2012 December : Packers Insider

Rants and Raves: Packers help Vikings to extra points

December 30, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Mike Vandermause, Press-Gazette

~ Rant: On first and goal from the 2 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings failed on three attempts to get into the end zone and were about to settle for a field goal. But an illegal hands to the face penalty against Tramon Williams handed the Vikings a first down, and three plays later they scored a touchdown to go ahead 34-27.

• Rave: Jeremy Ross, subbing for the injured Randall Cobb, returned a kickoff 44 yards and a punt 32 yards in the second quarter to give the Packers a spark. The latter return set up a short field at the Vikings’ 42 and led to a touchdown.

• Rant: Mike McCarthy should know better. Head coaches can’t throw a challenge flag when a play is subject to automatic review. It cost the Lions a victory on Thanksgiving when coach Jim Schwartz did that. McCarthy is lucky it didn’t cost his team a touchdown in the third quarter. Despite McCarthy’s gaffe, a James Jones fumble was reviewed, overturned and ruled a touchdown. McCarthy got off easy with just a 15-yard penalty that was assessed on the ensuing kickoff.

• Rave: DuJuan Harris was overshadowed by Adrian Peterson, but the first-year Packers back ran hard and showed extra effort in gaining 70 yards in 14 carries (5.0 average).

• Rant: How do you leave Peterson wide open in the end zone?

The Packers left Adrian Peterson wide open for a key touchdown in the second half. Uncovered somehow.

That’s what the Packers defense did in the third quarter to give the Vikings an easy 2-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder. Earlier in the drive a Peterson fumble was overturned by review, and on the next play Peterson dashed around right end for 28 yards on second and 27.

• Rave: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, needing a victory and playing aggressively, deserves credit for going for a first down on fourth and 1 from the Packers’ 38 in the first quarter. Peterson picked up the first down to set up a field goal. Packers coach Mike McCarthy, meanwhile, went for it on fourth and 1 from the Packers’ 43 in the fourth quarter and a Rodgers pass to Jarrett Boykin kept the drive alive and led to a Packers’ tying touchdown.

• Rant: The Packers got sloppy in the third quarter and it cost them. On third and 1 from the Vikings’ 45 Josh Sitton and Don Barclay committed a false start in unison, although Barclay was charged with the penalty. On the next play a scrambling Rodgers was separated from the ball by Brian Robison, and the Vikings’ Jamarca Sanford recovered. It was the only turnover of the game by either team.

• Rave: The Packers staged an impressive 47-yard drive in the final minute of the first half with no timeouts, culminating in Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired. A Rodgers to Jermichael Finley 14-yard pass, in which Finley got out of bounds with 1 second remaining, set up the field goal.

• Rant/Rave: Greg Jennings dropped a second-quarter touchdown pass but two plays later was exonerated when he caught a 3-yard scoring throw from Rodgers, who rolled right and patiently waited for his receiver to break open. Jennings caught another touchdown pass in the third quarter when no one on the Vikings covered him, and he finished the game with eight catches for 120 yards.

• Rant: The Packers looked like they were sleepwalking on offense in the first quarter. They went three and out on their first two possessions, which gave the Vikings a dominating advantage in total yards (135-11), first downs (8-0) and rushing yards (84-2).

Full story here

Packers pass defense makes Ponder look like Manning

December 30, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor

~As hard as it is to imagine, the Packers defense made Vikings’ second year quarterback Christian Ponder look like Peyton Manning. On third and longs, Ponder kept finding a way to move the chains and avoid punting the ball back to Aaron Rodgers.

With great pass protection by his offensive line against a very soft Packers pass rush (Clay Matthews aside), Ponder was a machine on third & longs against the Packers defense.

He routinely picked the Packers defense apart on third downs.

He hit backup running back Toby Gerhart on third and 11 early on a screen, for a first down. He hit journeymen receivers.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) embrace after the Minnesota Vikings game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Sunday, December 2, 2012. Green Bay won 23-14. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

And on the game’s final drive, on third and 11, he found the wide open receiver behind Packers rookie Casey Hayward, and he saved the drive, game, and season for the Vikings.

All in all, Ponder threw for 234 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also didn’t fumble, unlike Rodgers one fumble.  Sure, Ponder had much better pass protection than Rodgers did, only getting sacked one time, by Clay Matthews. Rodgers was sacked five times, which is about normal for him.

Ponder’s passer rating was a Pro Bowl-like 120.2.
Rodgers was 131.8, but it wasn’t good enough to beat Ponder.

This clutch gem by Ponder, perhaps, will silence the boo-bird Viking fans who questioned and ripped the team over taking him last year in the first round.

Many Viking fans wanted Ponder benched this year, especially in week 13 in Green Bay when he basically threw away that game and ruined Adrian Peterson’s 200+ yard game.

Today, the Packers held Peterson to under 200 (199), but the lack of pass rush, and awful pass coverage and plays on the ball made Ponder look like Manning out there, and the result is a Packers loss today, and a lost bye.

The only good news for the Packers is they get a third crack on Ponder next week. The pass rushers and the defensive backs will have to be a lot better. I suspect Charles Woodson will be allowed back onto the field finally.

Packers defense loses game, bye, and #2 seed

December 30, 2012 by  
Filed under News

Associated Press

~MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adrian Peterson picked up the Minnesota Vikings and gave them a ride to the playoffs, where the first stop on this improbable journey is, yes, Green Bay.

Peterson came up 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record, but he still powered the Vikings past the Packers 37-34 Sunday with 199 yards to set up a rematch next weekend in a first-round playoff game.

