ReFo: Packers @ Vikings, Week 17
The NFL regular season went out with a bang in Week 17, as playoff implications abounded throughout the league — and the Minnesota Vikings’ 37-34 victory over the Green Bay Packers may have been the best of the entire slate. Minnesota’s playoff hopes rested on the leg of rookie kicker Blair Walsh whose 29-yard field goal as time expired ensured a rematch next week between the two teams in Green Bay.
Beyond the playoff atmosphere, all eyes were on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson who fell only 9 yards short of the single-season rushing record, but it was his last run, a 26-yarder, which set up Walsh and the Vikings for their first playoff appearance since the 2009 season. The Packers will have to do things the hard way again as they just missed out on a first-round bye, and after their quick exit in the divisional round last year they’re hoping for a repeat of their 2010 Super Bowl run.
The stage is set for the rubber match next week, but first let’s take a look at the key performances in their latest matchup.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Quiet MVP Candidate
Perhaps we were spoiled by such a superb effort last season, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers has quietly put together the fourth-highest grade for any quarterback since we started grading in 2008. In this one he was on target with 31 of his 36 aimed passes, good for an Accuracy Percentage of 86% on his way to a +5.7 grade for the game. He reclaimed the game’s momentum with his perfect throw up to the seam to wide receiver Jordy Nelson late in the third quarter. The 73-yard gain set up a Green Bay touchdown on the very next play. It was classic Rodgers at the 14:25 mark of the fourth quarter as he hit WR Greg Jennings in the hands with a beautiful throw on the run. It’s one of those throws that only a handful of quarterbacks can make accurately and Rodgers seems to hit them on a near-weekly basis.
Other than the two big throws, it was an efficient game for Rodgers who went 27 of 32 on throws under 20 yards, as he moved the Packers up and down the field in an effort to keep pace with Peterson’s greatness on the other side.
Weak Spot on the Line
Four out of five Packers offensive linemen graded positively on the day, with right tackle Don Barclay the lone culprit at -4.1. The undrafted rookie gave up three sacks, a hit, and a hurry, to go along with two penalties. He was unable to keep up with defensive end Everson Griffen’s speed rush on multiple occasions, while DE Brian Robison’s sack with 8:28 to go in the third quarter forced a Rodgers fumble and Green Bay turnover. With five games of extended playing time under his belt, Barclay has now turned in the two worst performances of his career against the Vikings (Week 13), and he’ll need a better showing against the duo of Robison and Griffen in next week’s playoff matchup.
All-around Bad Game for Williams
It’s rare to see a -3.8 run stop grade for a cornerback, but that’s what Tramon Williams posted on Sunday. He had a difficult time fighting off blocks from Vikings wide receivers, and he got outrun to the edge on Peterson’s 20-yard run early in the third quarter. Williams even found himself mixing it up with fullbacks and guards at times, but to no avail. In the passing game, he gave up only three receptions for 46 yards, but they all went for first downs. Perhaps his worst play of the game came at the 6:56 mark of the third with Williams lined up on FB Jerome Felton who was split wide on 2nd-and-16. Felton ran an 8-yard hitch route before running right through Williams on his way to a 17-yard gain and a first down. For the day, Williams graded at -6.4 in what was easily his worst game of the season.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
No Rushing Record? How About MVP and a Playoff Berth?
Falling 9 yards short of the single-season rushing record is unlikely to cause Peterson to lose any sleep this week, and he’d surely have traded those 27 feet for a chance to play in the playoffs next weekend. In a league where the narrative can skew award races as much as on-field performance, Peterson put the finishing touches on both ends, as his 26-yard run that set up the game-winning field goal not only showed his dominance as a player, but it captured the nation as they tuned in to watch him get to the magical 2,105 yard mark. For the game, Peterson graded at +3.6, with 199 yards on 34 carries, 189 of which came after contact. As Green Bay gets ready for next week’s game, they have to figure out a way to slow Peterson down when he gets outside the right end, where he had 10 of his carries for 122 yards.
Griffen Continues to Shine
It’s been an elite two-week stretch for Griffen, who graded at +4.5 after posting a +6.8 last week. He picked up seven pressures on his 30 attempts, including three sacks, a hit, and three hurries. His +3.8 pass rush grade was the lone positive on the Vikings’ defense. Griffen gave Barclay fits when lined up on the outside, but he also picked up a sack on RG Josh Sitton, and a quick pressure on LG T.J. Lang from an interior rush position. Griffen’s emergence gives Minnesota one of the better pass rush packages in the league, as he kicks inside to defensive tackle to team with DEs Jared Allen and Robison, and DT Kevin Williams.
Sherels Burnt in Coverage
With slot cornerback Antoine Winfield playing only 19 snaps before departing due to injury, CB Marcus Sherels was forced into action. After seeing the field for only 44 snaps all season, Sherels played 33 of his 34 snaps in the slot Sunday, with disastrous results. The Packers targeted him 10 times for nine receptions, 162 yards and a -5.0 coverage grade. Sherels’ inexperience showed as he was constantly wiped out of passing plays as the Packers’ wide receivers did a nice job of blocking downfield after receptions. The worst play of the day came on the 73-yard reception to Nelson. Sherels was caught flat-footed and Nelson ran right by him for the big gain. With the rematch looming, Minnesota must do something to shore up their play in the slot.
— The Vikings rotated their safeties as Jamarca Sanford played 37 snaps, while Mistral Raymond played 36. Neither distinguished himself as they graded at -0.9 and -2.9 respectively.
— Green Bay Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Casey Hayward graded at -0.7 in coverage, only his second negative coverage game of the season and his first since Week 9.
— The Vikings’ top run blockers were TE Kyle Rudolph (+2.6) and FB Rhett Ellison (+2.0).
PFF Game Ball
Whether or not Adrian Peterson locked up an MVP award on Sunday, he led the Vikings into the playoffs and made his case with an emphatic 199 yards on the ground.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve