When the Green Bay Packers broke training camp in August of 2014, they envisioned a team with a balanced offense that kept opponents on their heels complimented by an athletic defense that flowed to the football.
It took five games, but the vision is turning into a reality.
On a rainy night in front of a sold out crowd at Lambeau Field, the Packers crushed the rival Vikings 42-10.
The offense had an efficient night, gaining 320 yards and scoring 42 points despite quarterback Aaron Rodgers completing just 12 passes.
Rodgers made his passes count, no doubt. With about five minutes remaining in the first quarter, he completed a 66-yard touchdown strike to receiver Jordy Nelson. Nevertheless, for the first time all season, the offense wasn’t reliant on the pass to move the ball.
Running back Eddie Lacy finally had the breakout performance the Packers had been waiting for. Lacy ran roughshod over Minnesota’s defense, ending the game with 132 total yards (102 rushing) and two touchdowns.
The defense also continues its progress.
In case you needed another reminder, Green Bay entered this game allowing 176 rushing yards per game. That was last in the NFL. The Packers played as if they took this stat personally, as they swarmed Minnesota’s running backs every time they touched the ball. The Vikings finished with 111 rushing yards, a vast majority of it coming in garbage time.
Five games into the season and defensive lineman Mike Daniels has been Green Bay’s top defender. Last night, I counted sevens plays in which Daniels disrupted with penetration against the run or pressure on the quarterback. Minnesota frequently used an extra blocker on him, leaving Letroy Guion, Nick Perry, and Datone Jones -- prior to his ankle injury -- in one-on-one situations. Daniels’ energy set the tone for the rest of the defensive line, which played its best game in well over a year.
Three weeks ago, the underwhelming Packers stared at the schedule knowing they had a three-game stretch against each of their divisional rivals. Over that stretch, they needed to correct flaws in the pass protection, running game, and defense. Winning each game over that stretch was obviously the most ideal scenario, but also unlikely because of their level of play. Winning two of three seem more plausible.
Three weeks later, not only have the Packers finish 2-1 in this stretch, but they've also made significant progress on each of their flaws.
With six days until their next game, Green Bay’s trajectory is pointing up.
After forcing the Packers to punt the ball on three consecutive possessions, Minnesota was a touchdown drive away from cutting Green Bay’s lead to seven. The Packers defense never let up, though, and linebacker Julius Peppers made the play of day, intercepting Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and returning the ball 49 yards for a score. Defensive lineman Luther Robinson deserves an assist on the play for disrupting Ponder’s throw.
It’s such a trivial detail, but good field position can be a huge asset. Alternatively, bad field position can hinder your offense. The latter occurred Thursday night to Minnesota, in large part because of punter Tim Masthay. At least three of Masthay’s first-half punts directly contributed to Minnesota starting inside their own 20. The coverage unit also did an admirable job covering kicks and punts.
Stud of the Game
The spotlight went to Lacy, but Thursday night belonged to the defense. Safety Morgan Burnett played stellar, finishing with a team-leading 12 tackles. The biggest came on Minnesota’s second drive. On third-and-3, Ponder hit wide receiver Jarius Wright on a crossing pattern, but Burnett stopped him a yard short of the first down. He also caused a second-quarter fumble, ending any chance the Vikings had at finishing the half with points.
Next on the schedule is the Miami Dolphins, who are coming off their bye week. The Dolphins don’t have a great outside threat, unless you consider receiver Mike Wallace great. Additionally, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is somewhat erratic. The way they keep the game close is winning the battle upfront. They need to pressure Rodgers on offense, while giving Tannehill time to throw. They spent many resources on revamping their offensive line this off-season. In fact, they replaced four of their five starters from last year’s line. A fifth, center Mike Pouncey, hasn't played this season with a hip injury. The Dolphins expect him back against Green Bay, though.
The unit played well in wins against Oakland and New England, but putrid in losses to Buffalo and Kansas City. Defensive line play was the difference. The Raiders and Patriots don’t offer much upfront, while the Bills and Chiefs feature underrated front sevens.
Green Bay’s front seven fits the latter, making this a favorable matchup for the Pack. Please visit Row12.com for weekly articles done by myself on college and fantasy football. We also have a great staff of writers that covers every major sport.