Peterson sliced through the line for a 27-yard gain in the closing seconds, his career-high 34th carry. That set up Blair Walsh ‘s 29-yard field goal as time expired and put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason after consecutive last-place finishes.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson catches a two-yard touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

The division champion Packers (11-5) dropped to the NFC’s No. 3 seed.

Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson, providing the necessary balance.

Ponder didn’t turn over the ball, either, and went 16 for 28 for 234 yards, including a 65-yard zinger in stride to Jarius Wright midway through the fourth quarter that set up Ponder’s third touchdown toss.

Peterson finished with 2,097 yards, becoming the seventh player in NFL history to reach the 2,000 mark. He had to work for it, pulling out all the cutbacks, stutter-steps and spins he could find in his exceptional skill set. His longest run was only 28 yards against a defense geared to slow him down, and the first contact often came at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.

The Packers cut the lead to 27-24 late in the third quarter on a touchdown reception by James Jones . The on-field ruling was a fumble at the goal line, triggering an automatic review. Because the Packers threw the challenge flag after the replay process began, however, they were only penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, not prevented from benefiting from the overturned call.

That’s what happened to Detroit infamously on Thanksgiving, when a disputed score by Houston was prevented from review.

Vikings executives hollered at the officials’ supervisor in the press box, and mild-mannered coach Leslie Frazier was screaming at referee Mike Carey in search of an explanation.

After posting a 9-23 record over the last two years, the Vikings made so many strides in 2012 that the season was already a success. But no NFL team would ever be satisfied by finishing in defeat against a division rival, and the emotion and energy behind the quest was palpable all afternoon.

The NFC North was sewn up by the Packers two weeks earlier. Even though the bye remained in the balance the top seed didn’t do the Packers any good last season.

In a game with only one turnover, this was it and made a big difference. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, right, fumbles the ball as he is hit by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

They went 15-1 and lost their opener at home to the eventual champion Giants, the year after winning three straight games on the road to reach and win the Super Bowl.

Rodgers played without injured leading receiver Randall Cobb , so Greg Jennings was the main guy instead, grabbing eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But the Vikings sacked Rodgers five times, recovering a fumble on one of them. And the defense did just barely enough to keep up with Peterson and end a five-game losing streak to the Packers.

Rodgers has 24 touchdowns, only four interceptions and a 70 percent completion rate over 10 career starts against the Vikings. His poise, arm strength and savvy came through clear against them as much as any other team. Plus, cornerback Antoine Winfield ‘s aggravated hand injury kept him on the sideline for most of the game, a big loss for the Minnesota secondary.

Just as Ponder capably complemented Peterson to give the Vikings a chance, DuJuan Harris came out of nowhere to provide Rodgers some help for the Packers. Green Bay has been proving lately it’s not as one-sided an offense as previously believed. Harris rushed 14 times for 70 yards.

With the catch-and-run game they orchestrate so well, finding the soft spots in coverage, the Packers zoomed 80 yards in six plays to pull within 20-17 early in the third quarter. Jennings had a 45-yard gain and the 5-yard grab for a score. He was wide open on both.

But Peterson churned closer to Dickerson on the next drive. Second-and-27? He surged off right tackle and bounced outside for 28 yards. To cap that march, he caught a 2-yard toss from Ponder to push the lead back to 10 points. The “MVP” chants from the crowd rang out in earnest after that.

Michael Neal: Taking ‘the shackles off a monster’

December 28, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By ZACH HEILPRIN, ESPN Milwaukee

~There was a time, not too long ago, when Mike Neal didn’t think he’d still be standing where he was on Thursday afternoon, in the Green Bay Packers’ spacious locker room.

Following a tumultuous first two seasons in the NFL that consisted of more injuries than big plays, the Packers defensive end didn’t think he’d still have a reason to call the league’s smallest market home. Add in a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances to start the season and an NFL Draft in April that saw the Packers select two defensive linemen in the first four rounds, Neal figured his time in Green Bay just might be up.

Mike Neal has given the Packers more production the past two months than he had his first two seasons. Here he sacks Jay Cutler.

“After I got suspended, and I saw the way that the draft went and all the guys that they brought in, I knew my chances of making the team were probably slim,” Neal said as he and his teammates continued to prepare for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. “That’s just how I looked at it from my perspective. They may not have thought that, but that’s pretty much how I looked at it.”

That mentality proved to be a blessing for Neal. He took a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude into training camp, and for the first time in his career, he was stayed healthy throughout the preseason and finished it with a strong performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. There was no question he’d earned a roster spot, but then he was forced to leave the team to serve his suspension.

“I was in Tampa for two weeks and (then) I was able to coach my little brother’s football games (in Indiana),” Neal said of what he did during the suspension. “I’ve never gotten the opportunity to see my little brothers play football. I haven’t gotten a chance – my dad’s birthday was during that time – and I haven’t been able to spend a birthday with him in like eight years, so I think that those type of things – just as much as football, but life in general – are important. It gave me a chance to sit back and reflect and be hungry.”

He returned in Week 5 and registered a sack and two quarterback hurries in the Packers’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts. And now, after playing in just two games as a rookie due to a rib injury and later a torn rotator cuff, and missing the first 10 weeks of last season with a knee injury, Neal has played in as many games this year (10) as he did in his first two seasons combined.

Mike Neal gobbles up Cardinals quarterback John Red Skelton.

And played well.

“Mike’s been really good. He’s given us some impact plays when he’s in there. He’s got the ability to make impact plays,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “I kept telling you that Mike’s a good football player. Mike has rare explosion and rare ability, rare strength. Last year, you could just tell it wasn’t Mike. He couldn’t do the things we were asking him to do, even though he kept trying and kept trying.”

Entering Sunday’s game against the Vikings, Neal has 4.5 sacks, and only four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews (12) on the team.

“The way I look at it, I’m actually happy I went through that because it made me tougher,” Neal said of dealing with injuries. “It made me hungrier. It made me not pay attention to media, not pay attention to people on Twitter. I’m just able to live now and do what I can do.”

“It’s a credit to him,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “The perseverance. Even the start of this season. The guy missed the first four games and everybody is giving him crap. And for him to come back and obviously accept his role … A lot of times you have problems because people can’t accept their roles. Everybody wants to be a star. Everybody wants to be a starter.

Mike Neal corrals Andrew Luck in Neal's first game back after the four-game suspension to open the season.

“But Mike has accepted his role as a third-down specialist – bringing in energy, bringing in juice, pushing the pocket, getting pressure. I think he’s done that, and obviously he’s done a great job at that. His combination of speed and power I think is pretty much unmatched.”

His role has increased even more in the last few weeks as injuries to two other defensive linemen, C.J. Wilson and Jerel Worthy, have led to him playing on early downs, too.

“I’ve never not saw myself as that,” Neal said of being an every down player. “I always want to play the run. I think last year, my knee issue, that’s a big deal when you play the defensive line because you play the game from the ground up. I think that when my knee’s been healthy, I’ve wanted the chance to prove I can play the run. However they use me is how they use me. If they give me snaps in the ‘Okie’ (base) defense, I’ll take them, but if I’m a third-down situational player, I’ll make the most out of those snaps. I really don’t care.”

He’s made the most of them of late. ProFootballFocus.com has credited Neal with three sacks and three quarterback hurries in the past two games.

“I know, particularly being a high draft pick and coming to the Packers, even when I was coming in, the history of guys maybe not living up to the potential at the first round, second round position,” Raji said, likely referring to 2007 first-round draft pick Justin Harrell. “So I was happy for him to come in and eventually start asserting himself as a good player. And you know, give Packers’ fans something to hang their hat on.”

Neal admits that he put too much pressure on himself a year ago when the Packers expected him to fill the role of Cullen Jenkins, who left via free agency for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Neal set his sights on Eli Manning of the Giants. Neal would like another chance to hunt him "a Manning" in a few weeks.

“(The Packers) knew what my situation was coming into last year (coming off the shoulder injury), but I put so much pressure on myself to perform because I kind of read into what we’ve been talking about, not being able to let go of what people are saying,” Neal said. “People calling me a bust, injury-prone … it was one of those things I couldn’t let go of so I wanted to play so well that I was actually playing worse.

“Like I said, once you get into the room and you understand that my teammates know what I’m doing. My coaches know what I’m doing. That other people can’t do what I do and they don’t know the game of football like we see it. It doesn’t matter and then once I let that go it was just like ok, just play football. Be who you are. Everybody’s got a different skill set. Mine may not be the same as BJ.’s or Picks or C.J.’s but I play a different game so play my game and that’s all that really matters.”

Neal is also crediting his suspension for his strong play. When asked Thursday if the arbitrator that overturned Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman’s suspension was the same one that denied his appeal Neal made his feelings pretty clear.

Neal tosses down Titans quarterback Jake Locker last week.

“I don’t know,” Neal said. “I really could care less. If I had to send him a Christmas card, I would tell him thank you for suspending me. You just took the shackles off a monster. And that was the wrong thing to do.”

Full story here

Who are the Packers most valuable 10 right now?

December 28, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor

~(Big difference between valuable and best.)
Before, we always would have Woodson at #3 or close.
Now? Not sure.
I still think against great teams, we need him. He’s physical tackling RB’s, and he forces turnovers.

I’ll start with my list, and this is as of right now, present time:

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Clay Matthews
  3. A.J. Hawk
  4. Marshall Newhouse
  5. Tramon Williams
  6. Morgan Burnett
  7. Josh Sitton
  8. Jermichael Finley
  9. Randall Cobb
  10. Ryan Pickett

Now, the reason I have Newhouse so high is because with Bulaga and Sherrod done, he’s so important, really is indispensable,  and I hope we don’t see evidence of this being right. If he goes out, Jared Allen will be running right past T.J. Lang to Rodgers.

A.J. Hawk is so important to us in the middle. Missing Bishop & D.J. Smith already, Hawk is reliable and accountable.

A.J. Hawk has been taken for granted by most Packer fans. The coaches and his teammates, however, do not take his work for granted.

No he’s not great, but he’s very good, and very important to us considering Brad Jones is the other starter at ILB and he’s not really an ILB.

Tramon is very important as he covers the best and big WR’s.
Burnett is very important back there with the other 2 safeties being so young & inexperienced… if we lost Burnett right now, I think there’d be leaks back there like an old roof.

Josh Sitton is playing pretty well. He’s a very good right guard.
And if he got hurt, the Packers would go from strength to weakness there and it would have ramifications to the running and passing  game.

Finley & the WR’s are tricky.

The Packers are so deep at WR it’s hard to say any one of them is that valuable by themself.
I mean their Super Bowl run just two years ago, the starring two were Jennings & Jordy.
Most of this year, the top two have been Cobb & Jones.

