Aaron Rodgers

Neither rain nor the San Diego Chargers could slow down Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, and his continuing remarkable performance enabled the Green Bay Packers to repeat their winning formula: get the lead and then hang on. I have painstakingly gone over the game tape to provide you with analysis of every key play and player.

15:00, 1st quarter – It’s raining, which is crazy. Allegedly, the wind is also blowing, but this would not seem to be a factor all game. After the Packers defer, Mason Crosby kicks the ball through the end zone and the Chargers’ first drive will start at their 20.

The Chargers started in the shotgun with Michael Tolbert next to Philip Rivers. The Packers have started, for the second game in a row, in their nickel defense. In fact, the Packers start the game with a five-man blitz when they send Charles Woodson off the right slot. Woodson and Clay Matthews both do a good job of collapsing the pocket on Rivers.

Unfortunately, Rivers only needs to hold the ball for two seconds before finding Vincent Jackson wide open in the right flat.

Jackson lined up in the left slot. Sam Shields has man-to-man coverage on that side, but he has two linebackers helping him in the middle. Shields is lined up 10 yards off of Jackson, which gives him no hope of covering the receiver on a short cross. The play goes for 23 yards. Desmond Bishop, who is shadowing Antonio Gates, runs into Shields, and no one is within seven yards of Jackson when he catches the ball.

The Packers are back to their base defense for the second play of the game, and it’s Howard Green in with Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji up front. Jarius Wynn is out. The Chargers run it up the gut anyway and Tolbert finds a nice hole to get nine yards. Green and Pickett were single teamed and somewhat dominated on the play, but the hole is opened when A.J. Hawk shoots the gap in front of Bishop instead of taking care of his own gap. Tolbert runs through Hawk’s gap and drags Bishop for a couple yards.

10:23, 1st quarter – The Chargers end an 80-yard TD drive with a 23-yard pass to Vincent Jackson. It was Jackson’s third catch on the drive. With Chargers’ No. 2 receiver Malcolm Floyd out, you’d think the Packers would show Jackson special attention, but you wouldn’t know it by watching this drive.

The Packers’ main issue was first down. The Chargers gained 74 of the 80 yards on the five first downs during the drive.

On the TD, the Chargers lined up with eight guys on the line of scrimmage and only one wide receiver — Jackson, split out right. Jackson and both tight ends went out for passes, but that made three potential receivers versus six cover guys for Green Bay.

The Packers are in a highly unusual defense and their execution is suspect. Both safeties came up to the line of scrimmage to get directly over the tight ends.  This leaves Woodson as the lone safety in the middle of the field.

Both tight ends come off the line and run corners. Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah are solid in coverage. However, I have no idea what the free guys — Tramon Williams, Bishop and Woodson — are doing on this play, and likely neither do they.

Though he started on the left side, instead of doubling Gates, who the one-handed Burnet has on that side, Williams attempts to run clear across the field to double Peprah’s guy — Randy McMichael. Bishop drops down the middle, but with both tight ends running corner routes, no one is anywhere near him. He’s essentially covering no one.

As if one guy covering no one isn’t enough, Woodson stays in the middle of the field. Doubling or helping out with the one receiver on the field — Jackson — apparently doesn’t occur to anyone. Shields lets Jackson release to the middle of the field, where three Packers should have him covered. No one bothers and the Chargers end up with an easy TD. Considering where the ball was thrown — the back of the end zone — it would have been a tough play to stop, even if it were properly covered.

The Chargers are understandably elated, but remembering the early leads given to the Panthers, Falcons and Vikings, Packer fans are somewhere between a yawn and “bring it on.”

Ironically, in all four road games where the opponent has started with the ball, they’ve scored TDs. In the one road game where the Packers started with the ball, they scored.

5:40, 1st quarter – No surprise. The Packers answer with a TD drive of their own, and it’s 7-7.

Unlike the Packers’ defense, the Chargers would try to take advantage of the sloppy weather by playing tight bump-and-run on the line. They also double team Jerimichael Finley on nearly every play. As if listening to my last article, Aaron Rodgers appears to look to Finley first on nearly every play, but finding him doubled, and the receivers bumped off their routes or busy being mugged, Rodgers does the most damage with his feet.

He picks up two first downs on scrambles and the Packers get to the Chargers’ 5 after a third down interference call on Marcus Gilchrist. Finley scored on the next play. Even though Eric Weddle was sliding over to double him, Rodgers threw the back shoulder pass instead of the fade and Finley easily outmuscles Gilchrist for the score.

4:33, 1st quarter – One play after nearly throwing a pick to Woodson, Rivers tries to force it into Gates, who is well covered by Bishop on an in route. The ball goes off Bishop’s hands and right to Charlie Peprah. Once Peprah had the ball, I haven’t seen a team less interested in making a tackle since the Patriots returned an INT for a TD against the Packers last year. Coincidently, that was the last time the Packers lost a game — December 15th, 2010.

