ReFo: Packers @ Vikings, Week 8
Ben Stockwell outlines some of the game's worthy performances, pointing out yet another Packer linebacker stepping up, a Viking pass rush duo yet to get going, and more.
ReFo: Packers @ Vikings, Week 8
Earlier this year these two teams met in a wildcard playoff game just a week after a pivotal Week 17 victory for the Vikings gave them the NFC’s final wildcard berth. After the Packers won their fourth straight game to send the Vikings tumbling to a 1-6 record, there is at this point no danger of that playoff matchup being repeated this season. Both teams showed why they had reached the playoffs last year, but crucially, the Vikings showed plenty of the reasons why they have fallen away from those heights in the months since.
On offense they got another pedestrian performance at quarterback (though markedly better than Josh Freeman’s outing on Monday Night) and failed to give their most important offensive player sufficient touches to keep them in the game, particularly in the second half. Despite breaking tackles and running with the sort of purpose that has made him the driving force of this offense, Peterson only touched the ball three times in the second half as the Packers eased away to victory.
For the Packers this was another case of righting the ship after a rocky start to the season with the offense leading the way. A brutally efficient performance from Aaron Rodgers under center and a simply brutal running performance from Eddie Lacy and James Starks gave the Packers the sort of balanced attack that will only make this team more dangerous as the season heats up.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Lacy Sets Them Up, Starks Knocks Them Down
When the Green Bay depth chart at running back was looking a little muddy in the offseason, there might have been a time when you expected to see Eddie Lacy finishing things off for James Starks, but in Week 8 it was the ever impressive rookie setting things up for the veteran. Both runners ran with power and purpose imposing their will on Vikings defenders as they combined for seven missed tackles forced with Starks evading or running over three on only seven carries. Lacy really got his game going on his fifth carry of the game diving over a block to pick up a third-and-one conversion as the Packers ground their way back after Cordarrelle Patterson’s electrifying start to the game.
In response, Green Bay’s running backs would come up with their own moments overcoming any stops that the Minnesota defense, usually involving Erin Henderson, could come up with. Lacy led the way and carried the load — his +2.0 running grade particularly impressive on 29 carries — consistently getting everything and more from the carries and overcoming being stopped in the backfield on a handful of occasions. Starks played his part in the drive that put the game away (for all intents and purposes) with three runs of 10 or more yards including his 25-yard score which put the Packers up by three scores early in the fourth quarter. More performances like this from the Packers’ runners, behind what was far from a dominant run blocking performance, and the Green Bay offense only becomes more difficult to stop.
Lattimore Shines Inside Again
One position on the Green Bay defense that they seem to have no trouble finding players to plug in and get high caliber performances from is the more attacking inside linebacker role next to A.J. Hawk. Dating back to 2010 when Desmond Bishop replaced the injured Nick Barnett there has perhaps been no greater fulfillment of the “next man up” philosophy than here. In Bishop’s stead came D.J. Smith for a short while, followed by Brad Jones last season; all of them playing to a high level. The next man to fill that role next to Hawk has been Jamari Lattimore who had another impact performance (+3.3 overall, positive in all three phases of the game) to follow up a solid display against Cleveland and an excellent game in Baltimore.
In his three starts, Lattimore now has 10 defensive stops and four pressures (two sacks, one hit, one hurry) on a mere 11 pass rushes in that time. Lattimore did continue his streak of a missed tackle in each of his starts as well, but this week’s was nullified by a penalty late in the third quarter. The Packers have been unfortunate with injuries at this spot on their defense, but their replacements and the coaching staff in their preparations continue to create opportunities and impact performances.
