Clay Matthews

The rematch between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field resembled last year’s blowout in Minneapolis, except this one was over even sooner. As soon as the Packers defense decided to show up, this game was fated to get ugly. Here is a close look at what made the difference for the defense and what continued to work for the offense.

15:00, 1st quarter — The Packers win the toss and defer again. Always a sound strategy, this is especially a no-brainer when the Packers are at Lambeau. Mason Crosby boots the ball through the end zone, and I’m continuing to love the new kickoff rule.

Same as in Minnesota, the Packers defense starts in the nickel. However, Charles Woodson only briefly bluffs coverage on Percy Harvin in the slot before coming off to blitz from Christian Ponder’s right. It’s a lead play to Peterson to the left. It’s decently blocked, but because A.J. Hawk flew up to take on the fullback in the hole, Peterson doesn’t like what he sees and tries to cut back up the middle. Clay Matthews and Woodson are both fighting with blockers there, and Peterson bounces off them. The unblocked Desmond Bishop and Morgan Burnett circle around to bring Peterson down after a two-yard gain.

On 2nd down, the Packers blitz Woodson up the middle. The Vikings don’t come close to picking it up, and Ponder is lucky to have a quick out to Harvin available to him. Charlie Peprah, who was asked to cover the Vikings’ best receiver on the first two plays, does a good job to get Harvin out of bounds three yards short of the 1st down.

On 3rd and 3, the Packers again blitz five, sending Bishop and Hawk while dropping Erik Walden into coverage. Ponder is a second away from being buried by Hawk, Matthews or B.J. Raji when he tries the cross to Visanthe Shiancoe. Walden is all over Shiancoe, and the pass is incomplete. Walden appears to have held Shiancoe, but the refs are always hesitant to make a call within five yards of the line of scrimmage, which this was.

13:42, 1st quarter — As if starting with a three and out on defense wasn’t great enough, Chris Kluwe outkicks his coverage, and for once, Randall Cobb has a little room to operate. He promptly takes the punt 80 yards for a TD. M.D. Jennings and Ryan Taylor threw the key blocks on the play, and the one free guy fell down, which sprung Cobb loose at the 40.

Apparently Cobb likes nationally televised games. The Packers offense hasn’t been on the field, and it’s 7-0 Packers.

10:03, 1st quarter — After getting one first down, the Vikings have to punt again. The Packers are in their base defense for most of this possession.

After two Peterson runs gets them six yards, it’s 3rd and 4 and the Packers switch to their dime defense with Bishop as the lone middle lienbacker and Jarrett Bush as the extra DB. Bishop blitzes and comes through, but Ponder hits Harvin on the quick out. He jukes by Woodson and gets the 1st down.

On the very next play, the Packers are back in their base defense. The Vikings go play action and expect either the fullback or Peterson to block Matthews. Neither does. Matthews comes in like he flying off the top rope and body slams Ponder. Ponder loses the football, but Peterson at least has the wherewithal to fall on it and avoid a complete disaster.

Two plays later it’s 3rd and 16, and the Packers are back in their nickel. Bishop and Hawk both blitz again, while Matthews covers Shiancoe. The Packers have sent five pass rushers on every pass play so far this game. Hawk runs into a crowd, but the Vikings completely ignore Bishop who violently introduces himself to Ponder.

Before taking the hit, Ponder threw a short pass to Harvin, who gets crushed by Woodson. Now this is the kind of defense we have been waiting to see!

On a 3rd and long that you aren’t going to come close to converting, you don’t need your QB taking shots like that.

5:00, 1st quarter — The Packers offense does its thing in finishing a 70-yard drive with a 24-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings.

Comically, the drive starts with an Aaron Rodgers fumble, who’s untouched, as he’s trying to escape the pocket to his left. Fortunately, he recovers the football to minimize the damage to just embarrassment. The Packers would be miserable on 1st down on this drive, which will be a continuing issue for the offense in the 1st half.

The offense overcomes this by converting three third downs. The first was a 3rd and 8, which was converted on a leaping catch by Donald Driver up the left sideline. This is the first big-time play Driver has made this year, and it’s great to see. When plays like this are being made by the firth or sixth option of the offense, it really shows how dangerous this group is.

Rodgers then converted a 3rd and 7 with an alert dump to James Starks, who impressively spun by one tackler and danced through another, even if he perhaps could have gotten the 1st down in the firts place by simply heading straight up field.

Rodgers converted the last third down — 3rd-and-a-foot — with a QB sneak that got three yards.

On the next play, the Packers call a screen right to Grant. Rodgers never looks that way and instead tries to hit Finley on an out from the left slot. Neither Josh Sitton nor Scott Wells got enough of Kevin Williams before heading upfield, and Williams got right into Rodgers’ face to deflect the pass for Finley. The ball seems to float like a balloon before falling harmlessly to the ground.

This is at least the fourth or firth time this year where we saw a screen called that Rodgers ignored. I wrote about it last game. Coach Mike McCarthy or Tom Clements need to reign their MVP in here. In every instance that I’m talking about, Rodgers was sacked or near disaster occurred.

It isn’t like defenses are overplaying the screen. Finley was double-covered here, while Grant might have a TD if Rodgers could have found a way to get him the ball. I appreciate Rodgers having the ability to throw the ball wherever he wants on any play, but the proof is on tape. When he goes elsewhere on screen plays, a negative play is almost always the result. If he commits to the screen, backpedals after getting the snap, and then lofts the ball to Grant, this could very likely be a TD.

Of course, it’s all rendered meaningless. The very next play, Rodgers fakes the draw and then throws a dart to Jennings who runs the post right at the heart of the Cover 2.

The safety actually shaded towards Jennings here, leaving the outside receiver, Driver, alone for an easy TD, but Rodgers makes the read irrelevant by throwing the ball so hard and so accurately that the safety can’t get to it anyway. 14-0, Packers.

1:14, 1st quarter — The Vikings show their first signs of life in the game with a 46-yard drive, most of it coming on a 33-yard pass over the middle to Shiancoe. That play came on a 3rd and 4 where the Packers again blitzed five. This time, however, there is no pressure in the middle, and Ponder steps up to avoid Matthews and then throws his best pass of the night to Shiancoe who had a step on Peprah.

The Vikings would also get a 13-yard run by Peterson on 2nd and 12. The Packers are in nickel with both of their inside linebackers five yards back, which is the perfect defense to run a draw at. Bishop and Hawk hesitate before recognizing the draw. This allows two offensive linemen to get to them before they can close any ground. It gives Peterson a lot of room to work with and springs him into the secondary, which could have resulted in more damage than a 13-yard gain, but the defense does a good job of swarming to AP.

With the Vikings now at the Green Bay 30, C.J. Wilson has two good plays in row. He gets off his block and ties up Peterson for a 1-yard gain on 1st down. Then, on 2nd and 9, Wilson beats his blocker straight up and forces Ponder to attempt a quick shovel pass to Peterson. Peterson isn’t ready for it, gets quickly wrapped up by Bishop, and the Vikings are lucky that Hawk didn’t intercept the ball when it came loose.

This stuck the Vikings with a 3rd and 9. The Packers come with an all-out six-man blitz. Ponder has to get rid of the ball and tries foolishly for Shiancoe crossing against Woodson. Woodson was baiting the rookie again and only a good battle for the ball by Shiancoe stops Woodson from having another INT.

The best part of the drive comes when a penalty erases a 47-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell. The Vikings try Longwell again from 52, and his kick comes up short. The Packers take over at their 42.

12:05, 2nd quarter — Crosby kicks another short field goal to remain perfect for the year, and it’s 17-0 Packers.

After getting great field position, the Packers offense would move 51 yards in nine plays. It was mostly a stop-and-go affair, with nearly all the go provided by a 19-yard rollout pass to Cobb and a 25-yard jump pass to Finley on 4th and 5.

Finley’s catch gave the Packers the ball at the 9-yard line, but as always seems to be the case when the Packers don’t score a TD after getting inside the 10, a sack on 1st down did them in. In what, frustratingly, seems to be a weekly occurrence, Sitton gets beat at the line by Kevin Williams, who essentially forces Rodgers into Jared Allen and a sack for a 9-yard loss.