1:52, 1st quarter — Tramon Williams shows flashes of his former self by breaking in front of the receiver in the flat, picking the pass and returning it for the Packers’ second consecutive defensive touchdown. Both returns came on third down, after the Packers played better defense on first down.

On Williams’ TD, the Packers are either in a very complicated defense or some people are just confused. The Packers send a five-man blitz again, with Matthews and Zombo dropping back into coverage and Bishop and Shields running the mad dog on the right side.

Matthews and Zombo have their backs turned to the QB and are running toward receivers nowhere near them. Woodson is essentially the safety on that side and is giving plenty of room to Jackson, who’s running the corner.

If Rivers just waits a moment, he probably has a receiver wide open downfield, but likely hurried by the oncoming blitz, Rivers tried to take the quick out to the flat and Tramon jumped it perfectly.

It is 21-7 Packers, but their offense has only been on the field once and their defense is about to take the field for the third straight possession.

14:08, 2nd quarter — It only took three plays into the 2nd quarter for the Chargers to make it 21-14.

If you’ve followed Rivers’ career, then you’re likely aware that he’s a mediocre QB when the game is close. Where he’s made his career and fooled some into thinking he’s elite, is when his team is behind. This entire Chargers’ offense has always played very well from behind.

After two pick sixes, that’s exactly where Rivers and the Chargers would be for the remainder of the game.

The Chargers went 66 yards in six plays mostly thanks to a 38-yard completion to Jackson on 3rd and 1. The Chargers were in the exact same formation they scored their TD from: a three-tight end set with Jackson as the only receiver split out to the right.

Ahead 21-7, you might think the Packers would have zero concern for a plunge up the middle and simply stay back to guard against the big play. Well, not on this day. The Packers have four defensive lineman in the game and only one safety — Peprah. As if four linemen and four linebackers weren’t enough, Peprah charges up to stop the run and leaves Jackson in single coverage against Williams. Tramon gives Jackson the middle of the field, thinking a safety would be there and Jackson capitalizes with a 38-yard catch to the Green Bay 19.

The Chargers would score on an 8-yard draw play by Tolbert. Bishop took too long to read the play and his hesitation allowed one blocker to wall him and Woodson off, paving the way for a fairly easy TD run.

10:10 2nd, quarter – The Packers end a drive into Chargers’ territory by turning it over on downs.

I agree completely with coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Chargers’ 36. He even has a simple, effective play called. Greg Jennings lines up in the slot on Finley’s side. Finley does an out and Jennings does an in after Finley clears.

This is a difficult play to stop and the Chargers do it the old-Oakland way — they cheat. They simply mug and hold both guys. The Chargers rush six and Eric Weddle pushes John Kuhn into Rodgers’ face, who has no choice but to dump it in Jennings’ direction and hope for a flag.

Perhaps tired from flagging the Chargers twice for pass interference, the referees don’t call anything. Chargers’ ball.

5:52, 2nd quarter — With a chance to tie the game, the Chargers have to settle for a 52-yard field goal in the rain that, frankly, they were lucky to make. On the second play of the drive, Woodson blitzes off the slot and for once makes a play by knocking the ball out of Rivers’ hands. Unfortunately, no one else is anywhere near Rivers and he merely picks up the fumble and laterals it to Tolbert, who’s standing in front of him with no defenders around.

Frank Zombo and Hawk both whiff on tackles and Tolbert picks up nine yards before Burnett and Peprah combine on a tackle.

The Packers actually stopped the Chargers three plays later, but a defensive holding call on Woodson, who was covering Gates, keeps the drive alive. The refs would call three on Woodson during the game and this one is definitely the worst. Gates is running the dig route and attempts to shove Woodson off him when he cuts back outside. Woodson, defensively, grabs Gates by the shoulder pads to keep himself upright. The refs interpret this as holding.

This is an especially egregious call after the Packers had two receivers held on 4th down with no call.

Anyway, the Chargers would only get a long field goal out of it, with the Packers keeping a 21-17 lead. Sound familiar? That’s the same score the Saints closed to before the Packers stretched the lead out again after halftime.

0:22, 2nd quarter -- The Packers’ offense puts San Diego right back in a hole with a perfect drive that takes up the rest of the half and ends in a 16-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson.

The drive got a jump start when Antonio Garay, who T.J. Lang, Scott Wells, and Josh Sitton would all have their issues blocking, sacked Rodgers on 1st down and then made the mistake of pretending to rip his championship belt.