Cobb squeeks onto my list because of his unbelievable versatility. He’s capable of taking the ball to the end zone at any time.

Finley has not done that great, but he’s had some big catches on third downs to keep drives alive, and he does command a lot of attention on defense. I feel the drop-off from him to the next best TE would be significant, at least in the way teams defend the offense. It would run off on the other WR’s and the running game.

I know it’s a passing game now, but Ryan Pickett inside against the run is a great run-stuffer & block-eater.
That guy gets less credit & recognition than anyone else on the team period.

Ryan Pickett, in my opinion, is the Packers most unappreciated, unheralded player on the team.

On 4th & less than a yard, or 3rd & less than a yard, he’s critical. I love Big Grease.

Rodgers is obvious, but Matthews better be obvious too.
Without him, they are terrible at getting to the QB and that means the pass defense suffers. More big plays allowed. More medium plays allowed.

By the way, I would have had Desmond Bishop at about #8 or 9 I think.

And I would have had Woodson at #3. But they are already out and haven’t played in a long time.
But the other young DB’s, at least with Matthews and a healthy Michael Neal up front, have played great.

I thought Jennings was a top-10 valuable player.
And I though Jordy Nelson was too. Then there’s the NFL leader in receiving touchdowns, James Jones.

That’s how great the Packers WR corps is.
Imagine if all four of those guys are healthy when they have their first playoff game in 16-17 days. Throw in Finley and a running back out of the backfield like the little spark plug DuJuan Harris? With a decent-to-good job by the offensive-line, that’s a nightmare scenario for any defense in the NFC, including the San Francisco 49ers.

Cracking the Packers: Last month’s loss helps Sunday’s game plan

December 28, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Daniel Wiederer, Star Tribune

~The 23-14 loss at Lambeau Field was barely an hour old, its sting still raw when Vikings running back Adrian Peterson began diagnosing all that went wrong.

It was obvious Peterson and his teammates were all having difficulty digesting such a bitter defeat.

Then came the question that really struck a nerve.

Peterson was asked whether the loss, which came a week after a 28-10 face-plant in Chicago, was further proof the Vikings didn’t have the horses to compete at the top level in their division.

Peterson recoiled, scowling as if he’d just swallowed a triple shot of Wild Turkey.

“Do we not have the horses? Did you not see the game today?” he snapped. “Did you not see how that game ended? Turnovers. Penalties. That’s why we lost the game. Guys fought today. We lost because we gave it to them.”

Sure, that response carried added fury as the missed opportunity sunk in. But even now, four weeks removed and heading into a high-stakes rematch with the Packers, the Vikings remain convinced they dug their own grave in Green Bay.

“We gave one away,” defensive end Jared Allen said Thursday.

Added fullback Jerome Felton: “We felt like we could have easily taken control of that game and we let it slip away. That loss really hurt.” 

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen jumps to try to sack Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

So now what? To finish an improbable December rally and reach the playoffs, the Vikings need a home upset of Green Bay. And it’s not just that they must avoid giving another winnable game away. They must also find a way to contain the NFL’s reigning MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. And they must scheme to beat a Packers squad that hasn’t lost a division game in more than two years.

The good news: Green Bay has lost four times already — to the 49ers, Seahawks, Colts and Giants. Each of those games has provided clues on how the Packers can be toppled.

Heck, even the Vikings’ Week 13 failure at Lambeau Field drove home an understanding that Green Bay is beatable. The blueprint for Sunday must contain four key principles.

1- RUSH FOUR, GET HOME

Rule number 1 against Green Bay: Blitz at your own peril.

Arguably no quarterback in the league handles extra pressure with as much moxie and aplomb as Rodgers.

Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams labels Green Bay’s quarterback “a quadruple threat” who extinguishes blitzes like they’re candles on a birthday cake.

“Wow, he’s intelligent,” Williams said. “He’s seen all the looks. He knows what he’s looking at. He gets the ball out of his hands. And when he doesn’t get the ball out of his hands, he has an uncanny ability to move and avoid the rush and keep his eyes downfield and find open guys. And then when he doesn’t do that, he’s athletic enough to beat you with his feet.”

Last week, Tennessee coordinator Jerry Gray went blitz-heavy. Rodgers, in turn, delivered a 55-7 reprimand.

Said Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield: “Blitzing him is tough. Because they take so many chances. They’re always trying to go vertical.”

In short: After sending a dizzying combination of pressures at St. Louis’ Sam Bradford and Houston’s Matt Schaub, the Vikings will charge their defensive line almost exclusively with rattling Rodgers this week. But it’s a formula that can be successful.

Sure, the world might always remember Green Bay’s controversial 14-12 loss in Seattle in September for the M.D. Jennings interception that was ruled a Golden Tate touchdown catch by a replacement ref named Lance Easley. But in truth, the Packers’ undoing began during a first half in which their offensive line was abused by Seattle’s front four. In posting a first-half shutout, the Seahawks held Green Bay to 47 passing yards and delivered seven of their eight sacks without blitz help.

The Giants attacked similarly in their 38-10 blowout of the Packers two months later, keeping as many defenders as possible in coverage and limiting their blitzes. The result was a five-sack night, four coming from defensive linemen.

2- ESTABLISH THE RUN

Sure, the Colts and Giants might have turned their quarterbacks loose to fuel their victories over Green Bay. In Week 5, Andrew Luck threw for 362 yards and two scores to rally Indianapolis to a 30-27 win. Eli Manning threw for 249 yards and three TDs in New York’s romp.