The score would remain 17-0 heading into halftime.

On their next possession, the Vikings would get near midfield and attempt a flea-flicker. Bishop absolutely pounds Ponder as he releases the ball, Burnett has great coverage on Devin Aromashodu, and Tramon Williams makes an athletic pick. The Packers’ defenders block no one on the return, and Williams wisely slides down just past the 20.

The Packers would go three and out. Grant runs poorly on 1st down and loses a yard. Rodgers has his most inexplicable play of the game on 2nd down when he attempts to take off instead of throwing the ball to a wide-open Driver right in front of him. He gains just three and puts the Packers in 3rd and 8. On 3rd and 8, Finley is open on the out, but Rodgers throws Jennings the ball and he’s tackled short of the 1st down.

The Vikings would briefly get into Packers territory on their drive until a holding call on Harvin knocked them back 10 yards. They would fail to recover and have to punt.

The Packers took over at their 3 and looked like they were going to punt from their own end zone, until James Starks broke an 11-yard run on 3rd and 9. The Packers went to the old reliable — running between Bulaga and Sitton, and both moved their defenders out of the hole. The play really opened up when Erin Henderson shot the gap and ran smack into John Kuhn. Starks stepped around them and burst through the hole for one of the more underrated plays of the game.

Because of that run, the Packers were able to essentially run out the half.

10:45, 3rd quarter — The Packers offense drives 69 yards in eight plays to make it 24-0 and all but put the game away.

Other than the result, this drive was very similar to the field goal drive in the 1st half. As on that drive, a rollout pass to the right puts the Packers in Vikings territory — this time to Jordy Nelson for 23 yards. After that, the Packers offense needed four downs to move 10 yards. On the 2nd down following the 4th down conversion, the Packers run a run-pass option, Rodgers chooses to pass and throws a quick stop to Nelson. Nelson bitches Cedric Griffin and goes 17 yards for the TD.

8:44, 3rd quarter — The Vikings go three and out again after never recovering from losing six yards on 1st down. That resulted from a hand off to Peterson on a Woodson blitz. Woodson, the ball, and Peterson all converged at the same time. Woodson and Peterson stood grappling like a pair of sumo wrestlers until Hawk jumped in to bring on the whistle.

However, as in the first match up, a Vikings punt turns into one of the their best plays. Cobb has no one around him this time and just takes his eye off the ball and drops it. The Vikings recover at the Packers’ 14.

The Vikings would score in two plays, and I’m not sure how determined the Packers were to stop them. On first down, Woodson has coverage on Harvin until he motions into the backfield. Woodson lets him go at that point, and no one picks him up when he runs into the flat. Harvin gets to the 3 before Woodson and Bishop chase him down.

From the 3, the Packers are in their nickel, even though a run to Peterson is inevitable. Peterson picks the gap between Ryan Pickett and Desmond Bishop; neither get off their block, and Peterson strolls untouched into the end zone.

Ho-hum. 24-7.

6:25, 3rd quarter — It takes the Packers five plays to extend their lead back to 24. Perhaps attempting to make up for his fumble, Cobb returns the ball to midfield to give the Packers great starting field position. On the return, Cobb not only threw Asher Allen to the ground, but he ran right over him as he headed up the sideline.

The Packers running would take it from there.

A play that isn’t run enough, Rodgers dumps to Starks on 1st down, who bulls his way for nine yards. On 2nd and 1, Starks runs around the right end for 15 yards. Bryan Bulaga and Andrew Quarless completely collapsed that side to pave the way.

Apparently finding the key to moving the ball against the shell defense the Vikings are employing, Rodgers dumps the ball to Grant for 17 yards. On the very next play, McCarthy makes one of his better play calls of the season, and Rodgers finds Kuhn on an inside screen. It’s perfectly executed by Scott Wells and Bulaga, and Kuhn goes virtually untouched into the end zone to make it 31-7.

