Eddie Lacy

The best quarterback in football showed up for the Green Bay Packers’ last game at the Metrodome, and with that, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense would have been better off skipping town. After the punt-free shillacking was over, the Packers would have their fourth win in a row.

15:00 1st Quarter - The Vikings have a history of fast starts at home against the Packers, and you can’t get any faster than this as Cordarrelle Patterson takes the opening kickoff for a 109-yard TD to make it 7-0.

Tim Masthay likely thought he kicked it far enough to get the touchback, but Patterson chose to return it from over nine yards deep. The Packers surround Patterson at the 10, but the Vikings have a seam blocked up the middle. Patterson hits it full speed and is off to the races when Micah Hyde dives for the tackle, misses, and takes out Davon House instead. The last Packer that has a chance, Chris Banjo, gets held, and Patterson pulls away from Masthay for the touchdown.

7:23 1Q - The Packers are a notoriously slow-starting team on the road, but Aaron Rodgers says that is then and this is now. He and the Packers offense convert four third downs, hold the ball for seven and a half minutes, and go 90 yards in 14 plays to tie the game at 7-7.

After two runs by Eddie Lacy netted 4 yards, the Packers faced 3rd and 6 from the 14. Rodgers threw a comeback route to Jarrett Boykin low. Boykin slides to the ground and makes a great catch to convert.

The Packers looked to be in trouble after the next play when Brian Robison blew by Don Barclay and tackled Lacy for a 5-yard loss. However, on 2nd and 15, rookie corner Xavier Rhodes holds, illegally contacts, and commits pass interference on Boykin. The referee goes with the best option for the Packers — interference, and it’s 16 yards and a first down.

On the very next play, Rodgers hits Boykin on a deep in for 18 yards, into Vikings territory.

On 3rd and 1 from the Vikings’ 37, Lacy gets the give from the shotgun and gets 2. On 3rd and 6 from the Viking 31, Rodgers is forced to step up immediately by Robison getting the corner on Barclay. Rodgers decides to just take off running and gets 12 yards before sliding down.

To finish it out, on 3rd and 2 from the 11, Jordy Nelson runs one of the worst corner routes from the slot you’ll ever see. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter because Rodgers whistles the ball right past the defender’s helmet and into Nelson’s facemask. Nelson makes a nice catch to avoid taking one off the kisser. Touchdown.

3:53 1st Q - The Packers open in their base defense, of course, and it is Nate Palmer across from Mike Neal at the OLB positions. I believe this reflects Palmer being a little better against the run, while Andy Mulumba is the better pass rusher.

Vikings get one first down on two Adrian Peterson runs. On the play after that, however, they commit a false start. On first and 15, they run Peterson up the middle, but A.J. Hawk shoots the gap right in front of Peterson and tackles him for no gain. After a Christian Ponder scramble, it is 3rd and 10. The Vikings try a receiver screen to Patterson, and it almost works when Sam Shields only waves at him. Patterson muscles Morgan Burnett towards the first down, but Hawk gets Patterson down one yard short. Punt.

10:30 2nd Q - Perhaps the Vikings should have went for it because the Packers then go on a 17-play, 70-yard drive that takes up another eight and a half minutes to end with a short Mason Crosby field goal to make the score 10-7.

The Packers converted on three third downs and one fourth down to sustain the drive. After an offsides penalty gave the Packers a first down in Viking territory, James Starks made an appearance for the first time in a month. Does a sprained MCL make you faster? Starks immediately gets around the right edge for 7 yards.

On third and 1 from the Vikings’ 35, the Packers brought in the jumbo-jumbo package with, I believe, every offensive lineman they have on their active roster. Unfortunately, no matter how big they are, you are still using nine guys to block 11. Same as in the Cincinnati game, the edges collapse into the backfield before Lacy gets the ball. He gets nothing.

On fourth and 1, the Packers run the play where the fullback pretends to run a lead play only to run an out into the flat rather than blocking. For the Packers, it pretty much never works, but apparently, having Eddie Lacy running the ball makes a difference because this time both defenders take Lacy and John Kuhn is wide open in the flat. Rodgers finds him for an easy 7 yards on fourth and 1.

On the very next play, the Packers run a simple lead to Lacy over Josh Sitton, and it gets 17 yards, the longest play of the drive. On the play, ageless or just old Kevin Williams makes an inside rush move, and Sitton just walls him off to open a huge hole when David Bakhtiari stands up Jared Allen. Kuhn leads the way to make a nice block on E.J. Henderson, and Lacy has a full head of steam before anyone gets near him. Both safeties make business decisions and dive at Lacy’s feet, to no avail. Lacy is finally ridden down by Rhodes at the 11.

On 3rd down from the 10, Rodgers looks to Nelson from the slot, but he is double covered by a safety coming down. Rodgers holds the ball, considers running, and then is sacked. A field goal follows to make it 10-7.

