Report Card: Packers-Vikings

The passing game received the highest marks, with Aaron Rodgers putting together a near-perfect performance against the Vikings' depleted secondary.

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus - Aaron Rodgers has been plenty good in every game this season. He was at this best Sunday, however, as he was flirting with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 for most of the game and finished at a season-high 146.5. Of Rodgers' six incompletions out of 30 pass attempts, two were drops (by wideout Randall Cobb and halfback James Starks), two were intentional throwaways, one was a clock-killing spike and only one was a bad throw. Rodgers started the game with 13 straight completions to tie a personal watermark and was well on his way to a sixth 300-yard passing performance after just seven games, finishing with 335 against Minnesota's injury-depleted and soft secondary. He accounted for all three touchdowns by the offense through the air, highlighted by a 79-yard strike to Greg Jennings on a masterfully executed play in the first minute of the second half to the put the Packers ahead for the first time - and to stay - at 20-17. Out of shotgun formation with four receivers, Rodgers looked left and quickly pump-faked gazing down the middle as he stood in the pocket, then rolled right and spotted Jennings' roaming an incredible 15 yards behind the nearest defensive back on busted coverage down the right side. Jennings (seven receptions, 147 yards), who suffered a right thumb injury early in the game, made the catch at the Vikings' 45-yard line and trotted by his lonesome the rest of the way. Rodgers threaded a nice 2-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley, who running along the back line of the end zone, in Green Bay's next possession. Fellow tight end Andrew Quarless earlier in the game sprung open downfield after initially blocking on a rollout play to the left by Rodgers, who bought a few more seconds by gliding all of the way to the right side and threw across his body to Quarless for a 21-yard pickup. On the down side, the Vikings sacked Rodgers four times - league leader Jared Allen beat left tackle Marshall Newhouse for two, one was of the coverage variety, and another came on a Rodgers scramble.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B - What a difference the final 2 1/2 minutes of the game made in not only allowing the Packers to escape the Metrodome with the six-point victory but sparing the offense from having what would have been close to a season-worst showing on the ground. Green Bay managed all of 60 yards in 19 rushing attempts the first 57 1/2 minutes before doing a stunning about-face against the Vikings' stingy run defense at crunch time. Starks proved to be a one-man wrecking crew, atoning for the disappointment of a measly 20 yards in his first seven carries by pounding and dashing for 55 yards in six straight run calls before Rodgers took a victorious knee on the final play as the Packers unequivocally ran out the clock. Starks' 15-yard run behind the lead block of fullback John Kuhn to the right on the first play of the game-ending drive from the Green Bay 20 was the first of three explosive and equally critical plays he made. Right guard Josh Sitton sealed off weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson to allow Starks to again break into the clear out to the right for 20 yards on a draw out of shotgun formation on second-and-11 before the two-minute warning. Starks then completed his hat trick with a 13-yard blast up the gut on third-and-7 with less than 90 seconds left and the Vikings out of timeouts. Starks produced his second-highest rush total of the season with 75 yards in 13 carries (5.8 average), and the Packers finished with 114 yards for their first 100-yard game in the last three outings. Starter Ryan Grant (nine carries, 29 yards) had a third straight woeful game since his return from a one-game absence because of a kidney injury. Cobb, a Wildcat threat in college, mustered only a yard in his second rushing attempt of the season.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - The Packers' maddening pass defense made rookie Christian Ponder at times look like "Boy Wonder" in his starting debut. Ponder had an auspicious beginning on the first play from scrimmage, as Michael Jenkins (three catches, 111 yards) burned cornerback Tramon Williams on a double move down the left side and hauled in a 72-yard deep ball to within 2 feet of the goal line. A 2-yard toss from Ponder two plays later to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe against free safety Morgan Burnett in the end zone had the Vikings out to a quick 7-0 lead. Ponder struggled with his accuracy, going 13-for-32, but he piled up the yards to get to 219 for the game with several clutch throws on third down in Minnesota's late comeback. Williams, cornerback Charles Woodson (gave up 24-yard touchdown to Jenkins), nickel back Jarrett Bush (in for an injured Sam Shields) and inside linebacker Desmond Bishop were beaten in man coverage for big plays. Green Bay's opportunistic group saved face and kept Ponder from emerging as the young hero who led the struggling Vikings to a big upset of their unbeaten division rival by picking off two passes, both by Woodson. He undercut two ill-advised throws from Ponder, who had a dismal passer rating of 59.2. The Packers turned up the pressure as the game wore on to force several bad throws by Ponder, and they sacked him twice, including one by outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

RUSH DEFENSE: D - Green Bay had shown signs of letting its guard down stopping the run in recent weeks. The dam broke Sunday as Adrian Peterson hammered away for 175 yards in 24 carries for a potent average of 7.3 yards per rush. The Packers surrendered a season-high 218 yards. For as vital as Woodson was with his two picks in the passing game, he was deficient in run support at the line of scrimmage, as were outside linebacker Erik Walden and strong safety Charlie Peprah in the box as they whiffed a handful of times in trying to contain Peterson. The Vikings had five plays of at least 25 yards, and three of them were Peterson's doing on the ground - 29, 25 and 54 yards, all in the middle two quarters. Green Bay also allowed a scrambling Ponder to generate 31 yards in four rushes. Matthews was mostly stout playing the run, and Williams came up and made a big stop of Peterson for a loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Mason Crosby's impeccable season of kicking field goals stands at 14-of-14 after he made all four of his attempts Sunday and broke two team records in the process - a 58-yard conversion in the third quarter to eclipse his previous benchmark of 56 yards and extending his streak of regular-season makes to 21 to topple Chris Jacke's previous standard of 17. Tim Masthay also had a big day with his three punts, all of which were inside the Minnesota 20, that yielded season-high averages for gross (59.3 yards) and net (55.3). Fullback John Kuhn was the unsung hero of the special-teams units. As Masthay's protector behind center on punts, Kuhn's heads-up slight tug of the jersey of Everson Griffen as the defensive lineman broke through the middle kept Griffen from getting a clean run at Masthay for what could have been a game-turning blocked punt in Packers territory with Green Bay ahead 33-27 with 5 1/2 minutes to play. Masthay got the kick off in booming fashion, a friendly roll ensued, and Bush was Johnny-on-the-spot to keep the football from going into the end zone, starting the Vikings at their 2 for what turned out to be their final possession, to no avail. Cobb had a costly muffed punt late in the first quarter, leading to a touchdown that put Minnesota back ahead 14-7. Cobb later made amends with a 42-yard punt return early in the third quarter, giving the offense an easy touchdown drive of 32 yards to extend Green Bay's newfound lead to 27-17. The Packers' coverage units were solid.

COACHING: B-minus - The team's first 7-0 start in nearly a half century and two-game lead for first place in the NFC North notwithstanding, the coaching staff has a lot to chew on in its self-scout during the bye week. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy can't ask for much more out of Rodgers in directing the offense, but Green Bay still hasn't hit on all cylinders and again had a tendency to let up and not put an inferior team away after building the double-digit lead in the third quarter. To McCarthy's credit, he put his faith in the previously ineffective run game to pick up a few first downs and run out the clock at the end. Dom Capers' topsy-turvy defense continues to give up too many yards - the Vikings went off for 435, the fourth time Green Bay has been gashed for at least 400 this season. Capers did turn Ponder into a mostly erratic quarterback by dialing up the pressure packages to stem Minnesota's hot start.

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