For a team that has everyone talking about a perfect season, the opponents of the Green Bay Packers are trying to find weaknesses in the armor to beat them. While the Pack has been dominant for the last year, there are opportunities to beat them.
The Packers have won their first eight games and the only team that they didn't beat by a touchdown or more was the Vikings in Week 7 when the Packers came away with a 33-27 win. Green Bay has dispatched all eight of its opponents to date, including five road games and victories over playoff hopefuls New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta and San Diego. With five of their final eight games at Lambeau Field, there are plenty of reasons for the Packers to have confidence that a 19-0 season is within reach. However, there are some flaws that teams are going to focus on exposing.
There is little doubt that Aaron Rodgers is well ahead of any other contenders as the frontrunner for the MVP award. He is on a record-setting pace – on target to throw for a league-record 5,200 yards and 48 touchdowns. He has completed 72.5 percent of his passes and at times has seemed unstoppable. But, in the process, the Packers offense has become one-dimensional and teams have stopped respecting the Packers running game – with the exception of the Vikings in the closing minutes of their first meeting.
The Packers have rushed 208 times for 835 yards (a 4.0-yard average), but have never been able to consistently establish the running game. Starting running back Ryan Grant is a shell of his former self. After running 17 times in the third game of the season against Chicago, Grant has taken a back seat to James Starks. In the last five games, Grant hasn't rushed more than nine times in any game and hasn't reached 30 yards in any of them – averaging just three yards a carry. But Starks hasn't been a dominating run threat either. He has been consistent, but hasn't rushed more than 13 times in any game. He has had only two carries of more than 20 yards all season and is more of a grinder than a game-breaker. If the Vikings can throttle down the run game and force the Packers to throw, eventually it's going to come back to bite the Packers. In may not be the Vikings, but somebody is going to make the Packers pay for their lack of a consistent running game.
Forcing Rodgers to pass isn't a deal-breaker for Green Bay because he is playing at such a high level and uses so many different receivers to get the job done. Greg Jennings is on pace for almost 100 receptions, 1,450 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jordy Nelson is on pace for 60 catches for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jermichael Finley is on pace to catch 60 passes for 750 yards and 10 TDs. The numbers stagger the mind because they aren't alone. The Packers also have veteran Donald Driver and playmaker James Jones in the receiving corps. It has allowed the team to move up and down the field and, in the process, have gotten their offense off the field and forced their defense back on the field quickly, which has led to suspect play on the defensive side of the ball.
The Packers' defensive effort hasn't been anywhere close to where it was late in the 2010 season. Midway through the season, the Packers have the 30th-ranked defense, including the 31st-ranked pass defense. There have been numerous problems, starting with the lack of a pass rush. The Packers were among the league leaders in sacks last year (finishing third in the league in sacks per pass play), but have just 19 sacks at the midway point (22nd in the league) and nobody has more than four.
As a result of the lack of creating a consistent pass rush, the Packers have been allowing far too many passing yards. Opponents are averaging more than 300 yards passing and it isn't just because they are behind by double digits and being forced to pass. The saving grace of the Packers defense has been that it has intercepted 16 passes, while giving the ball away just four times.
The Packers have also struggled against the run, allowing opponents to average 4.6 yards a carry. Adrian Peterson went off for a season-high 175 yards when the Vikings played the Packers at the Metrodome and teams that have a dominating offensive line can control the clock against Green Bay.
There isn't much that needs to be said about Rodgers and the passing offense of the Packers, but, for a team that appears on a collision course with a second straight Super Bowl title, there are aspects of their game that need to get cleaned up. They have defied the conventions of what makes a dominant team – a pedestrian running game, average line play on both sides of the ball in recent weeks and a defense that surrenders a lot of yards.
Will the Packers finish off their perfect 2011 regular season? They clearly have the ability to do it. The schedule also favors them – the only game in which they won't be prohibitive favorites will be when they play at Detroit Thanksgiving Day, and maybe the following week at the New York Giants. But, this isn't a team without flaws. There are aspects of their game that need cleaning up, but if the Packers are to go on to a perfect season and not succumb to their own deficiencies, they will have to step up their play in the running game on offense and in several respects on defense. To date, Rodgers has been able to overcome the lack of a running game behind him and a shut-down defense. He will have to continue to play at the unreal level that he has started the 2011 season to finish off the predicted perfect season for the Packers. The question now is whether the Vikings can be that team to exploit the Packers on Monday night.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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