up middle linebacker Rolando McClain to the right in the hole, then burst past the secondary to get into the end zone. It was classic Ryan Grant in both areas. John Kuhn also added 46 yards as the Packers ran for a 136 yards, a number that ties their season-high (San Diego). As the weather turns more winter-like in Wisconsin, the run game will increase in importance. Sunday was a confidence-building effort from that unit.
3. Takin’ it away
While the Packers’ defense gave up north of 350 yards again, this was far from a poor defensive performance. The majority of the yards came when the Raiders were down by four or more scores. The defense again made their living by causing turnovers, which they did a season-high five times. Four more interceptions give the Packers an NFL-leading 27 this season, and a third quarter fumble recovery from Erik Walden resulted in another defensive touchdown. Say what you want about that side of the ball, but this is the winning formula the Packers defense has created for themselves in 2011.
And while the Raiders were obviously without three of their most important offensive weapons, this was still a positive performance. With the Chiefs and Bears, who combined to score 20 points on Sunday, up next on the schedule, the Packers’ defense has an opportunity to build some confidence for the playoff stretch.
4. Rodgers’ cadence slows the rush
Most appreciate when Aaron Rodgers draws a defensive line offside, solely for the fact that the Packers get a free heave down the field and five yards. But don’t discount how Rodgers’ cadence at the line of scrimmage effected the Raiders pass rush early on Sunday. He drew them offsides three times in the first half (four overall) and each penalty gave the Raiders defensive front some added hesitation to get off the line. For the most part, the Packers offensive line was then blowing the Raiders off the ball for the rest of the half. That obviously helped in the running game but also when Rodgers dropped back to pass. He was still hit on a number of plays, especially in the second half. But Rodgers’ use of the cadence helped give the offense time during a 34-point first half.
5. Not without concerns
It’s hard to nitpick a 46-16 win in the NFL, but this game didn’t come without some worries. The concerns start on the injury front. Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings limped off in obvious pain and had to be carted to the locker room. Coach Mike McCarthy classified Jennings’ injury as a “knee sprain,” which can mean any multitude of things in McCarthy’s vocabulary. The whole sideline sequence didn’t look promising. Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett suffered his second concussion of the season. His status could be up in the air for next week.
You have to wonder how injury concerns will effect McCarthy’s stance on playing his top guys deep into the season with little to play for. Thanks to a 49ers loss in Arizona, the Packers should wrap up home-field advantage next weekend in Kansas City. From there, McCarthy will have some decisions to make regarding his approach to the season’s final two games. Losing Jennings for an extended time could mean McCarthy treads water carefully down stretch.
It didn’t end with injuries, however. Protection was also a concern on Sunday, as Rodgers was hit on far too many drop backs. In total, the Raiders tallied four sacks and seven quarterback hits. The Packers shuffled Marshall Newhouse and rookie Derek Sherrod at left tackle with varying results. Sherrod really struggled at times, and you’d have to say that he’s still an offseason away from being ready to play full time. Also, getting Sherrod reps at left tackle tells me that the Packers have absolutely no idea when veteran Chad Clifton will return, if ever. His career could be done for all we know.
So while you could argue this was one of the Packers’ top all-around performances of the season, it didn’t end without some things to chew on for the rest of the season. Jennings’ injury will be a top concern in the coming days, and an MRI should be completed on Monday. Hold your breath.
The Packers win guarantees either the first or second seed in the NFC and a first-round bye…On his first ever offensive snap, rookie tight end Ryan Taylor caught a 4-yard touchdown pass on a smart route concept from the Packers in the red zone. Something tells me McCarthy drew that play up early in the week to get Taylor a scoring chance…After playing for the better part of two months with a bulky cast on his hand, Morgan Burnett played fast and was involved on 10 tackles. A late season resurgence from the second-year safety could really help this defense get back on track for good…A.J. Hawk (calf) was active but the Packers played it safe. Robert Francois, who had another athletic interception, made the start opposite D.J. Smith for the second straight week…After dealing with several injuries this season, Frank Zombo registered his first sack of 2011 on Sunday…Charles Woodson’s interception in the first half was just a veteran cornerback playing the route on a young receiver. Darius Heyward-Bey simply failed to shield Woodson from the slant…Speaking of cornerback play, you haven’t heard much from Sam Shields in recent weeks. That’s probably a good thing…Three different Packers (Grant, Walden and Taylor) scored touchdowns on Sunday, bringing the Packers total for the season to 19 players.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2