Sacks Put Pack Behind 8-Ball

Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times on Monday while Brett Favre was not sacked and was hit just once.

The game plan was simple. On defense, it was hold Adrian Peterson in check and take advantage of the Vikings' porous pass protection. On offense, the plan was to run the ball and protect the quarterback well enough to take advantage of the matchups on the perimeter.

In both cases, the Packers followed only half of that recipe.

Even with the "Big Okie" package kept under wraps, the Packers' base defense held the indomitable Peterson to 55 yards on 25 attempts. But the Packers stunningly couldn't get a bit of pressure on Brett Favre, who had been sacked nine times in the first three games.

On the other side of the ball, Ryan Grant ran with passion and conviction against the vaunted Vikings' run defense. But the Packers, perhaps not surprisingly, couldn't protect Aaron Rodgers even a little bit. Rodgers was sacked a whopping eight times.

That eight-sack discrepancy was the reason for the Vikings' 30-23 victory over the Packers in an NFC North Division grudge match on Monday night.

"Eight sacks, how many games can you win giving up eight sacks?" coach Mike McCarthy wondered.

Certainly not this game against one of the NFL's powerhouses in their deafening dome.

With veteran left tackle Chad Clifton an inactive because of a sprained ankle sustained in Week 2, left guard Daryn Colledge got his second consecutive start at left tackle. Colledge, who allowed three sacks to the Bengals' Antwan Odom two weeks ago, was in the game for 3.5 of Jared Allen's 4.5 sacks. Colledge, who left with a knee sprain early in the fourth quarter, was replaced by rookie T.J. Lang, who yielded a sack to Allen in the final minutes.

Reserve defensive linemen Brian Robison and Jimmy Kennedy combined for 2.5 sacks and linebacker Ben Leber added another. On top of the eight sacks, Rodgers was hit nine times – five coming from Allen.

"It's extremely scary," Colledge said. "I didn't know it was that bad. I missed a chunk of the game. We've got a lot of things to fix. We shot ourselves in the foot tonight. That makes it extremely difficult to win football games."

"Eight (expletive) times," Grant said while shaking his head.

All of them were costly, with Green Bay mustering only a field goal on drives that had a sack. The first, when Rodgers scrambled from pressure to his right but ran into Allen, turned into a turnover after the Packers reached the Vikings' 24-yard line on the game's first possession. The seventh, also by Allen, resulted in a safety that increased the Minnesota lead to 30-14. The last, also by Allen, killed a drive that reached the Vikings' red zone late in the game and forced the Packers to settle for a field goal that cut the margin to 30-23.

"Well, it's a combination of things," McCarthy said. "We need to look at the specifics of it. It's an issue that has gone on for four weeks. We can't play this way. We are playing way too up-and-down. It is hurting us because the big plays we are able to generate, we are too much of a big-little offense."

No wonder Rodgers wore a look of frustration in the fourth quarter while Favre exited the Metrodome as a conquering hero.

While Rodgers was hit or sacked 17 times, Favre wasn't sacked and was hit just once. That was just as big of a story for the Vikings, who have a rookie right tackle (Phil Loadholt), a declining left tackle (Bryant McKinnie) and a first-year starter center (John Sullivan) replacing Pro Bowler Matt Birk.

"Pass protection was great," Favre said. "Their style of defense has obviously been chaotic for the teams they've played, and they mixed it up again today. You don't want to, against a defense like that, throw the ball too many times, but it was better than I thought it was going to be."

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers seemed to keep it simple, especially after cornerback Charles Woodson was picked up on a blitz that resulted in a second-quarter touchdown to Sidney Rice. The Packers rarely if ever went after Favre with more than five defenders, and when those blitzes didn't work, he elected to play coverage. That didn't work either, as Favre riddled the Packers' porous zones.

"Well, we pressured a couple times early and didn't get home," Capers said. "There were a couple times where we dropped in the longer-yardage situations. We didn't get much done when we pressured and we had some breakdowns when we tried to cover on third down. It was one of those nights where whatever you were calling wasn't working too well."

What killed the Packers on this night was their third-down defense. That they stopped Peterson but allowed Favre to have a big game are not related items, as you might expect. The Packers stopped Peterson on first and second down, putting the defense is position to get a stop or make a big play on third down.

On Minnesota's second touchdown drive, Favre twice converted on third-and-11, with the second being the touchdown to Rice on a brilliant throw by Favre against safety Nick Collins' tight coverage. And even when Favre couldn't convert enough third downs to mount a scoring drive, the superb protection meant he never had to force any passes into coverage.

"Our issue tonight was third down, and third-and-long," Capers said after Minnesota converted 8-of-14 third downs plus a fourth-and-1. "We had too many third-and-11, third-and-11, third-and-longs that you work your tail off the first two downs to get them into that third-and-long situation, you have to get off the field. I think it was a number of things. It didn't make any difference whether we pressured or we covered. We just had some breakdowns in those critical situations that you can't have against a good football team."


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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