Packers report card: Matt Flynn-led offense better; defense again awful
NOV 25, 2013 9:22a ET
Passing Offense: B-minus
Scott Tolzien started the game at quarterback and led an 87-yard touchdown drive on the Packers' second series to take an early 7-0 lead. Tolzien capped it off by making one of the season's top highlight plays when he pump-faked Brian Robison up into the air to avoid a sack and then -- after beginning to scramble towards the end zone -- executed a perfect spin move to juke Letroy Guion and score.
Aside from that drive, though, Tolzien was not as sharp as he was in the previous two games. With Tolzien at quarterback, Green Bay had four series that ended in a 3-and-out. At the conclusion of the final 3-and-out, which featured a Tolzien overthrow that had the usually calm former Badger a bit emotional, Matt Flynn began warming up on the sideline. Tolzien finished the game 7-of-17 for 98 yards and didn’t throw an interception before being benched.
Flynn entered to huge applause from the Lambeau Field crowd but struggled on his first drive. After that, however, Flynn gave the Packers the spark coach Mike McCarthy was looking for when he made the switch. Flynn helped the offense put up 17 fourth-quarter points to bring Green Bay almost all the way back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit.
Flynn underthrew a few passes, which might have displayed the lack of arm strength that partly played into him getting cast out of Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo. But for a player who had been back with the Packers for less than two weeks, this is the best performance that could have been expected out of him. In total, Flynn completed 21 of his 36 passes for 218 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 85.2
Green Bay's receivers got involved fairly equally. James Jones led the team in targets (12), catches (7) and receiving yards (80), but Jarrett Boykin wasn't far behind with five grabs for 60 yards and a touchdown. Jordy Nelson added five receptions for 58 yards. Tight end Brandon Bostick struggled, dropping three passes.
Starting at right tackle in place of an injured Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse got the quarterback crushed on multiple occasions when he was beat around the edge. If Barclay isn't ready to return soon, it will be interesting to see whether McCarthy gives Derek Sherrod a chance to start. Newhouse certainly hasn't played at a starting-caliber level.
Rushing Offense: A-minus
Eddie Lacy was at his best in this game. With the Vikings geared towards stopping the run, Lacy still finished with 110 yards on 25 carries (4.4 average) with one touchdown. He broke tackle after tackle, kept churning his legs after contact and earned every single yard that he put into the box score. For Lacy to have that level of success against the type of eight-man fronts and defensive looks Minnesota threw at him is impressive for any running back, much less a rookie.
Somehow, with the exception of the cold air causing his asthma to flare up in overtime, Lacy was once again able to be a workhorse for the Packers' offense and remain healthy.
However, the one big negative for Green Bay's running game happened in overtime when Lacy couldn't get in the end zone. The Packers had the ball 1st-and-goal at the 7-yard line and rushed it twice with Lacy, gaining five yards. It had started to become apparent that Lacy was wearing down a bit, so McCarthy opted for a passing play that didn't work on third down. Lacy didn't carry it again over the final 10 minutes due to his asthma condition and other game factors.
Tolzien's athletic spin-move touchdown and a 34-yard run by James Starks also helped Green Bay have a very impressive game on the ground.
Rushing Defense: D
What has happened to the Packers' run defense over the past month? After being on a franchise-best pace through seven games this season, Green Bay has been very bad in this area since. And Adrian Peterson is the last person that a team that can't stop the run wants to see.
Peterson pounded the Packers for 146 yards on 32 carries (4.6 average) with one touchdown. Like Lacy, Peterson forced several missed tackles and broke away nearly every time a Green Bay defender tried to bring him down with their arms instead of wrapping up completely.
It's one thing for an accomplished rusher like Peterson to do damage, but when Toby Gerhart came in, there was no drop-off for Minnesota. In fact, Gerhart was even more effective than Peterson, as the backup running back reeled off 91 yards on eight carries (11.4 average).
The Packers have shown little to suggest they'll be able to turn it around against the run over the final five games this season. Even with all the quality defensive linemen that coordinator Dom Capers is able to shuffle in and out depending on the situation, Green Bay still hasn't had the right combination on the field to free up the linebackers to disrupt the runners.
Passing Defense: C
For the majority of this game, the Packers let Christian Ponder look like an above-average starting quarterback. Let me assure you that Ponder does not fit that description, which is an indication of the issues Green Bay is having defensively.
Ponder completed 21-of-30 passes for 233 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (passer rating of 103.9). Yes, he was sacked six times and the Packers got good pressure on him at times, but two of those six sacks were more because of mistakes by Ponder than good plays by Green Bay.
Davon House dropped an easy interception to put an exclamation point on what has been a horrid season for the Packers when presented with opportunities to steal one out of the air. It's been 11 regular season games and Green Bay is stuck on four total interceptions this season. There are three individual players in the NFL with more interceptions than the Packers have as a team.
Greg Jennings barely registered in the box score as the former Packers receiver had a forgettable return trip to Lambeau Field with two catches for 29 yards. Jennings dropped a third-down pass in overtime that would have extended Minnesota's drive.
A.J. Hawk forced a fumble after a completed pass to Peterson, which was recovered by Andy Mulumba. However, it appeared as if Hawk got away with a facemask on the play that likely should have been called.
Special Teams: C-plus
This was a great game for Tim Masthay. Punting in the frigid temperatures and kicking what felt more like a rock than a football, Masthay twice downed the Vikings inside the 5-yard line. Minnesota began one drive at the 2-yard line and another at the 4.
Mason Crosby wasn’t challenged much on field goals, but he did connect on both of his attempts, one from 27 yards out and one from 20 yards. Crosby's kickoff to begin the second half sailed out of bounds and gave the Vikings the ball at the 40.
Perhaps having Minnesota start with that field position, though, is better than what Green Bay's kick coverage unit would have done. Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t have a kickoff return for a touchdown in this game like he did when these two teams met last month, but the rookie did have a 57-yard return in the first quarter.
In the spirit of changing it up to look for a spark, the Packers gave Johnathan Franklin a shot at kick return, but he suffered a concussion on the play and did not return. Micah Hyde didn't fare any better than he has on either kicks or punts, as the blocking around him continues to create little space in which to operate.
So, a tie game. Hmm. On the bright side for Green Bay, this should have been a loss considering the 23-7 score in the fourth quarter. And, hey, at least the Packers' three-game losing streak is technically over. But after making that comeback, Green Bay should have won the game in overtime but cost themselves that opportunity by not executing well enough.
The Vikings are not a good team, in case their 2-8 record coming into the game didn't make that obvious. The Packers were playing at home and were in desperate need of a win. But for three quarters, too much of what was going on was uninspiring football. Green Bay got its act together offensively with Flynn and that seemed to energize the defense, but this was settling for a tie. The players weren’t happy about it after the game, saying it felt like a loss.
The status of Aaron Rodgers remains uncertain heading into a short week with a game in Detroit against the Lions on Thanksgiving. But what has been made abundantly clear is that Rodgers does so much for the Packers when healthy that it covers up other problems. With the former MVP sidelined, a lot of those issues have come to light.
A 5-5-1 record is far below expectations for Green Bay at this point in the season, but the consolation is that the Lions and Bears are only slightly ahead in the division standings.
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