5:10 2nd Q - On the second play of the Vikings’ next drive, Peterson gets a simple lead right play. The Packers have good gap control, and Mike Neal has the edge. However, Peterson hesitates in the backfield, and no one gets off a block to tackle him. Finally, A.J. Hawk jumps the inside gap, and Peterson immediately bolts to the outside through the open lane Hawk vacated. Peterson gains 17 yards, his longest run of the game, after lowering his head to run over Tramon Williams.

This is actually the exact reason the league added the penalty for running backs sizing up defensive backs, outside the tackle box, and using their heads as weapons. If you aren’t going to call the penalty, then wipe the rule from the books.

The Vikings appear set to punt four downs later when Ponder is pressured by a Hawk blitz into throwing the ball well over the head of Kyle Rudolph. It is fourth down for about 5 seconds. Then, Datone Jones pushes the monstrous Phil Loadholt to the ground in retaliation for what he feels is a late block. A late flag flies, giving the Vikings 15 yards and first down.

The Vikings would get one more first down when on 3rd and 10 Ponder throws it up for Rudolph while again being pressured by a Packers’ blitz. M.D. Jennings engages Rudolph, but then loses track of him when he looks into the backfield. Rudolph gets behind Jennings and goes up and makes the catch.

The Vikings would kick a field goal from there. On 3rd and 7, Ponder would try an out to Jerome Simpson. Tramon Williams reads the route, jumps it, and only fails to intercept the ball when Simpson reaches in to break it up.

The Blair Walsh field goal ties the game at 10-10.

3:40 2nd Q - The final tie of the game would last only a minute and a half.

On 3rd and 6 from the Vikings’ 24, the Vikings throw a slot blitz at Rodgers with linebacker Chad Greenway slanting over to cover the slot. The Packers have seen this blitz many times. Aaron Rodgers threw a big interception to Navarro Bowman in week 1 last season against this very blitz.

With Jordy Nelson being in the slot this time, Greenway has to drop into coverage too quickly to look for the ball. Rodgers throws the ball right over Greenway’s left shoulder. Nelson reaches around Greenway to catch the ball, and then is athletic enough to get by the safety who didn’t close in time. Nelson gets loose up the Packers’ sideline and is gone for a 76 yard TD. That quickly makes it 17-10.

1:30 2nd Q - It would take just 2 minutes for the Packers to stretch their lead to 24-10.

The Vikings go four and out and have to punt. Micah Hyde fields the ball at the 7. He heads straight up field, hits a seam provided by blocks from Chris Banjo and Jerron McMillian, avoids running into Sam Barrington, and then sprints across the field and up the Packers’ sideline for a 93-yard TD return.

Hyde is laughing after nearly falling on his ass while slow-stepping at the 10. The euphoria on the Packers bench is emblematic of a young team that is excited for each other.

As has been the trend this season, the Packers defense punctuates long periods of solid play with mysterious collapses. Here they allow the Vikings to drive the field in just one minute and twenty seconds and score a TD on the last offensive play of the half — a cardinal sin for a defense.

Perhaps hoping for an interception, the defensive strategy is to blitz and play zone behind it. The Packers don’t seem overly concerned about the Vikings’ chances to score until it’s too late. On 3rd and 1 from the Packers’ 40, Ponder throws it over the head of Greg Jennings. The sideline ref first signals incomplete and then pulls out a flag and throws it. He calls pass interference on Tramon Williams. There was none, but let’s not allow the facts to ruin a good story.

Still, that put the Vikings on the 14 with just 14 seconds left in the half. That means they likely only have two plays to get into the end zone. Exactly. Two plays later Peterson scores on a draw play. On the draw, A.J. Hawk is responsible for covering the middle of the field and drops into coverage too quickly instead of waiting to check the draw. Because of this he meets Peterson 4 yards downfield instead of at the line of scrimmage. Peterson drags him the final 4 yards and runs over Morgan Burnett in the process. The touchdown makes it 24-17 at half.

6:50 3rd Q - The Packers start the second half the same as they ended the first by driving 80 yards in 15 plays to go back up two scores at 31-17.

The Vikings entered the game ranked 7th against the run, and they maintained that appearance through the first half. However, the second half would be a different story. Starting with this drive, the Packers would begin to maul them. The Packers made some adjustments in this half, and one of them is using a lot of two tight end sets with Brandon Bostick on one side and Andrew Quarless on the other, then running to Quarless’ side. They also use John Kuhn as a lead back on nearly every run.

The Packers first five plays of this half includes three Lacy runs for 30 yards and a slant to Nelson for 11. A facemask penalty on Bakhtiari leads to a third and long, which leads to a fourth and 3 from the Vikings’ 42. With it still being a seven point game at this point, it is a gutsy call to go for it here, but Mike McCarthy knows he has got this — a hook by Nelson easily picks up 7 yards and the first down.

From there Lacy pounds the Vikings some more, including a pitch play where Quarless blocks down on the end and Barclay and Kuhn swing out to lead Lacy. If they kick the defenders out, Lacy cuts back for yardage. If they seal, then Lacy goes around the end, as he does here for 8 yards.

On first and goal from the one, the Packers run a stretch play right. Lacy finds a seam, bowls over E.J. Henderson, and gets into the end zone.