But with the NFL’s most dangerous back in Peterson, the Vikings are certain to stay true to their identity.

In Week 1, San Francisco pounded away with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to the tune of 153 yards on 25 carries against Green Bay. The 49ers’ physicality in getting the ground game going set an early tone and fueled a 30-22 victory.

Heck, Peterson himself did major damage to the Packers’ defense in the teams’ first meeting, turning 21 carries into 210 yards. That should have been enough to close the deal and would be welcome Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson breaks away from Green Bay Packers' Tramon Williams (38) and Mike Neal (96) for an 82-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Which leads to the next principle …

3- GET THE QUARTERBACK TO MAKE PLAYS

Even more importantly, command Christian Ponder to avoid catastrophic mistakes.

It’s not just that Ponder threw two costly interceptions to thwart second-half scoring drives at Lambeau Field. It’s that with four minutes left, he had completed five passes for 36 yards and had gone more than 38 game minutes between completions.

Make no mistake, Ponder isn’t Luck. But like Indianapolis’ prized rookie, Ponder has mobility he can use to his advantage. That might mean buying time, then regrouping to make improvised but calculated throws. Or it might mean Ponder needs to identify open running lanes and bolt for positive yardage, such as last week in Houston when he aided the Vikings’ final TD drive by beating an all-out blitz with a 29-yard run.

Noted offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: “Another case where our players are playing where our chalk ends.”

And yes, the Vikings are confident Ponder still vividly remembers and understands the consequences of his two woeful interceptions at Green Bay.

“I think we can get those out of our system,” Musgrave said. “I think we’ve sensed from the last three games that he’s definitely learned from those.”

4- KEEP THE FAITH

The Colts wouldn’t have beaten Green Bay if they didn’t believe a second-half rally from 18 points down was possible. Seattle used Russell Wilson’s contagious calm on the final drive to produce their “Fail Mary” miracle.

So for the Vikings, retaining belief Sunday will be key — even through the inevitable ups and downs of what will be an emotionally charged game.

As hard as it might be to believe, coach Leslie Frazier came away from his team’s 23-14 loss in Green Bay feeling encouraged. Not with his team’s execution on the whole, but certainly with the unity and grit they showed.

“I had talked to them the night before the game about playing together as a team and playing for one another,” Frazier said. “And I remember watching them in pregame and how they were going amongst themselves and encouraging each other like I hadn’t seen throughout the season. That was a good sign.”

And when adversity and frustration surfaced, Frazier loved seeing his players’ camaraderie and fight.

“It made me feel like as a team we were really coming together the way you need to in the month of December,” Frazier said. “I just sensed that we were really bonding. Which is the intangible when you’re going through some adversity and about to play some really, really tough teams ahead.”

That loss in Green Bay could have killed the Vikings’ season. Instead, they regrouped with convincing victories over the Bears, Rams and Texans, retaining a belief that they belong in the postseason.

Full story here

Minnesota Vikings defense blossomed after loss to Packers

December 28, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Brian Murphy, Pioneer Press

~The Vikings’ defense left Green Bay after a Week 13 loss humbled, exhausted and recommitted to the fundamental tenets of winning one-on-one battles and creating, instead of granting, momentum.

Sure, the Vikings limited quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 286 yards passing and intercepted him once. But the reigning MVP orchestrated an 18-play, 73-yard march that consumed 11 minutes and sawed off most of the fourth quarter, concluding with a field goal that made the lead 23-14 and effectively locked the victory in a vise.

Moreover, the Packers rushed for 152 yards that day, the sixth time in seven games Minnesota’s once-vaunted run defense had been gashed for more than 110 yards.

Green Bay Packers running back Alex Green (20) rushes for a first down agisnt the Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith (22), cornerback Josh Robinson (21) and chased from behind by outside linebacker Erin Henderson (50) in the third quarter of the Minnesota Vikings game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Sunday, December 2, 2012. Green Bay won 23-14. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

Missed tackles, poor positioning and late breaks to the ball fueled long drives. The Vikings vowed to clean up the slop and attack.

And they did.

The Vikings enter their Sunday, Dec. 30, rematch against Green Bay on a three-game winning streak since losing that game, largely attributable to the defense’s ability to stop the run and halt teams on third down. Nothing revolutionary, just jobs reiterated while tactics and practices were streamlined, according to defensive end Jared Allen.

“Guys took the onus upon themselves to make plays when the plays were there and not get out of body,” he said Thursday. “Coaches did a good job of simplifying the game plan for us and let us play fast and play free. Sometimes you can’t overthink yourself in this league; you’ve just got to dumb it down
and go to work and let a man whoop a man and get after it.”

In wins over Chicago, St. Louis and Houston, the Vikings yielded an average of 80 yards rushing. They held Stephen Jackson of the Rams to 73 yards and the Texans’ Arian Foster to 15 on 10 carries before he left the game because of an irregular heartbeat.

More impressive, the Texans were 1 for 11 on third downs and failed to score a touchdown despite having first and goal at the 1-yard line, while trailing 16-3 late in the third quarter.

“We’ve been harping on playing situational football, and there were a lot of situations in that ballgame where guys played extremely well from third down to short yardage, goal line, red zone,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “The guys played a complete football game and didn’t allow anything at the end of the ballgame, any leaky yards, leaky points. A complete performance all the way around.”

The Packers, though, present a bevy of problems for defenses.

Rodgers is the NFL’s top-rated quarterback. His 35 touchdown passes rank second to Drew Brees’ 39 for New Orleans. And Rodgers has led the Packers to 12 consecutive NFC North Division victories, including five straight over Minnesota.

