Relaxed with Rodgers, Packers on a roll

The Packers have a couple of weaknesses, but their strengths are so good that it will take a big effort for the Vikings this Sunday.

If it was easy as Aaron Rodgers has made it seem, everyone would be using the Relax Method of turning a season around.

Two months ago Sunday, Rodgers appeared on his weekly radio show. Packers fans were in full panic mode. The team was 1-2, had been beaten handily on the road by Seattle and Detroit and were heading into a grudge match with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Rodgers made the now famous quote to fans, “Five letters – R-E-L-A-X … relax.”

The Packers went into Chicago the following Sunday and crushed the Bears 38-17. The rest has been history. Since making that calm and cool admonition of the fan base, Green Bay has gone 6-1 and Rodgers is arguably playing the best football of his career.

In their six wins since the well-chronicled radio comment, the Packers have scored 38, 42, 27, 38, 55 and 53 points in their wins and are looking to be the first team in NFL history to score 50 or more points in three straight games. The Packers have put teams away early, outscoring them 107-44 in the first quarter and 101-51 in the second quarter, much of it because of the prowess of Rodgers.

Over his last seven games, Rodgers has thrown for 2,051 yards with 23 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Over the last three games, he has thrown for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns and is hitting on all cylinders like few quarterbacks ever have.

Rodgers spreads the ball around to a lot of receivers, but there’s no questioning who his primary receivers are – wideouts Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Nelson has caught 60 passes for 998 yards and nine touchdowns, including five 100-yard games. Cobb has caught 54 passes for 779 yards and 10 touchdowns, including four 100-yard games. In their first meeting with the Vikings, the two combined to catch just four passes for 100 yards, but two of them went for touchdowns. Given how the Bears picked apart the Vikings secondary with downfield passes, expect to see a steady diet of passes because, for the most part, the Packers running game hasn’t been up to snuff this season.

When Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone last season, much of the slack was picked up by running back Eddie Lacy, who ran for almost 1,200 yards and gave the Packers their first consistent ground attack in years. This season, however, Lacy has been anything but steady or impressive. In 10 games, he has had more than 14 carries in just one game and has been held under 70 yards in nine games and 50 or less in six. His inability to make big plays has plagued him all season.

It can be argued that some of the Packers’ ground struggles have been the result of a banged-up offensive line that is moving on the fly with rookie center Corey Linsley and injured guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, but Lacy hasn’t been running with the burst he showed last season. If the Vikings are to win Sunday, shutting down Lacy will be the key component of getting that accomplished.

Fortunately for the Packers, their offensive explosion has masked troubles on defense that has Green Bay ranked as the 25th defense in the league, including the 29th-ranked run defense. It wasn’t as though those struggles couldn’t be predicted.

During the preseason, the Packers lost nose tackle B.J. Raji for the season and didn’t have a pure nose backup to replace him. Former Viking Letroy Guion has replaced him and teams have been able to run consistently against the Packers, averaging 31 carries for 140 yards a game. Things have gotten so bad defensively that Green Bay has moved outside linebacker Clay Matthews inside to maximize the effectiveness of the defense, allowing Nick Perry and Julius Peppers to man the outside, while Matthews chases down plays from the inside in the base defense.

Defying time, Peppers is having a strong season that includes five sacks and two interceptions, both of which he has returned for touchdowns. That hasn’t been all that unusual for the Packers because, while their defense gets burned for yards, they have been opportunistic in terms of creating turnovers. The Packers lead the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio at plus-14. They’ve had a whopping 22 takeaways – 14 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. Four different players – Casey Hayward, Peppers, Sam Shields and Tramon Williams – all have multiple interceptions and young safeties Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are making an impact on the defense with their aggressive play.

The Packers have been on top of the NFC North since 2010 and, after a slow start, have all the looks of winning the division for a fifth straight year. The Packers have some issues on defense and the offensive line, but they’re playing as well recently as they have all season and Rodgers is on one of the biggest rolls of his career. With the Packers coming on the road to Minnesota to play in what most view as “Packers weather,” the Vikings are going to have to play an almost error-free game to knock off the Packers.

Two months ago Sunday, Rodgers reminded fans that they just needed to relax and the Packers would get the job done. Six wins in their last seven games have made those words prophetic and the Vikings will have to bring their best to keep Green Bay from continuing its current hot streak, because, as of right now, there may not be a team in the league that is playing as well as the Packers are right now.

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