Sunday School: What We Learned

The Green Bay Packers already had the NFC North wrapped up by this time last year. If they desire to repeat this year, there will be some tough sledding ahead. Here are five things we learned about the Pack after a 28-27 stomach punch of a loss to the rival Vikings on Sunday.

1. The Packers might not be able to stop their noses from running
Officially, Green Bay is ranked 28th against the run, but it's hard to imagine four other NFL teams playing worse than this group played in the Metrodome. They're giving up 154.6 yard per game on average and surrendering 5.0 yards per carry. But those numbers would've constituted a minor miracle against the Vikings, who rolled up 220 yards – including 192 by Adrian Peterson. The former Sooner might be the league's rushing royalty, but Green Bay made him look like Barry Sanders and Walter Payton all rolled into one. He's good, but he's not that good. Green Bay, however, is that bad. Dallas (217 yards), Tampa Bay (178), Tennessee (178) and now Minnesota have all run roughshod over this beleaguered unit en route to wins.

As if things couldn't get worse, middle linebacker Nick Barnett was lost for the year with an ACL tear. While the team's leading tackler wasn't having nearly the Pro Bowl-caliber season he had in 2007, it's hard to imagine this group being better with Desmond Bishop in the starting lineup. Athletic but inexperienced, Bishop got juked at the sideline on Chester Taylor's 47-yard catch-and-run for six. It's possible A.J. Hawk will shift to the middle with Brandon Chillar stepping in on the weak side, but two players in new positions may not be the answer either. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders needs to figure this out. And fast.


CB Charles Woodson
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

2. Green Bay's secondary is an elite unit
If the rush defense is 28th with a lead weight, the pass defense is No. 3 with a bullet. In a word, this group is dominating. Sure, it helps when the guy throwing the football is Gus Frerotte and he is telegraphing half of his throws, but the Packers secondary has been doing this all year. Safety Nick Collins has had a nice career through nine games. His weaving 60-yard interception return for a TD in the third quarter brought the Pack to within seven points and was Collins' league-leading fifth pick – and third score this season. The play gave Green Bay an NFL-leading six INT returns for touchdowns in 2008. Collins is actually tied for the NFL interception lead with teammate Charles Woodson, who picked off Frerotte earlier in the contest. Nickelback Tramon Williams also got into the act, collecting his third of the season.

Then there's Al Harris. He might've felt a little left out not getting his hands on a pass. Of course the guy Harris was covering, the Vikings top receiver in Bernard Berrian, didn't get his hands on a pass either. Harris held him without a catch the entire game.

3. The offensive line is proving just how tough Rodgers is
Through nine games, A-Rod's been sacked 21 times. In 16 regular season games last year, Brett Favre was sacked 15 times. We like our quarterbacks tough. There was that little consecutive game's streak that No. 4 had going. But at this rate, we'll see Matt Flynn by Thanksgiving. And nobody wants that. Rodgers was sacked four times by Minnesota, including an absolute steam-rolling by Jared Allen for the second safety of the game. This was a week after Rodgers was dropped four times by Tennessee. If that wasn't bad enough, he was knocked down another eight times by the Vikings. Uh, how's that separated shoulder feeling?

Favre was masterful at escaping onrushing lineman and blitzing defenders, but he also got rid of the ball quickly to avoid not only the sack, but the big hit. Rodgers is proving to be one tough customer, but he needs to take a page out of Favre's notebook before he gets himself knocked out of the game.


K Mason Crosby
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

4. 60-yard field goals don't count in pre-game
Mason Crosby led the league in scoring last year as a rookie with 141 points, the first rookie to do so since Kevin Butler did it with the Bears. The cool-headed Coloradoan has pretty much been "Mr. Automatic" and hit on 80 percent of his kicks since coming to Green Bay. His first career field goal was a 53-yarder in his first professional game to beat the Eagles, so naturally a 52-yarder in a dome to beat the Vikings was a foregone conclusion. Add to that the fact that he'd hit not one but two 60-yarders warming up before the game. It had to be equal parts motivation for Crosby and intimidation for any Vikings watching.

But down by a point with the decision on the line, Crosby pushed his kick several feet wide right and Minnesota stormed the field victorious. Crosby certainly didn't lose the game for Green Bay. But given the chance to win it, his miss felt like a kick to the shins.

5. Blackmon might be the best pure athlete on the entire roster
Will Blackmon shot straight up the middle of the field on his third-quarter punt return and had already made three Vikings miss when he hurdled a pile of green, gold and purple at the Minnesota 40-yard line. He cut to his right, avoided a teammate, two more Vikings and the referee before cutting back to his left, putting his hand down to regain his balance and bursting to the end zone. For retro style points, he put his left hand up on his helmet and high-kicked it the last seven yards a la his idol, "Neon" Deion Sanders. The 65-yard score was the play of the game – maybe the play of the week – and gave the Packers their first lead of the day. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last.

That touchdown was Blackmon's second of the season, having burned the Vikings for a 76-yard score in the season opener. For anyone who may have forgotten, this is what a healthy Blackmon can do. Despite only 15 career punt returns at Boston College, he's one of the NFL's top return men in 2008. So we'll forgive him for losing himself in the moment and running that earlier punt out of the end zone.

Keith Roerdink is a Staff Writer for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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