Rodgers responded with a 25-yard run on 3rd and 9. He would also overcome a coverage sack by Antwan Barnes, resulting in a 3rd and 11 with a 13-yard completion to Jennings on a comeback route.

A dump to Starks would get the Packers down to the 16 and stop the clock when he gets out of bounds.

On the first shot at the end zone, Rodgers throws a good-looking corner for Finley. If Finley runs straight up the field and then cuts to the corner, he probably has an easy TD. Instead, he runs a sloppy curving route to the outside and gets tripped up by the defender on his hip.

Rodgers simply fires for the end zone a second time — this time a back hip pass for Nelson. Jordy made an impressive spinning catch while sliding into the end zone. This makes the halftime score 28-17 with the Packers getting the ball after the half.

8:30, 3rd quarter – The Packers’ offense does about all it needs to, driving the field, taking six and a half minutes off the clock and kicking a field goal to take a 31-17 lead.

This 2nd half opening drive is almost entirely the work of tough runs by Starks and tough catches by Finley. On 3rd and 3 from the 50, Rodgers sidesteps a guy and throws a jump pass to Finley, who makes a lunging catch.

The drive stalls on 3rd and 2 when Rodgers forces a pass to Nelson that’s broken up by Quentin Jammer. There was excellent pass protection on the play and if Rodgers would have waited another beat, Andrew Quarless was breaking wide open in the right flat.

1:58, 3rd quarter – The Packers had not allowed a TD drive on their opponent’s first possession of the 2nd half all season, until now.

The Chargers start-and-go drive was made up entirely of dump passes to Tolbert and simple square-ins and outs to Gates.

After a holding call put the Chargers back on their own 8 for 1st and 18, a simple dump to Tolbert takes advantage of the Packers being in across-the-board man-to-man coverage. Hawk is on Tolbert and not only does he get beat at the line, but he also fails to tackle Tolbert, who ends up going for 27 yards.

The Packers get a sack from Erik Walden and force a 3rd-and-16. Unfortunately, the Packers have to be in their worst defense of the day and the Chargers end up picking up the 1st down.

First of all, even though it’s 3rd-and-16, the Packers are in their regular nickel. I don’t understand why Dom Capers seems so hesitant to use the dime. Jarrett Bush has played decently, especially around the line of scrimmage. On 3rd and 16, both Hawk and Bishop should not be on the field. Neither cover as well as Bush. Get him on the field! Only one of the inside linebackers should be on the field and that should be to either blitz or cover the running back out of the backfield.

Instead, Bishop is supposed to cover Rivers’ main target on 3rd down — Antonio Gates. The Packers rush four and get nowhere near Rivers. Strangely, the Chargers double Jarius Wynn and single Matthews and Raji. It all works. Rivers has plenty of time to wait until Gates breaks open on the out against Bishop. Gates picks up the 1st down and the Packers squander their best chance to get off the field.

The drive ends on an 11-yard TD, on an out to Gates. On that play, the Packers had Gates doubled, with Bishop shallow and Burnett over the top. The only problem is that coverage does nothing against the simple out. Gates runs to Bishop, pushes off, catches the out and lunges into the end zone.

The Chargers would pull within one touchdown once again, at 31-24, but that opened the floodgates.

13:06, 4th quarter – It would take less than four minutes for the Packers to go back up by 14.

On the second play of the drive, Jennings ran an out and up on Jammer, made a leaping finger-tip catch, and then slid down at midfield.

After a couple good runs by Grant and Starks, Rodgers throws a perfect pump and go to James Jones for a 21-yard TD — 38-24, Packers.

10:30, 4th quarter – Rodgers throws his fourth TD of the game on a 5-yard back-shoulder toss to Jennings that makes it 45-24.

The Packers scored quickly after the first punt in the game. The Chargers went three and out, mostly thanks to a 2nd down sack by Bishop. On that play, Matthews looped inside as Bishop blitzed from the slot area. Even though he was one-on-one with the right tackle, the same situation as Matthews has been in most the game, Bishop gets by him by slapping his hands off and sliding his shoulders past. That’s how it’s supposed to look. Bishop gets in on Rivers and sacks him.

After the punt, the Packers went 68 yards in three plays. This was made simple by a 63-yard bomb to Nelson on the first play of the drive. This is Rodgers’ most ridiculous play of the game. He threw the ball 55 yards while on a dead run to his right.

6:32, 4th quarter – Rivers hits Jackson for a 29-yard TD to pull the Chargers within seven at 45-38. It was a great four minutes for the Chargers, but like most others before them, this is as close as they would get in the 4th quarter.

After the Packers’ score, the Packers’ defense was in that now familiar position of not caring so much about preventing points as preventing quick points. They were doing a mediocre job of accomplishing this mission until Rivers hit Vincent Brown on a corner route for a 31-yard pickup down to the Packers’ 5-yard line. Shields had excellent coverage on the play, but Rivers had time and threw his best pass to Brown.

