Righting their wrongs
After a performance like that, it makes you wonder where this team had been during consecutive losses to Washington and Miami.
In the previous two games, the Packers had gone 5-for-26 on third down. On Sunday, they went 6-for-11. In the last two games, they were penalized 16 times for 108 yards. On Sunday, they were flagged twice for 20 yards. In the last two games, they allowed nine sacks. On Sunday, they didn't allow any. In the last two games, they finished minus-1 in turnovers in each game. On Sunday, they finished plus-1.
The biggest wrong in the Packers' three losses, however, is something you can't quantify. Needing a score to break a tie at Chicago, the Packers turned it over, lost their composure and lost. At Washington, the Packers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost in overtime. Against Miami, there were no colossal blunders, just more of the same maddening inconsistencies.
On Sunday, there was none of that. Well, there was less of it. The Packers played fundamentally sound, but more importantly, showed the type of mental toughness that was lacking in the three close losses. That's especially true on defense, with the Vikings running 23 of the final 29 snaps from scrimmage — including 14 on the Packers' end of the field — but never breaking through for the go-ahead score.
The win was a huge swing. Rather than a third straight loss and a plunge into third place in the NFC North, the Packers are 4-3 and tied for first place while knocking the immensely talented Vikings to 2-4.
Now, the next challenge is a trip East to face the Jets, who are arguably the NFL's best team at 5-1. Amplifying the challenge, New York is coming off of its bye.
"I'm the point man of this deal," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "I don't swing left to right like that. I'm out in front. I do not change. It's not my personality. I believe it's ineffective to swing with the emotion, the criticism, even on the other side of it. When something everybody feels extremely positive is happening, I don't think you run around with your pom-poms this week."
Running out of guys
The Packers have a big problem with their big guys.
McCarthy said he's concerned about the calf strain that unexpectedly knocked starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins out before the game even kicked off. Seven snaps into his return to the starting lineup, fellow starting defensive end Ryan Pickett exited because his sprained ankle wasn't strong enough to withstand an early double team.
The Packers got through Sunday's game with just three defensive linemen, and it showed with Adrian Peterson pounding and pounding and pounding away. Vikings coach Brad Childress dialed up 36 runs and 30 passes. In truth, he did the Packers a huge favor by passing it even that often.
B.J. Raji pressures Brett Favre.
Jeffrey Phelps/AP Images
B.J. Raji has been incredible. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Raji played all but three snaps, an unheard of figure for a 337-pound lineman. His explosive outside move in the third quarter forced Favre to step up in the pocket and set up Desmond Bishop's interception and return for a touchdown.
"We're going to have to do something about that, because I could see him wearing down in the game," Trgovac said. "And B.J. doesn't complain about anything, but you could see he had a very good quickness and snap to his play early in the game and I could see him wearing down."
If Pickett and Jenkins can't play, not only will the Packers be down two starters but they'll replace the 340-pound Pickett with 290-pound rookie C.J. Wilson and the 305-pound Jenkins with the 285-pound Jarius Wynn, who didn't even make the final roster. The other player, Michael Montgomery, is the skinniest 282-pounder you've ever seen and hasn't played in his two games since being re-signed.
"You just kind of go with the flow and do with what you've got," Trgovac said. "It was kind of funny because the one tackle that C.J. made coming off the block, he hit Peterson pretty good and came off a block, came off a guard and hit him. His helmet was so screwed up and his pad was down here (near his eyes), he's hitting his facemask trying to come off and I said, ‘You can't, we've only got three.' So, he went right back out."
Rodgers kept clean
When the Packers played at Minnesota last season, Jared Allen demolished fill-in left tackle Daryn Colledge in finishing with 4.5 sacks. In the rematch at Lambeau Field, Allen had three sacks against fill-in left tackle T.J. Lang and Ray Edwards beat right tackle Allen Barbre for two sacks. So, in two games, the Vikings' defensive ends beat the Packers' tackles for a combined 9.5 sacks.
On Sunday, with veteran Chad Clifton back at left tackle and first-round pick Bryan Bulaga making a third consecutive start at right tackle in place of Mark Tauscher, Allen and Edwards combined for no sacks with one quarterback hit apiece.
"I thought Chad played very well," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We don't spend a lot of time in the comparison game but I know when we had played him in Kansas City in '07, I think he got maybe a half-sack off of Chad in a twist game. Here in '08, I thought Chad played very well. This is probably the third week in a row that Chad Clifton's played very, very good football, the kind we're used to seeing him play."
Last week, Bulaga had his hands full with Canadian import Cameron Wake. On Sunday, however, Bulaga mostly dominated his matchup against Edwards, who had a career-high 8.5 sacks last year.
"Those two are similar players with the explosiveness and the power, linear-type guys," offensive line coach James Campen said. "I'd imagine Edwards is maybe 10 pounds heavier than Wake, same kind of long-armed guys that can bull rush and has power and also works the hands and things like that on the edge. Bryan made those corrections from the week before and applied those to a darned good football player in Edwards. He did very well."
Wonders of a running game
Most times, an offense's run-pass ratio is determined by the effectiveness of the running game and the scoreboard as much as the game plan created on Tuesdays and honed throughout the week.
That wasn't the case the last two weeks. In hotly contested games against Washington and Miami, the Packers passed the ball 69.8 percent of the time even while Brandon Jackson rushed 10 times for 115 yards against the Redskins and 12 times for 53 yards against Miami.
Brandon Jackson celebrates his opening touchdown.
Jeffrey Phelps/AP Images
So — surprise! — McCarthy called a much more balanced attack, with passes on 59.6 percent of the snaps on Sunday night. And it worked. The Packers' 23 carries netted 84 yards — a decent 3.7 yards per carry — but Jackson picked up 58 carries on 13 attempts, or 4.5 yards per carry.
Maybe, just maybe, the Packers have a running game to complement the passing attack. In Jackson's first three games as the top replacement for Ryan Grant, he averaged 2.7 yards per rush. In the last three, he's averaging 6.5 per rush.
"I thought that was Brandon's best game that I have seen him play," McCarthy said. "I thought Pittsburgh was a statement game for him last year, the way he played in that game, but I thought he played a complete football game (against Minnesota). I just think it is important when someone is playing at that level, you want to get him a couple more opportunities."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.