14:15 4th Q - The Vikings go three and out by compounding a holding call with a sack by Mike Daniels, his second of the game.

The Packers insert James Starks on offense and keep on rolling.

The Packers end up with, thanks to a Don Barclay holding penalty, a 3rd and 16 from their own 20. Brian Robison gets the edge on Barclay and hits Rodgers, but Rodgers skips out of his tackle, takes a few steps to his right, and then fires back to the middle of the field. Boykin makes a diving catch, finds no one around him, and gets up and dives for the first down.

Starks follows with two straight 11-yard runs up the middle. Just like he was before getting injured, Starks is showing patience, vision, and more explosion than prior years. Once he gets to the second level, he is a big man for defensive backs to tackle.

Those two runs advance the ball to the Vikings’ 39. Rodgers takes the pass on a pass-run option and fires a quick hitter to Myles White. White jukes his defender and bursts up the sideline for 15 yards. Two plays later, Starks waits for traffic to clear in the middle, explodes upfield before the linebackers can close on him, stiff arms the safety, and breaks free for a 25-yard touchdown run. It is now 38-17, and similar to the Redskins game, this game is over at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

6:10 4th Q - On the Packers’ last meaningful defensive series, the Vikings go three and out. Jamari Lattimore starts the series with a sack, and then a Daniels’ near sack forces Ponder to throw the ball over Patterson’s head on third down. Punt.

The Packers offense continues to grind the Vikings and the clock with another 10-play drive that takes up over six and a half minutes.

With the defense bringing a safety down to help against the run, Rodgers finds Nelson for 7 and then hits Boykin on a go route for 27. From the Vikings’ 19, it is all Lacy down to the 4. On 1st and goal from the 4, Rodgers fires a quick slant to Nelson that should be a pretty easy touchdown, except the pass takes Nelson to the ground about a foot shy of the end zone.

On second and goal, the Packers run the same stretch right play that Lacy scored on. This time Henderson hits Lacy harder and lower, causing him to step back. By the time Lacy leans forward again, there are two other Vikings underneath him, and he is stuffed short of the goal line.

On third and goal, the Packers run a mysterious play action that results in a short pass to Lacy, behind the line of scrimmage, that still ends up short of the end zone. A short field goal makes it 41-17 with six minutes left in the game.

From there the Vikings would sandwich two meaningless touchdown drives around a failed onside kick that led to another Green Bay field goal. This made the final score 44-31.

The Packers finished their run at the Metrodome in style by scoring the most points they had ever scored there. The offense never punted, and obviously, even while missing three of its biggest weapons, it still was WAY too good for the Vikings defense.

The key was Aaron Rodgers, who played his best game of the year so far. Not only was he 24 of 29, which included three intentional throw-aways and one bad drop by White, but he also had his best game this year with his feet, repeatedly picking up first downs by scrambling. Yes, the running game dominated the second half, but it was Rodgers’ ability to pick up third downs that allowed the running game to keep chugging along.

About the only good thing the Vikings were doing on defense so far this year was stopping the run. Yet, even though they were at home, the Packers pounded them for 182 yards rushing. This Packers running game continues to pick up steam, and the return of James Starks should only hasten that. Both are powerful backs who get stronger as the defense tires.

Oft-forgotten, Evan Dietrich-Smith had a great game harassing Chad Greenway, keeping him from attacking the line of scrimmage. David Bakhtiari dominated Jared Allen so thoroughly that either Allen is abruptly over the hill or he was slow-playing, hoping for a trade.

Packers fans may have forgotten the kind of creativity that McCarthy brought to the running game in 2007, when Ryan Grant was rolling. He is showing it again with an assortment of formations and pitch plays that we have never seen before out of this offense.

Jordy Nelson is one of the five best receivers in the game. There is nothing he can’t do. Remember when Nelson was forced into the number one spot against Kansas City, and people used the offensive failings in that game as evidence that Nelson couldn’t be a number one receiver? Haha… those days are long gone.

Jarrett Boykin is looking like a bonafide number two receiver. In fact, once James Jones comes back, I would probably rotate between Nelson and Jones in the slot and leave Boykin on the outside.

The Packers are still somewhat a mystery on defense, but one thing we know they can do is stop the run. The triumvirate of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are about as good as it gets in the league at just that. They swallow up blockers and allow Hawk and Lattimore to attack the line of scrimmage. The Packers were not great at tackling in this game, but they had such great gap control that it never really hurt them.

I am a little curious to see what kind of success an offense would have against the Packers if they just forgot the run altogether, spread the Packers out, and passed. The Packers have cornerbacks good enough to get stops, but their safeties are a weak spot and leave the Packers vulnerable down the field and in the middle. The Packers defense also has been struggling to turn the ball over, getting zero in this game, even though conditions were ripe for it.

Of course, the defense is playing without its best player in Clay Matthews, so maybe we should just be thankful the Packers are 3-0 without him and actually have a great chance to win every game he is out.

I am going to conclude with the best stat of the game — zero new injuries to report.

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