The Chargers scored when Woodson decided to double the same guy Tramon was covering and Peprah decided to cover no one, leaving Jackson wide open for an easy 5-yard TD. Williams appears upset after this play and that seems reasonable, since I’m not sure Woodson or Peprah knew what they were supposed to be doing. After the game, Peprah said it was a good route combination and that it was “a long ways for me to run.” Ah, that explains it. Thank you, Charlie.

Then came the onside kick, which enabled the Chargers to momentarily get back into the game. The Packers don’t have their hands team in, but they’re still in decent position to recover the kick. Somehow, Ryan Taylor let’s the ball go through his legs, but it knicks him, which causes the ball to take a bad bounce while Nelson attempts to recover it. If Nelson leaves the ball alone, it goes out of bounds and it’s Packers’ ball. Instead, off balance, Nelson tries to bat the ball out of bounds or past the oncoming Chargers. As luck would have it, the ball deflects off a Charger, falls softly to the ground and is easily recovered.

The Chargers scored three plays after the kick. The Packers’ defense looks shell-shocked. On the TD pass to Jackson, Williams has him covered and would have a pick if he stuck with it. Instead, he appears slightly unsure that Burnett will cover the short receiver and comes off Jackson for a moment. This gives Jackson the space he needs for another easy score.

5:00, 4th quarter -- No matter how well the Packers’ offense is rolling, it also seems to have the ability to go three and out at the least opportune time.

Can’t blame this on conservative coaching — all three plays were passes. Rodgers scrambled for two yards on 1st down, threw a quick pass to Jennings on 2nd that only got a yard, and then threw his only wobbly pass of the game to Jennings on 3rd down, which the Packers were lucky wasn’t picked.

0:33, 4th quarter – The Packers’ defense may have looked like a Chinese fire drill on the possession after the onside kick, but give them credit. They looked completely different when the game was on the line. In fact, they looked like last year’s defense. Twice the Chargers had the ball with a chance to tie the game and neither time did they get close.

The first time the Chargers picked up a 1st down on a miraculous play where Rivers was essentially throwing the ball away. With a five-man blitz getting to Rivers, he just chucked the ball in Gates’ direction. Problem is, Gates had stopped in the middle of the field, so the ball was overthrown. When Gates stopped, Woodson kept going, running right into Gates. Gates hit the ground and a penalty flag followed.

The Chargers would have to punt after Rivers grounded the ball on 2nd down and had to throw the ball away against a heavy rush on 3rd and long. The Packers are consistently sending five and getting much more pressure on Rivers.

After a Packers’ punt gave them the ball back with 1:05 to play, the Chargers hardly had any more success. They only got into Packers’ territory on a dubious pass interference call on Woodson. That put them at the Packers’ 41 and they’d get no closer. Two plays after the interference call, Rivers would try for Jackson deep against Williams. Williams is in position for a pick, but it’s a wobbly duck from Rivers and Peprah gets the pick off the short ball.

Game over.

Not only are the Packers 8-0, but they’re 5-0 on the road. If they can just win their home games from here on out, they’re assured of a bye. Since the Packers are likely playing at home during the playoffs, you would like to build up that mystique by not losing any games at home.

The Packers’ pass rush improved dramatically once the Chargers got within one score at the end of the game. The word is that Morgan Burnett is out of his cast this week. That will help the Packers’ primary bugaboo at this point — tackling. That’s where they’ve missed Nick Collins the most; he was one of the best tacklers on the team, as was Burnett when he broke his hand.

I was concerned that the Packers would have a hard time with Tolbert and that was the case. It doesn’t help when you only have 10 guys on the field who can tackle.

Williams and Sam Shields both played better when they weren’t lining up 10 yards off their guys. Both have had injuries and the Packers’ defense needs both to keep improving.

Though he didn’t excel around the line of scrimmage, Woodson got a bad rap from this game. In my mind, only one of those calls against him was legit. Anyone watch Darrelle Revis cover once? There is A LOT of contact. He just doesn’t get called for it. Woodson has actually been pretty good in coverage and the Packers need him to continue that.

Desmond Bishop is the lone defender playing at a Pro Bowl level.

The offense should keep the focus on Finley and Starks and it’ll be fine. Marshall Newhouse had his worst game of the year against the Chargers. He needs to play better against the Vikings.

Aaron Rodgers has finished eight games with a passer rating that’s over 110. The second best in the league, Drew Brees, has a passer rating of 106. Rodgers has been better than that in every game this season. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen a QB play at this level for this length of time.

Now we just need him to play well in the cold and this team should like it’s chances.