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Monday, Oct. 28, 2013

Packers' Running Game Flourishes in Prime Time

Looking Pack: Week Eight

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It’s hard to blame NBC for airing Sunday’s one-sided 44-31 Packers trouncing of the beleaguered Vikings to its national audience in prime time. After all, the (pre-flex scheduling) week eight meeting was a rematch of the heated rivals’ playoff game in January. Except this time around Christian Ponder—who missed Minnesota’s Wild Card round loss—was healthy again, Greg Jennings had crossed state lines and changed teams, and Adrian Peterson added an MVP trophy to his mantle this offseason. How could network executives have known how quickly and to what depths the Vikings would fall less than 10 months removed from that Packers playoff win?

Those who opted to tune into the peacock network were treated to the predictable outcome wherein the favored division-leading Packers scored at will against a one-win Vikes squad, Ponder was returning from bench exile, Jennings was an absolute non-factor and Peterson was held uncharacteristically in check. However, the regrettable prime time pairing held some early excitement as Minnesota’s rookie returner Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kickoff in for a record-tying 109-yard score to put the Packers at an immediate 7-0 disadvantage.

Green Bay quickly responded with a 90-yard touchdown drive of its own, ending with an 11-yard Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson touchdown strike to knot things at seven apiece. On its next drive, the Packers offense would convert the first of two fourth down conversions of its entirely punt-free evening to set up a 30-yard Mason Crosby field goal. On Minnesota’s subsequent drive, a Datone Jones personal foul following a fruitless Vikings third down play set up a 36-yard Blair Walsh field goal to make it a 10-10 game.

That Walsh kick turned out to be among the last moments Minnesota didn’t trail, as Rodgers connected with Nelson for another touchdown—this one of the 76-yard variety. Near the end of the first half, Packers punt returner Micah Hyde returned a punt 93 yards to paydirt to put Green Bay up 24-10. Yet Adrian Peterson (whose career numbers against the Packers are historically great) scored with just four ticks left in the first half.

Though the Packers' beat-up and Clay Matthews/Nick Perry-less defense couldn’t keep the star running back out of the end zone, they kept Peterson’s presence in the box score to a minimum. The reigning NFL MVP was held to just 60 yards on the ground (and a respectable 83 total yards), which is a remarkable improvement over the 421 total yards and three touchdowns the Pack surrendered to Peterson during last ear’s regular season matchups.

In a role reversal, the Packers run game looked great. Eddie Lacy pounded his way for 94 yards and a score. James Starks spelled the rotund rookie back with 57 yards (on a mere seven carries) and a score of his own. Even Rodgers pitched in 31 rushing yards in addition to his 24 of 29, 285-yard and two touchdown passing performance.

Keeping with Minnesota’s yearlong motif, Ponder (the replacement for his replacement’s replacement) threw for just 145 yards—nine of which came from Jennings’ sole reception. The quarterback did manage a rushing touchdown in the late going against a loose Packers prevent defense, as did Vikings backup running back Toby Gerhart, but it was too little too late, as the final Metrodome meeting between the Packers and Vikings swung handily in the direction of the visitors.

Player Of The Game (Offense) – Packers Running Game

With all due respect to Jordy Nelson (who managed seven receptions, totaling 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns), Green Bay rushers Lacy, Starks and Aaron Rodgers made the running game viable enough to allow Nelson and the otherwise-inexperienced Packers receiving corps to be a factor. The trio kept the clock running and the chains moving. As the temperatures continue to dip, it’s nice to know the offense is more versatile than recent in years.


Player Of The Game (Defense/Special Teams) – Micah Hyde

Aside from surrendering a pair of garbage time rushing touchdowns, the Packers defense had a quietly great showing. Mike Daniels had a pair of sacks and Morgan Burnett posted a team-leading eight tackles. But rookie punt returner Micah Hyde won the defensive/special teams game ball with his thrilling punt return touchdown. Hyde also added five tackles to his stat line.

Up next: Monday, Nov. 4 against the Chicago Bears at 7:40 p.m.
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