Raji and Pickett do their work early
While both B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett registered a season-low snap count with 25 and 17, respectively, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a positive impact on the game for the Packers’ defense. Both players had one of their better games of the season against the run (both +1.5 or higher in run defense), registering stops (one for Pickett, two for Raji) and controlling Minnesota blockers to re-direct runners — even if that didn’t always lead to a stop with how Adrian Peterson was running in the first half. Both players got in on the act together on one play moving Minnesota’s guards to squeeze down a gap before Raji was able to clean the play up for no gain. After the Packers stretched their lead and the Vikings changed their attack, Raji and Pickett were surplus to requirements, combining to play only nine snaps in the second half, but they had already made their mark.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
More of the Same from Henderson
It may have taken him a while to settle but since the Vikings came back from their bye week it appears that Erin Henderson has started to get on top of things at middle linebacker and is looking a lot more like the player we saw in 2011 (+19.6 overall grade). For the third straight week Henderson earned an overall grade of +2.0 or higher and graded positively in run defense and pass coverage for the second straight game, offering the only consistent resistance to the Green Bay offensive onslaught. With seven stops last night Henderson now has 18 in the last three weeks, those seven matching a career high that he set in Weeks 1 and 2 of last season. While much of the Minnesota defense is falling or has fallen away from its high point of recent seasons, Henderson is, in recent weeks, showing a real resurgence in form towards the best of his career. We’ll see in the coming weeks whether he can extend that form further.
Pass Rush Yet to Catch Fire
Another disappointing outing for a Minnesota pass rush that, while stacked with ability, is yet to shake loose the shackles and get after opposing quarterbacks as we know they can. The speed with which Aaron Rodgers gets the ball out of his hands certainly doesn’t help, but holding the ball for 2.6 seconds or more on 15 of his 35 drop-backs last night, the Vikings had their chances but were simply found wanting. Starting defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen combined for five hurries, mostly from Robison in pursuit to Rodgers on rollouts. For the season, only Robison has a pass rush grade above +1.0, but the majority of his pass rush is coming in hurries (32 of 36), his conversion rate of only 11.1% compares to his 28.5% of last season. On the opposite side, Allen has converted more than 50% of his pressure (13 of 25) into sacks and hits but his total is lower than we are used to seeing from him. With the Vikings bedding in young corners who struggled again last night, they aren’t getting the help they would have hoped for from their pass rush.
Making the Most of Opportunities
With only 13 carries in this game, Adrian Peterson was somewhat of a bystander, especially in the second half where he played only seven snaps, and none in the final 13 minutes. The Vikings were perhaps looking to protect their best offensive player, but were also just unable to stay on the field (Peterson only missed 13 snaps). When he was involved he was up to his usual tricks, grinding out yards after contact and making tacklers miss with his 8-yard score on the final offensive play before the half exemplifying what he can do even when he gets a lineman knocked into him at the line of scrimmage. He bounced off of that contact before finding a crease, dragging A.J. Hawk to the goal line. With that he still had the power and momentum to run over Morgan Burnett so emphatically he was allowed to get his arms free and extend for the score.
Joining Peterson in the minimal exposure but maximum impact stakes was Cordarrelle Patterson who registered only 15 offensive snaps but was still able to make his mark with a pair of catches (featuring a broken tackle on a screen and a first down on a wheel route) outside of his scintillating impact on special teams. At times it feels like the Minnesota offense handicaps itself as much as the opposing defense by failing to get the ball into their playmakers’ hands.
– Minnesota racked up a dozen missed tackles last night, their most in a single game since they missed 17 in Arizona last season.
– As you would expect the return of Christian Ponder brought with it a drastic fall in the average depth of target from for the Vikings offense. After Josh Freeman targeted, on average, 10.4 yards downfield against the Giants on Monday, Ponder was more than four yards lower than that, targeting on average 6.1 yards downfield last night.
– After setting a career-high with five pressures last week, Mike Daniels matched it a week later with two sacks and five hurries on 24 pass rushes, good for a 17.7 Pass Rush Productivity rating.
PFF Game Ball
It may have been a case of what could have been for Adrian Peterson but this was a case of what was for Eddie Lacy who gave Green Bay fans all the more reason to get excited about where he can take this offense in terms of taking some of the onus off of Aaron Rodgers.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.