Report Card: Packers vs. Vikings

A clutch pass defense tops the grades after the Packers held on for a vital victory over Minnesota on Sunday night. The offense did just enough, thanks largely to strong performances by offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga.

PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus — The unsung heroes of this victory were the offensive linemen, in particular tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga, who rose to the challenge and shut out a formidable Minnesota pass-rushing group that sacked Aaron Rodgers 14 times in the two meetings last season. One of the few times Pro Bowl right end Jared Allen made a peep against Clifton was on a red-zone interception on a bungled screen from Rodgers to sparingly used halfback Dimitri Nance in the first quarter. Rodgers had three passes tipped by Vikings linemen and was erratic on at least seven other throws, including his second interception on a deep ball into double coverage. Miscommunication between quarterback and receiver was apparent on a few of those bad balls as the Vikings did a tremendous job of disguising their coverage. Still, Rodgers (21-of-34, 295 yards, two touchdowns) delivered more often than not when the Packers needed him to, getting four completions of 20-plus yards. James Jones (four catches, 107 yards) and Greg Jennings (six catches, 74 yards, touchdown) exploited a woeful Minnesota secondary on a night when Donald Driver went without a catch for the first time since the 2001 season. Halfback Brandon Jackson (three catches, 46 yards) was pivotal in churning out yards in the short passing game. Rodgers' best throw was one of his shortest, a 9-yard bullet that he threaded to rookie tight end Andrew Quarless between two defenders in the back of the end zone.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C — The Packers didn't generate many yards — 84 in 23 attempts for a 3.7 average — but Jackson made some things happen on a few runs in which holes sprung him to daylight through the heart of Minnesota's stout front. Jackson, who started the game inauspiciously with a fumble that he fell on, had 13 carries for 58 yards (4.5 average) and a 1-yard touchdown plunge. His biggest run went for 14 yards on a second-and-16 play. Rodgers scrambled two times with a long of 11. John Kuhn converted a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard run to start the fourth quarter, but then he was slammed up the middle for no gain in the same situation four plays later to thwart a drive in Vikings territory.


Rodgers celebrates with the fans.
Mike Roemer/AP Images
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus — A big second half enabled Green Bay to turn the tables on Brett Favre, who didn't throw an interception and wasn't sacked in the Vikings' two-game sweep against his former team last season. Even with NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews kept at his season total of 8.5, a patchwork defense down to only three healthy linemen pressured the mistake-prone Favre (16-of-29, 212 yards, one touchdown, 50.4 passer rating) into three interceptions in Minnesota's first four series after halftime. The Packers turned two of those picks into touchdowns, highlighted by linebacker Desmond Bishop's 32-yard return to paydirt that put Green Bay up 28-17 and proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. The defense hit Favre six times, and he was hobbling for most of the second half after Brad Jones clutched onto his bad left ankle to force a bad throw that was intercepted by fellow linebacker A.J. Hawk. Rookie C.J. Wilson, filling in for an injured Cullen Jenkins at right end, had the pressure on the Bishop pick. The lone sack of Favre, by second-year end Jarius Wynn, was of the coverage variety. Cornerback Tramon Williams shadowed Randy Moss on both sides of the field and had occasional help up top to hold the All-Pro to three catches for 30 yards. Slot man Percy Harvin nearly rallied the Vikings to the comeback win with four catches for 68 yards in the second half, including a 37-yarder to convert third-and-short against struggling Charles Woodson. The Packers dodged a big bullet when Harvin could get only one foot inbounds on an incredible catch that would have been a 35-yard touchdown for a potential game-winner in the final minute.

RUSH DEFENSE: D — Adrian Peterson didn't run wild — his long gain was 17 yards — but he nearly broke a couple into the clear and piled up 131 yards with his 28 carries (4.7 average). He had four runs of double-digit yards. The linebackers were guilty of overpursuing on the edge and giving the shifty Peterson the opening to turn back inside on a number of runs. The depleted Packers have allowed season highs in rushing yards the last two games, as Minnesota racked up 196 for a robust average of 5.4 yards per carry. Harvin was lethal coming out of the backfield in the first half with three runs for 41 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown burst straight up the middle that left the Green Bay defenders flat-footed.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus — A 48-yard kickoff return by Harvin past midfield in the first quarter sapped the energy from the Packers' opening touchdown and spurred the Vikings offense to respond with the equalizer. Green Bay subsequently didn't allow Harvin, who averaged 27 yards in three runbacks, to inflict further damage the rest of the way with its kicking strategies. Pat Lee finally broke out with one good return of 30 yards, but he managed to average just 20.8 yards with five chances. Williams did little in his two punt returns, totaling all of 10 yards. Tim Masthay made the most of his two punts with a long of 51 and placing one inside the 20 for a fair catch. The Packers nearly pulled off a fake field goal on fourth-and-7 from the Vikings' 37 in the second quarter, but Quarless tripped over himself wide open down field on a deep throw from backup quarterback Matt Flynn that would have been a touchdown.

COACHING: B — There was no understating how much the Packers needed to beat Favre and the archrival Vikings in the wake of a two-game tailspin that left Green Bay on the verge of dropping below .500 after seven games. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers adjusted on the fly without Jenkins, who suffered a calf injury in pregame warm-ups, and also fellow end Ryan Pickett, who had to drop out after a few plays in the first quarter because of an aggravated ankle injury. A good mix of defensive looks with ample pressure at times ultimately flummoxed Favre and forced him into his familiar costly mistakes. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy helped keep Rodgers upright by putting him in shotgun and spreading things out on the majority of plays, thus keeping Minnesota's pass rushers an arm's length, if not more, away. McCarthy showed some commitment to the run game, but the second straight fourth-and-1 run call with Kuhn on an inside handoff out of the I formation was too predictable and easy for the Vikings to sniff out. McCarthy won two challenges to wipe out Minnesota touchdowns in the first half. Yet, it was curious why he didn't challenge the spot of a short catch by Jennings that was measured a few inches short of being a first down before the failed Kuhn run on fourth down — replay showed the Packers could have won that challenge had McCarthy thrown the red flag.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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