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers reacts in front of Minnesota Vikings' Jasper Brinkley (54) after Rodgers threw a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Too many Packers playmakers on the field Dec. 2 made it too difficult for Vikings defenders to get off it. Mix in several inexcusable penalties, and Minnesota was left chasing wind.

Green Bay mostly worked the perimeter and took the edge off the Vikings’ pass rush. Rodgers played catch and release with the defensive front, using a hard count and different cadences to draw four Vikings offside penalties.

Kevin Williams, Everson Griffen, Letroy Guion and Christian Ballard all fell victim. A fifth foul was negated when Rodgers hit James Jones for a 32-yard first-quarter touchdown.

Then, of course, there was 18-73-11:00 — the NFL’s most time-consuming drive of the season.

“If you allow Aaron to get comfortable during a drive, if you allow their offense to get going and allow them into second and short, third and short, where they have multiple things they can throw at you,” Allen said, “then they become deadly.”

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said the Vikings’ defense has played more cohesively since the teams’ previous meeting.

“They’re very much in sync. I think you’re seeing the discipline in the scheme what they’re trying to get down. Everything starts with their defensive line,” McCarthy said. “I see a very rhythmic, in-sync defense.”

Williams, the first-year coordinator, acknowledged it took time to familiarize himself with his personnel and design a consistent system for players to thrive. He credited coach Leslie Frazier with allowing the unit to grow and not giving in to temptation when it was struggling.

“Luckily, we have a head coach that believes in the system, he believes in being patient, he believes in the guys and the coaches and has allowed us to gel as a team and not just (say): ‘You know what, a game or two we haven’t played up to our expectations, let’s scrap it and do something else,’ ” Williams said.

Frazier said it was important to address the fundamental breakdowns and get everyone back on the same page.

“Letting the players know that even though you may come into a meeting and say, ‘We need to change this,’ no, no, no. We need to play better; we need to tackle, we need to run to the ball, we need to create turnovers,” Frazier said. “We don’t need to come in with a new defense; we don’t need to come in with a new coverage. We need to play better. Our guys understood that. They bought into it, and we’re doing a lot of the same things that we’ve done before. We’re doing them better.”

Full story found here

Mike McCarthy willing to believe in his players

December 27, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY – Every coach preaches accountability. The fear of failure – of losing your job – can be the single greatest motivator. Green Bay is no different. This is a Not For Long league, after all.

Yet in Green Bay, coach Mike McCarthy isn’t quite the fire-red high school basketball coach yanking his point guard off the court after one turnover.

Case in point, Jeremy Ross. The Packers don’t have much invested into this receiver called up from the practice squad. The average fan never heard of the guy. Then, thrown into the coliseum at Chicago, he nearly cost the Packers with a dropped lateral on a punt return. 

Jeremy Ross returns a punt 58 yards against the Titans. Ross was glad to get a second chance after fumbling

Yet there he was in Green Bay’s 55-7 win over Tennessee, returning a punt 58 yards when Randall Cobb suffered an ankle injury. There were no hasty, make-an-example decisions made.

“It means a lot, it means a lot,” Ross said. “It definitely feels great when it feels like people believe in you – especially after a situation like that. It’s part of the game. Everybody makes mistakes.”

Sunday’s win was a cross-section of second chances. Mason Crosby was a (shaky) 2 of 2. Mike Neal continues to make each quarterback collision count. Tight end Jermichael Finley is producing.

Second chances don’t always work. The Packers probably won’t find out if sticking with Crosby is the right move until the postseason. But players in Green Bay realize they have the benefit of a second chance.

Within the veil of patience, of never panicking is a willingness by the Packers to give players another at-bat.

So let those 48-yarders bounce in off the goal post.

“Mason is our kicker,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know how long I have to keep saying this, but I thought he kicked well again today. His ball placement was good on the kickoffs. He’s hitting the ball very well. He’s seeing it.” 

Coach McCarthy has been extremely loyal and patient with struggling kicker Mason Crosby. Many wonder if it will come to a point where Crosby's ineptness will ultimately end the Packers season.

Recall the story of training camp. Under the lights, backup quarterback Graham Harrell struggled. It was strange and awkward to see and hear such tranquility from coaches and players when Harrell posted passer ratings of 26.4 and 49.3.

McCarthy vowed he saw progress. He saw things that fans and reporters apparently did not. It’s a stretch to say the situation is “resolved” by any means. But Harrell did respond to McCarthy’s public support by throwing for 223 yards and two scores on 13-of-15 passing in the exhibition finale.

McCarthy sticking with Harrell wasn’t pure football hubris, a quarterback guy standing by his quarterback. That’s how the Packers roll.

Nobody in Green Bay has missed as many kicks as Mason Crosby has – twelve – since Chester Marcol in 1973. Doesn’t matter. He’s the Packers’ kicker. McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson wouldn’t bring in anyone off the street. Like Harrell, Crosby is an extension of his coach, too.

After 12 misses, you’d expect Crosby to snap to some degree, to either be too high or too low after these games. He hasn’t cracked.

“Kicked a lot of balls today, so it was a good day,” Crosby said. “For me, it is something to carry forward and move forward with and to continue to be accountable and help this team win.”

The Packers have stayed patient with Mike Neal. Finally healthy, he’s giving the defense an interior pass rush. On Sunday, he had one of Green Bay’s seven sacks.

Maybe the team does part with Finley after this season. After a midseason funk – Finley was all but ignored in the offense for three, four weeks – he’s back contributing. He caught five passes for 70 yards against the Titans.

Then there’s Ross.

Ross couldn’t handle Cobb’s softball across the field one week, yet the next he’s fielding punts. Not only did Ross’ status as the No. 2 punt returner never change after the mistake in Chicago, McCarthy is now considering replacing Cobb from returns in general. After the game, he said the team would “potentially” make a change. Cobb’s ankle injury on a punt return is a cautionary tale.

Ross says he’s ready if the Packers need him. His confidence was back after the return against Tennessee.

“It was good to have that one to kind of push last week’s mistake to the back of my head – never forgetting it, though,” Ross said. “I’ll always use that one as motivation and always remember how quickly things can go south.”

Fumbling on such a big stage wasn’t easy for Ross. He didn’t care so much about the personal embarrassment. He said it was letting his teammates and coaches down that bothered him most.

Well, those same coaches are going to trust Ross again, Crosby again, anyone who may face-plant.

The possibility of Crosby kicking with the season on the line remains. For the Packers, it’s certainly a gamble. But steady with second chances, that’s the approach.

Said Ross, “It does feel great that they believe.”

Full story here

Packers hammer pathetic Titans 55-7, wait to hear about Cobb’s injury

December 23, 2012 by  
Filed under News

Posted by Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are in prime playoff form.

Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, Ryan Grant scored twice and Randall Cobb set a single-season franchise record for net yardage Sunday as the Green Bay Packers routed the Tennessee Titans 55-7.

The victory ensured the Packers (11-4) will at least be the NFC’s No. 3 seed. They still have a shot at the No. 2 — and the first-round bye that goes with it — if Seattle beats San Francisco on Sunday night.

The Packers have been one of the NFL’s best teams over the last two months, winning nine of 10 games. But they haven’t always been at their best against inferior teams, struggling to put away the likes of the Jaguars, Cardinals and Lions.

That wasn’t the case against Tennessee. Far from it.

The Titans (5-10) had one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses since giving up 51 points to Chicago on Nov. 4, allowing an average of 17.6 points to their last five opponents. But Rodgers and the Green Bay offense may as well have been playing Madden NFL for as easily as they piled up the yardage and the scores on the Titans.

The Packers scored more than 50 points for the first time since 2005, and their 460 yards was a season high. They snapped a three-game losing streak against the Titans.

Rodgers was 27 of 38, and matched his season high with 342 yards passing. He connected with Cobb (20 yards), Jennings (1) and James Jones (12) for touchdowns, and also ran 6 yards for Green Bay’s first score. His numbers could have been even better, but coach Mike McCarthy pulled him after the first two plays of the fourth quarter.

Cobb’s first punt return of 14 yards broke the Green Bay single-season record for all-purpose yardage set by Ahman Green in 2003. With 2,342 for the year, Cobb has 92 more than Green had.

Tennessee Titans' Coty Sensabaugh (24) breaks up a pass intended for Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb (18) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

The all-purpose stud left the game late after returning a punt and being yanked down from the side. He suffered some type of foot, ankle, knee, or leg injury and did not return. His health will be the big story over the next few days as he is Rodgers favorite receiver now, and he’s lethal returning both punts and kicks.

Grant finished with 80 yards on 20 carries, and had touchdown runs of 7 and 9 yards. DuJuan Harris also scored on the ground, giving Green Bay four for the game — one fewer than it managed the entire rest of the season.

Green Bay’s defense, meanwhile, made life utterly miserable for Jake Locker and the Titans. Tennessee’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries — it started its fifth combination Sunday — and the Titans also were without leading receiver Kendall Wright. But Locker didn’t help matters. He was sacked seven times — though he tripped over his own feet on one — and picked off twice, and finished 13 of 30 for 140 yards.

Green Bay Packers' Mike Neal sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Tennessee managed to cross midfield just three times during the game, and needed until 1:39 left in the game to avoid the shutout. Kenny Britt caught a 39-yard pass to set up his 2-yard reception.

Packers giving EDS chance to start at center over Saturday

December 23, 2012 by  
Filed under News

The veteran Jeff Saturday has shown he is all class by being very supportive of this decision.

By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

~ GREEN BAY – There were plenty of reasons why the Green Bay Packers signed Jeff Saturday this spring.

He was a veteran center at a position that is not for the inexperienced in coach Mike McCarthy’s offense.

He was a cheaper alternative than Scott Wells, who went to the Pro Bowl last year and went to St. Louis as a free agent, signing a four-year, $24 million contract ($13 million guaranteed).

He had extensive experience in a no-huddle offense, having spent 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts, protecting and making line calls for Peyton Manning.

And, although he was obviously reaching the end of the line – he was about to turn 37 in June – the team believed he had enough smarts and savvy, as well as enough left in the tank, to get through at least one more NFL season.

But perhaps the added benefit of bringing in Saturday wasn’t fully evident until Friday, when – with just two weeks left in the regular season – the Packers benched him in favor of third-year man Evan Dietrich-Smith. For it was in that moment, at a time when he could have been bitter, angry and disappointed, that Saturday also showed another of his valuable traits: Utter professionalism.

Jeff Saturday won the Pro Bowl vote from the fans, as the top vote-getter in the NFC. Now he's been benched as starting center for the Packers.

A class act in every sense of the word, Saturday could’ve easily ducked reporters Friday, especially since McCarthy never came out and said publicly that the change was being made. He could have played the change off as being related to the neck/shoulder injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. And, after McCarthy had hemmed and hawed on the subject when it came up in his post-practice press briefing, Saturday could’ve done the same.

