Monday, December 03, 2012

Packers send Vikes home with a loss

It was a game the Packers needed to have coming off the disappointing loss the week before against the Giants. And they got it: a 23-14 win over the ViQueens at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

It might not have been the prettiest game they've played this season (in fact, other than the Houston game, there haven't been many of those games at all), but it was a hard-earned win by a team that was simply better than its opponent, despite missing about eight of the preferred starters on offense and defense. The ViQueens, with WR Percy Harvin on the sidelines, had no offense other than RB Adrian Peterson...which isn't all bad, admittedly. In fact, Peterson was the Minnesota offense, rushing for more than 200 yards, with about 150 of those yards coming on just three runs. The lack of tackling ability on the part of more than a few Packers' defenders helped contribute to that total but make no mistake about it: with a better quarterback and some wide to me when the 'Queens get that in place, will you?

Back to the Pack...

One of the good things to come out of the game was the rushing attack of the Packers, which saw James Starks and Alex Green combine for 123 yards on the day. One of the game's two touchdowns for the Pack even came on the ground, a 22-yarder by James Starks; it was only the third rushing TD of the season for the Pack. It's all a long way from Peterson's 210 yards, but it was more than enough to keep the Minnesota defenders from launching full-out rushes on QB Aaron Rodgers with every snap; they had to stay honest against the run and that helped open up the pass. As a result, Rodgers was 27 for 35 and 286 yards with one touchdown and one interception (that was as good as a punt on an ill-advised flea flicker type play).

A second and unexpected positive for the offense was the workman-like play of undrafted rookie offensive lineman, Don Barclay. Barclay was forced to take over the right tackle slot after starter T.J. Lang went out with an ankle injury. Lang, of course, was playing in that spot after a move from his starting left guard spot after regular right tackle starter Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season. (Still with me?) Yes, this is how thin and precarious it has gotten on the offensive line for the Packers. In fact, there is currently only one other lineman available should any of the current players go down, another undrafted rookie, Greg Van Roten. Still, Barclay wound up holding his own and, truth be told, the Packers actually ran to his side of the formation quite often in the second half.

Another plus for the Packers was that it appeared (fingers and toes still crossed!) that kicker Mason Crosby may have finally gotten the monkey off his back with his field goal issues. He was three for four on the day, missing only a 50+-yarder. Granted, he clunked his first kick off the left upright, but it went in. And it seemed on a 4th and 7 that -- after missing his second attempt on the day -- his head coach had lost faith in him; McCarthy called Crosby back to the sideline and was going to go for it until Minnesota got confused and had to call a timeout. It was during that timeout that apparently McCarthy reconsidered his decision and sent his kicker more time. Crosby made it. And later, he made a third kick that was the "dagger" on the day, putting the Pack up by 9 points and making any comeback possibility by the 'Queens next to nil. Good for Crosby. He had a huge smile on his face and teammates were celebrating with him. It might just have been what the doctor ordered in order for Crosby to once again begin doing what he's paid very well to do: make field goals.

On defense, the negatives primarily centered around the Packers' inability to get Peterson on the ground. Now, lots of teams have that issue. But any time you give up 210 yards on 21 carries to a back -- even of Peterson's calibre -- you know that something is not right with the tackling ability of your defense. This was a problem last year and it's an issue that has seemingly re-emerged. It needs to get corrected, whether it's your starters or backups on the field.

One definite area of improvement for the Pack this season, however, is the play of the defensive backs. Granted, they really didn't have too many threats to cover yesterday and they certainly were not going against a top-tier quarterback in Christian Ponder. But when they didn't hand off to Peterson, Minnesota had no offense to speak of. The Packers' defensive backs had receivers covered all day long. S Morgan Burnett, in particular, did a tremendous job, coming up with two picks on the day, including one in the endzone to end a promising 'Queens drive.

The Pack needed to get the game in the win column and they did. With the Lions losing at the end of regulation to the Colts and Da Bearz losing in overtime to the fomer Wisconsin Badgers Russell Wilson-led Seattle Seahawks, the Packers are in first place in the NFC North. Despite being tied at 8-4 with Chicago, the Packers are technically in first place by virtue of holding the tiebreaker against Da Bearz.

With a win against the hapless Lions at Lambeau Field on the horizon this coming Sunday evening, the game against Chicago the following week at Soldier Field could very well determine who wins the NFC North. The Packers are hurt and may get a few players back. But the way the season is going, the team will lose a few yet, as well. So the team is pretty much what you see. In many ways, coach McCarthy and his staff have once again done an amazing job keeping this team winning despite all the setbacks, as they did in 2010. The difference, as one pundit pointed out, was that in that year most of the injuries were done by this point in the season and players were actually starting to return. This season, injuries are still occurring that are affecting lineups on the field. Beyond that, who knows?

Let's enjoy the win...a good 29th birthday present for Aaron Rodgers...and something to keep us fans yearning for what's to come.