The Green Bay Packers invaded Minnesota on Sunday, and re-took the division lead lost two weeks ago from the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams now stand at 7-3, and with six games remaining the rematch on January 3, 2016 in Lambeau Field will loom large for the rest of the season. For now, however, the Packers’ convincing 30-13 win puts the team back in the driver’s seat, and not a moment too soon following a three-game skid. While the Packers were not perfect on the day, a number of good signs emerged in the game.
The Good: Bringing Ragnarök
The Packers were, somewhat surprisingly, the more physical team on Sunday. Despite his struggles with obesity, husky running back Eddie Lacy ran for 100 yards on 22 carries, his best effort of the season. That came behind a line that, while it continued to struggle in the passing game, and was far from perfect in the running game, was getting its best push since the the Packers’ victory over the San Diego Chargers. Packers fans everywhere were happy to see Lacy looking back in running form, though it was clear he continued to suffer the impact of multiple lower-body injuries. Addressing his weight may not be plausible, but Lacy may consider it as an injury prevention method over the offseason. Meanwhile, James Starks, relegated to the off-pace role, featured in the passing game, taking a well-blocked screen pass for 30 yards against a tough defense to get out of position.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers’ front-7 had its best game in some time. The team recorded six sacks on Teddy Bridgewater and flushed him out of the pocket on a number of occasions. Datone Jones had arguably his best day as a professional, recording two sacks and another four quarterback hits.
Meanwhile, though Clay Matthews did not get a sack on Bridgewater, he played an extremely effective game, recording six tackles overall. Those included two stuffs of Adrian Peterson in the backfield. The Packers held Peterson – who already has over 1,000 yards on the season and came into the game around 200 yards ahead of the next-closest rusher – to 45 yards on 13 carries. It is the team’s best performance against a top running back this season. It was Peterson’s lowest total since week 1.
Finally, it must be noted that James Jones went over 100 yards on 6 receptions, including one touchdown. That included a terrific 37-yard catch on a Packers’ touchdown drive that began in the third quarter, and ended at the beginning of the fourth. Jones also caught the touchdown pass on that drive, keeping his feet in bounds on a very nice scramble and throw from Rodgers, and also the ensuing 2-point conversion. Overall, that drive put the Packers up 27-13, and back in control of the game after the Vikings had closed the gap.
The Bad: Covering Tight Ends
The Vikings were not overly-successful on offense on Sunday, but were able to complete six passes to Kyle Rudolph for 106 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came early in the game when Rudolph beat Micah Hyde on a deep out. Hyde was injured on the play and did not return. His absence was noted in multiple phases of the game, but perhaps none more than patrolling the middle of the field against a variety of pass-catchers (one plus-side: a long kick return from Jeff Janis, who seems a natural selection for those duties). Hyde may not be an All-Pro, but he does provide flexibility for the defense. Here’s hoping for a quick return.
The Ugly: Dropsies
There was a time that the Packers were known for drops. Those days seem mostly to have passed, but Sunday was not a good performance. James Jones dropped an easy catch on the sidelines for what would have been a key early third-down conversion, but that is nothing new. More concerning is that Randall Cobb had two clear drops on the game, and those drops have become a topic in the national media. Though I am unable to find a total on the season, and though I believe some “drops” were likely 50-50 balls on difficult throws, that was not the case Sunday. With Jordy Nelson out, Cobb was expected to shoulder a very large load this season. He has not done so, in part because he is not getting open as often as a year before, but also due to a case of the dropsies. It would be nice to see those resolved.