But he did no such thing.

“Obviously, as a player, you want to play. But I support Evan and I know he’s a great player. He’ll get the job done and do what he needs to do to play well and get us a win,” said Saturday, who was named to five Pro Bowl teams, received two All-Pro selections and won a Super Bowl title during his time in Indianapolis – and, ironically, received the most votes among NFC centers in the fan balloting for this year’s Pro Bowl.

“Obviously, I (was) a stop-gap here. There’s no surprise as far as that stuff goes. You’re 37 years old. I’ve been around this thing long enough to know that it’s not a long future. I think if ‘Deedy’ plays well, I wouldn’t think they’d go back and make another change. That’s how I look at it.

“I told Dietrich, I fully support him, I have a ton of respect for him as a player and as an athlete. I think he’ll do a good job. I told him to make the most of it. We all get our chance somehow. Whenever you do, take advantage of it. When I got my chance, I made the most of mine. I hope he does the same.

“We’re at two totally different points of our career. His is on the up-ramp, mine is on the way out. This is football. It’s a business at the end of the day. I think ‘Deeds’ is going to do a great job and give us a good chance to win games.”

Asked if he was surprised by the timing, Saturday paused, then replied, “I guess. Coach McCarthy makes a decision and as a player, you’re one guy on the team. Whatever decision is made, you support what happens. I’ve got a ton of respect for (Dietrich-Smith). He and I worked together, and I think he’ll do a good job.”

It was clear something was up when McCarthy was slightly evasive when asked about the plan at center for Sunday’s game against Tennessee, saying that Saturday “will be ready to go” but replying with “We’ll see” when asked if Saturday would start.

Asked to clarify, McCarthy replied, “We will probably go with Evan Dietrich-Smith to start the game. But I’ve got to visit with Jeff. We didn’t do a whole lot today. He’s been going through a number of things Wednesday and Thursday. We feel good about his health, but we haven’t made a final decision. I feel like I say this every week, that’s what the 1 o’clock meeting is for.”

Saturday didn’t mince words. Asked if the move was medical related, Saturday replied, “I don’t think so. I haven’t been able to go this week, but when you look at it, I think Evan has worked hard, played good. Give him a chance to go see what he can do at center and see how he plays. I should be ready to go, so I don’t think that really has any kind of factor of what’s happening.”

As a result, barring a late-season injury – something that’s not out of the question given the Packers’ buzzard’s luck on the injury front this season – Saturday’s time in Green Bay is over. ProFootballFocus.com had Saturday as the league’s 30th-best center in its most recent rankings, and while Saturday signed a two-year deal as a free agent in March, he has said all along that he’d wait and see how this year went.

Now, having been benched on the cusp of the playoffs, it seems clear that he’ll call it a career after the year is over. Colts owner Jim Irsay has already told him he has a role in Indianapolis’ front office waiting for him if he wants it.

In the meantime, rest assured he’ll do all he can to support and help Dietrich-Smith, who goes from filling in at left guard for an injured T.J. Lang, to sitting the bench last week against Chicago (when Lang returned to left guard and Don Barclay continued to start at right tackle), to being the starting center – now, and possibly into the future.

“That’s how the league plays out, man. They want the best five guys out there – however they see it. You just have to roll with it,” Dietrich-Smith said. “We’re all here, we all get paid to do our job and however they see your job to be fit, you’ve got to do it when they call upon you.

“I’m just going out there to help the team win as best I can and this is the move they want to make. I’m just going to do my job. I’ve got tons of respect for Jeff. He’s helped me a lot. I’ve had two good mentors. Jeff means a lot to me, so does Scott, and to get the opportunity, I hope I just go out there and make the coaches really, really proud.

“Me and Jeff had a great relationship since he’s been here. I mean, me and him have been on the same page since Day 1. The big thing for us, we just want success for the team. And he’s always been on board with eventually, something’s going to happen. with him with this going on, he has my support and I have his support but for me, it’s more of a respect thing. To have Jeff’s respect and have the respect of the guys is the biggest thing for me.”

Asked about the timing, Dietrich-Smith replied, “Yeah, it’s different, but they feel this is the best option for them. We’re going to go out there and do what we need to do tow win football games. This is how they want to go, then this is how we’re going to roll with it.”

If Satuday doesn't get back to starting at center for the Packers, that's a good thing in that it will mean A) Dietrich-Smith has done a good job and B) Dietrich-Smith has stayed healthy.

So will Saturday, although he acknowledged this was not the ending he’d envisioned.

“I’d be lying if I told you it’s not disappointing and tough. I’m here to play football,” Saturday said. “I told Coach, I came here to help win a Super Bowl. Winning the NFC North is great, but that wasn’t why I was here. I looked for more of the postseason. It’s disappointing from that side.

“(But) you can’t be affected by your circumstances. I’m a member of the Packers. It’s not just me. If Coach McCarthy thinks that gives us the best chance to win and go on and do things in the postseason, then that’s what it is. As a player, it’s always disappointing whenever someone else goes in front of you. It’s a tough thing to deal with. But I’m going to deal with it.

“Here’s the one thing: I can look at my family, I can look at all my players and say I put the best I could be out there. If that’s not good enough and somebody else is better, then they deserve to play. And I’ve always felt like that. I respect ‘Deedy’ enough to say if that’s his, then he needs to take it and go do a good job with it.”

Next Page »