Sunday, January 6, 2013

Packers DOMINATE the Vikings to win in the Wild Card round!

OK,  I’m a big enough man to admit when I am wrong. In this space last week and to anyone else who would listen, I was picking the Minnesota Vikings to win this Wild Card round game. I had my reasons: the Vikings beat the Packers last week by out-executing them in the basics of tackling and blocking, not something you can correct in a week of practice. Well, I guess you can!

The Packer defense was handed a huge gift 90-minutes before kickoff when the Vikings announced Christian Ponder would be inactive due to an elbow injury he suffered the previous week versus the Packers. It was remarked, when Leslie Frazier in a pre-game interview said they were “saving him for next week” that Ponder was channeling his inner Jay Cutler. Now, make no mistake: Ponder was never going to win this game. It was always going to be about Adrian Peterson. All Ponder had to do was make no mistakes and complete four or five passes in key situations, just as he did last week, but he would not get the chance to repeat that feat--Joe Webb would be under center. Webb, a little-used backup, completed exactly zero passes during the regular season. He’s more of a running threat than a passing threat, something he demonstrated several times on Saturday. He also demonstrated a distinctly not-ready-for-the-NFL passing arm.

With the threat of the pass virtually eliminated, the Packers could concentrate all their efforts on stopping AP. Peterson still had an impact, especially on the Vikings’ first drive and ended up with 99 yards in the contest but the majority of his yards were not impactful. 

One of the Packer’s problems last week was that they were not able to “set the edge” on defense. This is the ability to keep running plays between the tackles and prevent backs from bouncing outside. Peterson did this over and over again last week as our outside defenders crashed down on play after play, hoping to gang tackle. The difference this week was the outside defenders took a patient approach, held their positions and were there waiting for Peterson when he inevitably tried to take the ball outside. You have to give credit to Dom Capers and his coaches for instilling this in their players and to the players for executing it properly. And more props to Charles Woodson, back from his broken collarbone, for sticking his nose into almost every running play, notching four tackles and four assists and a great deal of impact.

Webb, without the Vikings main weapon in Peterson, was not up to the task. His throws were into the dirt, over the heads and in general off-target. Three times, while in the grasp of defenders, he chucked the ball wildly to avoid a sack, something that the Packers should have converted to turnovers and points. If ever a guy was thrust into a situation he wasn’t ready for, it was Webb. 

The Packer offense had some problems early on. Aaron Rodgers could not find any wide receivers open downfield, so he had to keep checking down or handing off to Dujuan Harris. While you could tell A-Rodg was a bit frustrated by his inability to throw longer passes, the short, controlled passing game served a larger purpose in chewing up clock and keeping Peterson on the bench. Once the short game became successful and the running game did it’s (limited) work, the Viking defense began to loosen up and the receivers started to come open. Once the Packers got the lead, the Vikings were pressed into passing more (not good for them) and deemphasizing the run (not good for them again) and the Packers were able to take their foot off the gas in the third quarter. Personally, if my only weapon is Adrian Peterson, I’m riding that horse no matter what the score is. But the Viking coaching staff hasn’t been very smart since Bud Grant retired...

There was a lot to like in this game and very few things to complain about. Rodgers was sacked three times, which is three too many in my book. Finely dropped a sure touchdown pass and was held to one catch for only ten yards. Cobb, relieved of kick-return duties, was also held to one catch. 

You have to love the effort of Greg Jennings (4 catches for 61 yards), including his clutch catch and run on 4th-and-5 in the second quarter, good for 32 yards, to set up a Mason Crosby field goal, which really opened the flood gates. To see Jennings make the catch, dodge a would-be tackler and use that beautiful, long stride of his...just like old times. Many have said (including Jennings himself) that next year he might not be wearing a Packer uniform. His contract is up and, by all reports, the Packers have made no effort to sign him. After watching this game, I’d love for Ted Thompson to at least make the attempt. There are several key guys (Rodgers, Raji, Matthews) that need to get contracts done next year and there may be no cap room for Jennings but you never know: he may be willing to work for less to stay a Packer but you don’t know until you ask!

I would be remiss if I didn’t make a special mention of Harris. This guy is what I call a “nifty” runner: he’s quick to the hole, can cut on a dime and has a burst of speed when he gets in the open field. If we had a better offensive line, capable of opening up actual holes, Harris might have the potential to be a 1000-yard back. If you add in his pass catching ability, this is just the kind of back the Packers need to have in their stable. He had only 47 yards on 17 carries (plus 5 catches for 53 yards) but those were big, big yards. It will be very interesting going forward to see what kind of future this guy has with the Packers. As it stands right now, Harris may be the key guy who provides just the right spark at the right time to propel the Packers even further in the post-season.

Next week against the Niners, there will be no gifts: there will be no last-minute scratches of the starting QB. The Packers lost to San Francisco to open the NFL season, so these two teams are familiar with each other. This will just be a knock-down, drag-out battle. The Niners have a tremendous defense, a great running game and a young quarterback who can get it done with both his arm and his legs. I’m not saying this will be on the same par as some of those epic games in the 90’s between the Packers and Niners but I’m looking forward to it. Randall Cobb will be another week more recovered, Jennings and Nelson are starting to kick out the jams, Harris is adding a new dimension and the Packer defense, if they are able to contain AP, should matchup well against San Francisco.

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