The Green Bay Packers haven’t had to play that hard, for that long, in almost a month. After losing to the New Orleans Saints in late October, the Packers had their bye week followed by two big-time wins over the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t see any action in the fourth quarter of either of those two wins. Today, on the road, the Packers faced adversity and overcame it to get a big divisional win and are alone in first place in the NFC North.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy every week but I’m not sure we saw today’s performance by the Vikings coming. Minnesota, led by new head coach Mike Zimmer, dialed up a good game plan to eliminate the big pass plays and forced the Packers to muscle out their yards. Minnesota ran cover-2 most of the day and the Packers had just two pass plays of 20 yards or longer. Rodgers was mostly accurate but benefited from a dropped interception by Vikings safety Harrison Smith and avoided a big turnover.
With Minnesota choosing to take on the Packers up front and play the run and underneath passing game, the Packers offense was up to the task. Running back Eddie Lacy went over 125 yards and had two touchdowns. Lacy was reportedly not feeling well but played anyway and showed some amazing grit. It was Lacy with some big runs at the end of the game to drain the clock and prevent the Vikings from one last possession to try and tie or win it.
I’m sure some of you are thinking that I’m overlooking all of the mistakes the the Vikings made today that could have changed the outcome of this game and that I’m unaware that a really good team isn’t going to bail Green Bay out like Minnesota did. I’m not. The overthrows and the drops didn’t go unnoticed. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did reel it in in the second half and was more on point, offering a stiffer challenge for the Packers secondary. This same secondary that has been making plays at a steady clip over the past two weeks looked very average today. With Tom Brady and the Patriots coming next week, the Packers need to find “elite status” and fast.
Here are some knee-jerk bullet points from today:
- Eddie Lacy runs well late – Lacy put the Packers on his back last season when Rodgers went down and appears to be running well so far in November. This is what the Packers were hoping Lacy would be when they drafted him: a gritty back who could take advantage of a worn down opposing defense late in games and eat clock. Lacy has been so much more. Having found success in the passing game too, Lacy has become a legitimate weapon from start to finish that has opened things up for the Packers offense. With Rodgers at the wheel, opposing secondaries have to know that if they slip up at all, Rodgers will exploit it. But what do you do when #27 is in the backfield as well and capable of picking up big chunks of yards on his own?’ The shovel pass touchdown was a nice bit of running by Lacy, who clearly hates being tackled.
- Rodgers can be good without being great – 19/29 for over 200 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Not stellar, especially when you compare that to the past few weeks, but Rodgers is clearly Green Bay’s MVP and still very much in the conversation for his second MVP award this season. Minus the near interception by Smith, Rodgers was on point today. After trying to throw for a first down when he could have easily walked for the needed yardage, Rodgers settled in and took what the defense gave. Minnesota tried to blanket Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and Nelson still managed eight receptions while Cobb added four. One of Cobb’s grabs, a 29-yarder early in the game, was a vintage Rodgers throw. It was right where it needed to be against near perfect coverage. There was only one place that ball could have been for Cobb to catch it and Rodgers found it. I guess that “place the ball in the small net downfield” drill in training camp is paying off.
- This team can’t afford any injuries – There simply isn’t the type of depth at most positions to sustain success if a guy goes down. Yes, there’s a reason starters start and backups don’t, but the drop-off is considerable in some areas such as guard with Lane Taylor and defensive back with Demetri Goodson. Every time T.J. Lang or Josh Sitton are down on the turf, my heart palpitates. I see a toughness this year that I have not seen in the past and hoping that continues as this team hits the home stretch of the season. Lacy playing through illness and Lang returning after tweaking his back are just two signs.
- Inside linebacker struggles returned – I’m no film expert nor particularly adept at breaking down scheme but I’m curious as to why Brad Jones was out there in favor of Jamari Lattimore. Jones has done very little to garner a lot of playing time and it’s only a matter of time before his lack of play making ability costs this team. Beside him, A.J. Hawk is just plain slow. He can’t stay with anyone in the passing game and the early catch by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was evidence enough. After making the catch, Hawk took a deep angle that allowed Rudolph to pick up close to 20 yards on a play that should have maxed out at 10. Glad Hawk knows he has no speed, bad that he has no speed. I’ve supported Hawk but the reality is clear: the Packers need to replace him after this season if they want more production from the middle of the defense.
- This week’s game is a huge barometer for the Packers – The New England Patriots have won seven straight games and rolled on offense despite facing the Detroit Lions’ league-leading defense. If they can manage that type of production against Detroit, they’ll cut through the Packers’ defense like a hot knife through butter if Green Bay doesn’t clean up what ailed them today. Different team, different scheme, but the Packers are in for some tough love if they can’t get to Tom Brady and don’t cover tight end Rob Gronkowski next week. You can throw out all of the stats, trends and good vibes the Packers have enjoyed at home this season. They’ll need to be near-perfect if they want to come out a winner.
Enjoy the win and that we don’t have to look at #15 for Minnesota’s mug again this season!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: