James Starks

Starks helped the Packers close out the game.

With the bye week behind us, it’s time to take one last long look at the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Minnesota Vikings before bringing on the San Diego Chargers this Sunday.

15:00, 1st quarter – I’m disappointed already. Mason Crosby only kicks it one yard deep into the end zone. Predictably, Percy Harvin gets a pretty decent return out to the 28.

I’ll continue to give opposing teams and coaches credit for their plans to open the game. In two other road games, we saw Atlanta and Carolina pull out all the stops on their first drive and both got touchdowns. Here, Leslie Frazier and the Vikings come up with a brilliant play to start the game.

First of all, it’s a shocker because the Packers started the game in their nickel — surprise, surprise. They still bit hard on the play fake to Adrian Peterson, giving Christian Ponder plenty of time to gather himself as he rolled to his left.

Tramon Williams sees visions of Matt Ryan bootlegging to his left and jumps the out by Michael Jenkins. Oops. It’s the out-and-up and Jenkins runs right past Williams.

It’s difficult to throw off a rollout to the left, and perhaps that adds to the element of surprise. Ponder throws a good pass to hit Jenkins, who has to slow down to catch it, but it’s better that than overthrowing the guy.

Since he has no other receiver to worry about, Charlie Peprah makes perhaps the more egregious play here. He’s clearly the slowest of the Packers’ safeties. Peprah doesn’t track Jenkins down until the 1-yard line, even after he had to slow down to catch the pass.

Though Peterson is stuffed for a 1-yard loss by Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk on his first carry, the Vikings score the next play on a quick roll out right and 2-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe.

That didn’t take long. The Packers need to expect the unexpected to start games. Opposing coaches know they have to take chances to win.

Coach Mike McCarthy said afterwards the Packers are giving up too many big plays, I find big plays preferable to a whole lot of small ones. Scoring quickly merely puts the best offense in football on the field faster. I don’t see that as a recipe for success against the Packers.

8:39, 1st quarter — Aaron Rodgers hits John Kuhn for a 2-yard TD pass, and we’re quickly back to even at 7 a piece.

It always seems like a bad defensive start has to carry over to special teams. Randall Cobb returns the kickoff to the 21, but a penalty on M.D. Jennings forces the Packers to start at their own 9. To add to the party, Alex Green is injured on the play and ends up out for the season.

No matter. Once again the Packers offense shows its unmatched versatility to start the game. Ryan Grant has three carries for 15 yards, and Rodgers goes six for six with the following completions: Jermichael Finley — 11 yards, Jordy Nelson — 14 yards, Greg Jennings — 26 yards on a ridiculous rollout pass, James Jones — 16 yards, Cobb — 7 yards, and then the strike to Kuhn as Rodgers was being wrapped up by Jared Allen.

The progression of receivers seems almost intentional. If Rodgers is going to play like this, we can call this a game right now. The Packers went 91 yards without ever facing 3rd down.

4:14, 1st quarter — After a Vikings punt gives the Packers the ball at the 15, Rodgers quickly hit Jennings for 15, and then James Starks breaks off a 16-yard run to put the Packers around midfield after just two plays.

The 16-yard run came out of the inverted wishbone, which I have long pointed out is Starks’ favorite formation to run from. It’s good to see Andrew Quarless in there after some injuries had been keeping him out. He lined up with Kuhn as the wingset of the wishbone. When Bryan Bulaga destroyed Brian Robison on the edge, Quarless shielded off linebacker Erin Henderson, and Starks hit the gap nicely for the quick 16-yard jaunt.

Unfortunately, as usual, we would see little more of the formation for the rest of the game.

Even though they got to the Minnesota 46, the Packers would punt after failing to convert a 3rd and 2. Rodgers appears to be looking downfield instead of trying to get just two yards, and Jared Allen finally gets to him.

0:31, 1st quarter — The Vikings are backed up to their 5 thanks to a good Tim Mastay punt, a good tackle by Pat Lee, and a penalty. They end up punting from their 11 after Ponder almost throws a pick to Charles Woodson on 3rd down, just two plays after nearly throwing a pick to Jarrett Bush on 1st down.

The punt ends up being the Vikings’ second big play of the game. It’s a surprisingly poor punt by Chris Kluwe that Cobb tries to field in traffic at the Vikings’ 45. Cobb muffs it, and the Vikings fall on it at the 50.

On first look, I thought this was bad luck as much as anything. It appeared Jennings accidently bumped a diving Cobb just as he was trying to catch the ball. However, after watching it a few times, it appears that no contact occurred until after Cobb dropped it. Cobb just should have caught it. Period.

Cobb has been pretty reliable so far this year, however, and he’s threatening enough that teams seem to be intentionally trying to kick it high and short to prevent a return. In other words, the benefits still outweigh the costs with Cobb, and I hope he maintains his aggressiveness.

On the final play of the 1st quarter, Peterson runs for 11 yards against the Packers nickel defense. This looks like a 3-yard gain to the left until Peterson jukes Woodson in the middle of the field and cuts all the way across for 11 yards. Woodson has had his issues against the run this year, but I’m going to give him a pass here because this is Adrian Peterson, who makes even Hall of Famers look stupid from time to time.

11:47, 2nd quarter – Peterson scores a 1-yard TD and the Vikings, who have started fast all year, are back ahead 14-7. After Peterson’s 11-yard run got the ball to the Green Bay 39, the Vikings picked up one 3rd and 3 on a 6-yard quick out to Harvin. Ponder then found Jenkins for 15 yards against a rare zone coverage, which set up 1st down from the Packers’ 11. The Packers actually inserted their base defense here for one of the first times in the game. However, it didn’t do them any good.

Erik Walden allows Peterson and two blockers to get outside of him even though he’s unblocked. Peprah does well to get to the edge and force AP to cut upfield. Woodson slightly overran the play and gets buried by Steve Hutchinson. Hawk was cut to the ground by a tight end, opening up a nice lane for Peterson, who gets to the 1-yard line before Walden and Morgan Burnett get him to the ground. He would score the next play.

4:59, 2nd quarter – The Packers offense would answer with a 60-yard drive ending with a 39-yard field goal by Crosby.

The first play of the drive was the best play of the year for Quarless. First of all, he started out by knocking Jared Allen right on his ass. Then, when Rodgers scrambles out of the pocket going right, Quarless runs a circle route and catches a 21-yard pass.

Two plays later, Rodgers fakes a draw to Starks and hit James Jones on a quick pass. Jones jukes his guy and goes for 15 yards to get to the Vikings’ 40.

The Packers faced a 2nd and 10 from the Viking 15 when Rodgers mysteriously takes a sack to make it 3rd and 16. This has to be the third or fourth time this season where the Packers have a screen called only to end up getting sacked. On screens Rodgers obviously has the authority to throw it wherever he wants. Maybe McCarthy should consider nipping that in the bud.

The Packers have a tight end screen set up for Quarless on the left. It looks like a sure TD. The Vikings have no clue. Except that Rodgers wants a quick pass to the right, likely to Cobb. When it isn’t immediately there, Rodgers tries to take off running to the right, but Allen becomes the happy beneficiary and tackles him from behind.

Allen had one sack against Newhouse, and that was somewhat a coverage sack itself. This had nothing to do with Newhouse, who was busy heading up field to block on the screen. This was all on Rodgers.

In typical Rodgers’ fashion, he looks to make up for it on the very next play as he steps up and side-arms one to Cobb, who’s coming wide open in the middle of the field. Unfortunately, Cobb drops it, and it’s time to kick a field goal. Cobb not only has the 1st down on the play, but he is a mere juke of the safety from getting into the end zone. Rough first half for Cobb.

This is the first time I’ve noticed the defense gave extra attention to Finley. Three defenders bracketed him on his corner route, which is why the middle opened up for Cobb. On the 3rd down pickup to Jennings on the quick out, no one even covered Finley, and he was wide open right in the middle of the field. Rodgers never looked at him and instead threw the more difficult pass to the sideline for the 1st down.

The Packers didn’t do well in this game on 3rd down. I don’t know what’s in Rodgers’ head regarding Finley, but I do remember the time when 3rd down was Finley’s time. Instead of concentrating too much on Finley, Rodgers appears to have gone the opposite way. This offense needs Finley making plays for it to be as productive as it can be.

0:55, 2nd quarter — Ryan Longwell kicks a 52-yard field goal to extend the Vikings’ lead to 17-10. This would be as good as it would ever get for the Packers’ opponent. Anyone else notice a trend here? Every Packers game has been a game in the 2nd quarter. The Packers coaching staff probably hasn’t gotten enough credit for the fact the team has been the better team after half in every game this season.

The 46-yard Vikings drive mostly consisted of two pass completions on 3rd down by Ponder, and a 30-yard run by Peterson.

On the pass completions, Desmond Bishop and Tramon Williams had tight coverage, but Ponder managed to throw the ball where only the receiver could get it.

On the long run, the Packers are in their base defense again, surprisingly. Maybe they should just stay in the nickel. None of the three down linemen get off their blocks, both inside linebackers are blocked well, and Peterson breaks it to the right sideline after a poor angle and missed tackle by Peprah.

Other than maybe Arian Foster, I don’t think there’s another running back in the league that could have pulled off this run.

0:05, 2nd quarter – The Packers are efficient in their two-minute offense and drive 53 yards in 55 seconds to get a field goal, making the halftime score 17-13.

The drive is entirely short passes thrown to either Starks or Nelson, with a rare bonafide roughing-the-passer penalty helping out.

When Matthews sacked Ponder near the end of the Vikings’ last drive, there was 1:45 on the clock. The Packers could have taken a timeout then, and if they would have, they would have had at least 30 more seconds to use before half. The Packers ultimately reached the Vikings’ 22-yard line, but there was only 10 seconds left at that point. Now, if there had been 40 seconds left, then there is no doubt that the Packers would have had a good shot at getting a touchdown instead of a field goal.

Of course, before we criticize McCarthy, we should point out that in a tight game on the road, there isn’t a coach in the NFL that was likely to take a timeout there. It’s actually stupid if you think about it. The Vikings were at the Packers’ 32-yard line, 1:45 left, with all three of their timeouts remaining. They were in ZERO danger of running out of time, whether the Packers call timeout or not.

14:09, 3rd quarter — A big reason why the Packers have been the best team is because they’re the best 3rd quarter team in football. It takes them a whole two plays here to go 80 yards.

Though it didn’t get much, I totally dig the Packers trying to give the Vikings a taste of their own medicine by running a draw to Cobb out of the shotgun. On 2nd down, I’m shocked that Rodgers didn’t immediately unload the football. Finley is open and Donald Driver is wide open. He’s so open that the safety panics and flies up to try and cover him, totally forgetting about Jennings who is left all alone up the right sideline.

Maybe it was his plan all along, I don’t know, but Rodgers merely waited for the Vikings to scramble forward to cover Driver and then lofted the ball over their heads to a now embarrassingly open Jennings, who jogs to the end zone. 20-17 Packers.

10:29, 3rd quarter – The Vikings start the half with a three and out and then Kluwe gives Cobb a punt he can return. He gets the left sideline and goes 42 yards, giving the Packers the ball back at the Minnesota 32. It takes four plays for the Packers to score.

They travel most of the 32 yards on a 27-yard pass to James Jones, who ran a curl between three defenders and then picked up another 10 yards after juking the safety. On the same play, Finley ran a cross to the right side of the field and no one is within five yards of him. Apparently, Rodgers is playing so well that he would rather gun a hard pass between three defenders than take an easy cross.

Two plays later, Rodgers rolls to his right and finally finds Finley in the back of the end zone to quickly make it 27-17. Didn’t the Vikings start this quarter with the lead?

8:07, 3rd quarter – On 3rd down, Woodson intercepts Ponder to give the Packers the ball back at the Minnesota 45. No one was open on the play. Ponder should have thrown the ball out of bounds or ate it. Instead, he tried for something that wasn’t there, and Woodson appreciated it.

3:20, 3rd quarter — The Packers keep the Vikings in the game by merely kicking a short field goal to make it 30-17. The Packers made it to the 5 after a pass interference call on Cedric Griffin for grabbing Nelson. From there, the Packers go big and try to jam it in two plays in a row.

I have no problem with the 1st down play, but someone needs to be paying attention on the 2nd down play and either call timeout or an audible. Showing no concern for Finley, who is in the left slot, the Vikings are heavy to the right side, with seven guys on that side of the field. The Packers have only five there to block. Thus, the end result of a run to the right is predictable — no gain.

If Rodgers fakes the run and looks for Finley, he has the entire left side of the field with no one in the end zone to cover him. It’s an easy TD.

Not that it matters; surely the Packers will score on 3rd down anyway. Except, they don’t score. Out of the shotgun with the formation spread, Rodgers appears to look for Finley initially, which is a shame because he’s covered and Jennings is wide open.

Rodgers shows his elusiveness in escaping the pocket to the left, but you know he isn’t going to force anything down here. He never gets the angle to Jennings and takes a sack, which leads to the field goal.

2:27, 3rd quarter — This has been a putrid quarter for Minnesota. Just three plays into their next possession, Ponder is picked by Woodson again. Woodson baited the play and undercut Jenkins for the pick. Troy Aikman says Ponder just needs to loft that one over the top. True, but good luck with that. Get carried away with the loft and the safety picks it off.

Woodson returned it 25 yards to give the Packers the ball at the Minnesota 35.

0:18, 3rd quarter -- The Packers score their 20th point of the quarter when Crosby kicks a ridiculous 58-yard field goal to make the score 33-17. Originally, I thought this was the one drive where McCarthy took his foot off the pedal too soon. Not surprisingly, I don’t feel that way now.

On 1st down, Rodgers dumped the ball to Starks for a 5-yard gain. On 2nd and 5, it looks like a hand off to Starks is going somewhere, but when will the real Josh Sitton show up? Kevin Williams pushes Sitton into the backfield directly into Starks’ path. When Starks tries to cut back, Wiliams shoves Sitton aside and tackles Starks for a 1-yard loss.

On 3rd and 6, Rodgers decides he’s done enough today and it’s the defense’s turn to finish out the game. Cobb is open at the 1st down, and Finley might also have a shot further downfield. Not only does Rodgers not throw the football, but he keeps rolling to his left until he’s outside of his blockers and gets sacked, knocking virtually every team in football out of field goal range except, apparently, the Packers. If Rodgers just stays in the pocket, he could eat a sandwich with all the time he’d have.

It’s the 4th quarter, or just about, and Rodgers has thrown three incomplete passes: a drop by Cobb, a drop by Starks, and a spike to stop the clock. Impressive. However, he’s also taken sacks on consecutive 3rd downs when he had plenty of time to throw a pass.

End of the 3rd quarter – I guess the quarter isn’t all bad for the Vikings, as Peterson breaks off a 52-yard run to end the period.

The Packers were once again in their base defense. The Vikings own the point of attack and get their blockers to the second level to cover up Hawk and Bishop. Peterson dances through and should have a 6-yard gain when Peprah makes a rather pathetic attempt to arm tackle him. Woodson makes an even more pathetic attempt at an arm tackle after 10 yards. Peterson is off to the races when a one-handed Morgan Burnett can’t get him to the ground either.

Only Williams and Bishop save the TD when Williams angles him off and then Bishop tackles him from behind when he tries to cut back.

I know Peterson is a beast, but Peprah and Woodson, what is the matter with these guys? Do Super Bowl champions not need to tackle or what? Do they all have Sam Shields-itis?

No wonder McCarthy put them back in pads immediately after the bye.

13:48, 4th quarter — The Vikings can go no further and have to settle for a 48-yard field goal. After two runs by Peterson get negative 2 yards, thanks to Matthews and Bishop, Ponder throws for the end zone on 3rd and 12 and would have been picked by Bush if not for some blatant interference by Jenkins.

13:43, 4th quarter — Rodgers starts out the next drive by calling timeout on 1st down, when Quarless allegedly lines up wrong. How that stops Rodgers from simply turning around and giving Grant the ball, I don’t know. Terrible waste of a timeout.

After the timeout, Rodgers compounds the problem by getting nothing out of it. The Packers run the play fake roll left with Nelson running the deep slant. He appears to have a shot at a big play, but Rodgers doesn’t risk it. He also doesn’t just dump it to Kuhn who is right in front of him for 10 yards. Instead, he runs right and then throws it away.

On 2nd and 10, Grant has a good run around the right end if he follows Kuhn. Instead, he cuts between Sitton and Scott Wells and gets nothing. That’s two terrible decisions in two plays.

On 3rd down, everyone was covered. The defense won the play. I have no problem with Rodgers throwing it away. Better than trying to force something crazy, which Rodgers’ predecessor was known to do from time to time.

7:50, 4th quarter — The Vikings cash in their lotto ticket to finish one of the most fortunate touchdown drives in recent history.

The Vikings go 93 yards, but get almost none of it on 1st and 2nd down. The Packers play good defense throughout, but fall victim to some good play by Ponder mixed in with some great fortune.

On 3rd and 7 from the 11, Ponder finds a well-covered Shiancoe for 22 yards. Woodson came within inches of his third interception, but his diving attempt left Shiancoe alone up the right sideline until he was tracked down by Burnett.

On 3rd and 7 from the 36, the Packers send an unorthodox mad dog blitz where Matthews and Bishop cross. Amazingly, the Vikings have a QB draw called on the same play. Matthews’ cross takes him out of the play. Bishop would normally be standing right in the middle of the field, giving Ponder no shot, but his cross clears the way for Ponder to run untouched for 12 yards.

On 3rd and 13 from the 45, Ponder is forced out of the pocket to his right. Matthews keeps coming and is about a half second from crushing Ponder when he lets it to Greg Camarillo in the middle of the field. Camarillo was well-covered by Bishop until the last moment. Woodson saw Camarillo as Ponder’s likely target and came flying over. The ball just beats Woodson there, and Camarillo has a 16-yard gain for a 1st down.

To add to this miraculous play, the referees hit Matthews with one of the more egregious roughing-the-passer calls you’ll ever see. No big surprise though. A surprise would be getting through an entire game without any terrible roughing-the-passer calls.

Just like that the Vikings have the ball at the Packers’ 24. On 1st down, Ponder is about to get walloped by Walden. He lets it go at the last moment, throwing high and behind Jenkins. Woodson cuts in front of Jenkins for the pick, but can’t get through Jenkins’ body to the football. Touchdown. If Woodson is trailing the play, where the route is designed to put the defender, he has an easy knock down or interception because of the inaccurate pass.

Instead, Ponder comes out smelling like roses. No matter though, the Packer offense can still easily end this.

5:38, 4th quarter — Or maybe not. The Packers get 15 yards on a play-fake pass to Nelson on 1st down. After that, things go sideways.

On 1st down it looks like Starks might have a big run to the left, except Newhouse trips over his own feet, leaving his guy to stop Starks in his tracks. There’s no place to cut back, since that’s where everyone was effectively blocked to. Starks loses two yards.

Rodgers finds Driver for six yards on 2nd down. Finley’s guy left him to sit in zone, and it doesn’t look like the safety was in position to cover. If Rodgers foregoes the easy pass and fires one in to Finley, the Packers quite possibly have the touchdown to seal the game.

On 3rd down, it’s a terrible play call. Even though it’s 3rd and 6, all four Packers receivers run verticals. Jennings is Rodgers’ only shot. Rodgers wants Jennings to sit in the hole afforded by the zone. Jennings continues to slant across instead of sitting down. The ball is behind him and incomplete. No one really to blame here except for the play call. Just one of those things that happen in football when the situation is fluid.

On the plus side, Tim Mastay kicks a bouncer that the Viking return guy demures from trying to field. The ball rolls to the 3 where it is saved by Bush. Now Ponder must lead a 97-yard drive. Good luck with that unless lightning can strike the same person twice.

2:37, 4th quarter — After converting two first downs in extremely similar fashion to the last drive, the Vikings make it no further than their own 36 and are forced to punt.

On 3rd and 7 from the 5, the Packers decide to have Walden cover Shiancoe while Woodson blitzes. Ponder never looks at anyone else and hits Shiancoe for 12 yards and a 1st down running across the field.

On 3rd and 10 from the 17, Ponder again rolls right and throws it back over the middle of the field. Kid, you don’t want to make a career doing this, but it works this time as Bush comes within inches of knocking it away from Camarillo.

On the 2nd and 10 following, Woodson cuts in front of Camarillo on an in and has his third pick, except for another fortunately off target pass and a little push in the back from Camarillo.

On 3rd and 10, Ponder doesn’t even come close to finding Shiancoe, who’s well-covered by Bishop. With all their timeouts remaining, the Vikings wisely decide to punt it.

1:07, Game – Starks breaks free straight up the middle for his third consecutive 1st down running the ball, and Rodgers gets to run the QBs’ favorite play to finish the game.

On 1st down from the 20, the Packers line up in the straight I with Quarless at the right end of the line and Finley at the left end. The Vikings have a run blitz called, but it ends up burning them.

Kevin Williams crashes the middle hard to make room for Greenway and Johnson blitzing through his gap. This opens up the very hole the Packers want to run through. Bulaga meets Greenway before he can refill the gap. Quarless blocks the useless Robison out, and Kuhn takes out Johnson.

Starks charges through the hole and gets more yards after contact, ending up with a 15-yard run.

On 2nd and 11 at the 2:07 mark, I love that the Packers changed to the shotgun formation. No surprise, Robison charges up field on the pass rush like an idiot, opening up the right side. Sitton takes out Greenway, and Starks easily gets the edge once he charges out there. He gets up the right sideline and then cuts back for a gain of 20 yards.

The Vikings are now in serious trouble. It’s just a matter of whether the Packers can finish it with their offense on the field.

At 3rd and 7 at the 1:17 mark, the Packers are back in the straight I. They do something slightly different here with a straight run up the middle. I don’t know if the Vikings were finally a little tired, but they just got bitched on this play.

Wells mauled the nose tackle to the left. Sitton stood up Kevin Williams at the line, while Bulaga rag-dolled Robison for the final time. Starks has a huge hole right up the middle. He dodges a couple arm-tackles and gets the first down so the Packers defense can stay where we like them best, on the sideline.

The greatest thing about this play is that the replay shows Rodgers turn around after the hand off and raise his finger in the air as he sees the big hole Starks has to run through. A second later, every Packer behind the play is doing the same thing.

The bye ALWAYS comes at a good time. If this game was any indication, the Packers physically and mentally were starting to wear a little thin.

The offense was near what we expect from it, except for on 3rd down. As I said before, I think Rodgers needs to look for Finley more on 3rd down. We are almost getting too far away from him. He hasn’t lost any of the skills that made him the Packers’ biggest match-up problem. Two catches a game is not enough. He needs to be involved more.

The Packers could also run the ball better than they have. Having the same guys in the mix should help. It also would help to have some more consistency from their supposed best player in Josh Sitton.

So, yeah, I’m actually saying this offense can play even better.

They might need to if the defense doesn’t pick it up. The defense has played well in the second half this season, but they also havegotten off to slow starts, especially on the road.

What concerns me most is the Packers haven’t been good at stopping the run the last couple games. I’m not as concerned with the pass. With the best QB and receivers in the league, the Packers have the advantage in a shootout. The Packers’ worst fear should be to allow a team to run the ball and dominate the clock.

Ultimately, I’ll take my chances with Matthews and the guys in our secondary.

It would be nice to see Vic So’oto sometime during this second half. He must have really hurt himself in the weight room because Erik Walden has not done enough to justify him not even getting a chance. When So’oto had his big game in the preseason, it was against the Chiefs’ starters.

It’s a tougher road for the last nine games with no gimmies like the Rams or Broncos at home. That being said, the Packers don’t need to be perfect. They only need to be better than the team they are playing on that given week, and with starting 7-0, they can probably just win their home games from here on out and get one of the two byes.

That should be the regular season goal: get a bye.

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