1:33, 3rd quarter — Ponder and the Vikings offense do their best to get something going on the following drive, but they mostly remain on the bad end of a beatdown being delivered by an uber-aggressive Packers defense. During their short drive, Ponder is sacked twice: once by Matthews and once by Bishop. On Matthews’ second sack of the game, he got cleanly around Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt, and for once this year, the QB didn’t throw the ball before he got to him.

After making their way into Packers’ territory, the Vikings went for it on 4th and 9, and again Ponder makes the mistake of throwing the cross to Shiancoe with Woodson in coverage. Woodson cuts in front and has an easy pick six in his sights until the ball slips out of his hands. Woodson is understandably upset; that would have tied Rod Woodson for the NFL record. On the other hand, it’s Packers ball.

11:00, 4th quarter — Either disheartened or simply starting to get beat, the Vikings are sitting in their shell, but no longer getting any pressure. As such, the Packers have little trouble mixing short passes with bruising runs by Starks to go 59 yards in 11 plays.

Starks is rag-dolling fools out there. Twice on the drive, he runs over Vikings defensive linemen. I would say he’s the rather simple answer to any team insisting on sitting in the shell.

The Vikings also help their own destruction by twice committing penalties on 3rd down. The Vikings at this point have eight penalties to the Packers’ one.

On the scoring play, the Vikings rushed four. Remember how well that was working in the 1st quarter? Here, the four-man rush gets nowhere near Rodgers, who takes his time surveying the field before nimbly getting out of the pocket to his left. While running left, he fires an accurate dart to Nelson in the back of the end zone. It’s now 38-7, Packers.

4:33, 4th quarter — After Nelson’s TD, the Vikings went three and out for the third time. Frankly, their offense looks tired of the beating that the Packers defense is putting on them and ready to go home.

After the change of possession, Matt Flynn is in the game at QB. Apparently, Rodgers will have to be content with 250 yards and four TDs. Flynn proceeds to lead another touchdown drive, greatly helped by having Starks at running back, who continues to batter his way through tacklers.

After hitting Cobb for a 1st down, Flynn fires a nice pass to Finley over the middle for 31 yards. Starks pretty much takes it from there to the Vikings’ 3-yard line. From the 3, Flynn gets blocks from Starks and Bulaga as he scrambles out of the pocket to the right and scores.

We now have what will be our final score, 45-7.

This game was more like what Packers fans have been looking for. The lopsided result was mostly due to a vast improvement on defense.

I’ve maintained, that in order for the Packers defense to get closer to what it was last year, they needed better play from their stars: Matthews, Woodson and Williams. The Packers got all three in this game.

The straw that stirred the drink was Woodson. He was constantly around the line of scrimmage and once again making plays in the opponent’s backfield. The Vikings had to concentrate on Woodson, and in doing so, they were not as able to focus on Matthews.

Another thing the Packers did to help free up Matthews is blitz from up the middle or the opposite side of Matthews. This helped shift the offensive focus away from Matthews too.

The Vikings were clearly surprised by where these blitzes were coming from, allowing several Packers to come through clean when the the teman’s blitz has been mostly picked up all year.

In order for Woodson to have such freedom, the Packers put Williams and Shields in single coverage a lot. The thing is, both of these guys excel in single coverage versus playing off-coverage with help. They answered the bell and played well.

C.J. Wilson and Howard Green both got more playing time and B.J. Raji got more rest. Wilson and Jarius Wynn both had their moments and near sacks.

The offense continues to rack up points, even when seemingly slowed by a four-man rush and a coverage shell. It helped that Randall Cobb scored once and helped set up another score.

James Starks ran like a man possessed and should get more carries. Ryan Grant did not have a good game and his carries were basically wasted plays.

Marshall Newhouse had a decent 2nd half after struggling in the first half. Bryan Bulaga should be in the Pro Bowl. He is the Packers’ best lineman right now.

Aaron Rodgers continued his impossible run and showed no signs of cooling off. Even when harassed and given no running game in the 1st half, he finds ways to keep the offense moving.

If the defense can continue to play like this, the Packers have a real shot at going undefeated.

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