NFL Nation: Packers-Vikings 100509

  Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
 Jared Allen and the Vikings defense did not give Aaron Rodgers time to get comfortable in the pocket. Allen collected 4.5 sacks Monday night.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- If you want to wrap everything in a gift box and tie it up with a neat bow, here’s what you write: The Old Man outplayed the Young Gun. Brett Favre outfoxed his protégé. Aaron Rodgers, 384 yards and all, fell short.

Sorry, I just don’t see it that way.

My colleague Gene Wojciechowski will tell you all about Favre’s truly magical night at the Metrodome. I’m here to say that Green Bay didn’t give Rodgers a chance to outshine Favre in Monday night’s 30-23 loss.
Monday Night Coverage
-- Wojciechowski: Favre gets revenge
-- Seifert: Rapid Reaction
-- Zoom gallery
-- Monday Night HQ

Their pass protection was historically bad, continuing a baffling trend that began on opening weekend. Their receivers continued dropping critical passes. Monday night, it was tight end Donald Lee whiffing on a fourth-down pass in the end zone. And in the words of cornerback Charles Woodson, their defense “let” Favre make a few big plays against botched coverages.

“I don’t think we made a bad decision as far as going with Aaron,” Woodson said. “Not at all. I just think [Favre] landed with a better team right now.”

I can’t argue with that. Rodgers shared responsibility for a couple of the eight sacks he absorbed. There are times when he hesitated in the pocket, his timing perhaps thrown off by the footsteps he’s heard. But Rodgers was working with a nearly non-existent running game Monday night; the Packers only attempted 17 rushes. He was playing catch-up with a Vikings offense that scored at least one touchdown -- Bernard Berrian’s 31-yard reception in the third quarter -- when a Packers player missed a coverage assignment.

Most egregious, however, has been a pass-protection scheme that has allowed 20 sacks in four games this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the highest four-game total for a Packers team since the advent of sack records in 1963.

“You can’t play that way,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

He is absolutely right, but what’s astonishing is that the Packers seem to have no answers. In Week 2, Cincinnati defensive end Antwan Odom had five sacks on his own. Monday night, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen -- who, unlike Odom, shouldn’t have been a game-planning surprise -- ran almost unencumbered to 4.5 sacks. (A "Monday Night Football" record, by the way.)

According to video analysis from ESPN Stats & Information, the Vikings rushed only four men on six of their eight sacks -- including all five of those Allen was involved in. By definition, that should be a numbers mismatch: The Packers’ five offensive linemen against the Vikings’ four defensive linemen.
Offensive Line Comparison
-- Packers O-Line Vikings O-Line
Pass Plays 45 32
Sacks 8 0
Sack Pct. * 17.8 0
QB Hits 9 1
* Percentage of pass plays with a sack

A defensive lineman will sometimes win his individual matchup, but a five-sack night in that scenario is a warning sign of either physical inferiority or a basic schematic flaw.

Rodgers had no choice but to endorse the latter theory and expressed hope the Packers can figure things out during their upcoming bye. One bit of (presumably) good news: Left tackle Chad Clifton (ankle) should return.

“I have confidence in those guys,” Rodgers said. “We just have to figure out what the best scheme is to handle the pressure. We get a week off to get healthy. Hopefully, we’ll get Chad back and we go from there.”

I’m not so sure it will be that easy. It’s pretty clear that right tackle Allen Barbre is going to struggle against athletic speed rushers. The first sack of the night came when Vikings backup Brian Robison ran past Barbre and pushed Rodgers into Allen’s arms. Meanwhile, I was amazed at how often the Packers put Colledge in a single matchup against Allen.

If Odom can get five sacks against the combination of Colledge and Clifton, why would anyone think Colledge could hold his own against Allen?

“That was fine by me,” Allen said afterwards. “I’ll take that. I’m not going to complain or second guess on that one.”

Colledge left in the fourth quarter after spraining his right knee; in a dark scene, he was injured when Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy shoved left guard Jason Spitz into his leg. Colledge said he suffered a sprain that should not keep him from missing a start, but you wonder what the Packers will decide after conducting a self-study during the bye.

“We went through the preseason and kept the guy completely clean,” Colledge said. “Now we have 20 [sacks]? That’s hard to swallow. You’ve got to find a way to protect the guy. That guy is important. He’s an extremely good quarterback and he’s extremely valuable to this offense. We have to find a way to keep him off his back.

“I take it very personal. It’s a slap in the face. For an offensive line that prides itself in an ability to one-on-one pass block, it’s a struggle. That’s hard. It’s gut-wrenching. You know how important that guy is and how special he is and we’ve got to keep him off the ground.”

Again, I think Rodgers shares some of the blame. Perhaps the biggest difference between him and his predecessor is that Favre has a better sense of the pass rush and when he needs to get the ball away. The clock in Rodgers’ head seems to be a little off right now.

I asked Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin if that could be a by-product of the early-season pressure he’s seen.

“When you start to overcompensate for things, everything gets out of whack,” Philbin said. “[But] we’ve got to do a better job protecting. I don’t know what else we can say. You open up a can of worms and invite teams to come after us. We have to do a better job.”

And at least give Rodgers a

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota is the best team in the NFC North, and right now it’s not close.

That’s where I stand after seeing all four division teams play this week. Chicago has played decently since its opening-week loss at Green Bay. But no one has beaten anyone from a physical standpoint as much as the Vikings defeated the Packers on Monday.

Let me correct that. The Vikings didn’t just beat the Packers. They beat ‘em up.

Yes, I know quarterback Brett Favre will grab all the headlines after a sharp -- and emotionally controlled-- performance. Favre finished with a near-perfect passer rating after completing 24 of 31 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

But this game was decided just as much by the way the Vikings’ defensive front just absolutely throttled the Packers. Favre protégé Aaron Rodgers finished with some good-looking final numbers, completing 26 of 37 passes for 384 yards and two touchdowns, but the Vikings sacked him eight times and had him dancing in the pocket for most of the game. Defensive end Jared Allen led the way with 4.5 sacks.

It was nothing new for the Packers, who entered Week 4 having given up an NFL-high 12 sacks. There might have only been a seven-point difference on the scoreboard, but there seemed to me to be a much bigger gap between these two teams.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- I can’t argue with Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy’s challenge of Aaron Rodgers’ fumble at 1-yard line, even though it ultimately led to officials ruling the play a safety. Last time I checked, two points is better than an almost-certain three.

There is always the chance that the Vikings could have fumbled or somehow committed a turnover after taking over the ball at the 1-yard line, but the odds are much greater they would have turned the play into more than two points.

Minnesota leads 30-14 with 7:13 remaining. Unless something changes significantly, I’ll be back with you shortly after the game.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Green Bay just made a change at left tackle, but it wasn’t by choice. Rookie T.J. Lang is now in because Daryn Colledge injured his right knee while the Packers gave up their sixth sack of the night.

Vikings reserve defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy burst past left guard Jason Spitz, and it was Spitz who fell into Colledge’s knee as Kennedy sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Stranger things have happened, but it will be quite a feat for the Packers to come back and win this game. They’ve been thoroughly outplayed, especially from a physical standpoint.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- To me, the best play of Minnesota’s goal line stand was linebacker Ben Leber’s open-field tackle of Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley.

Finley is one of the better athletes on the field tonight. He caught the ball in the open field and was a yard away from the end zone, but Leber brought him down before he advanced another yard.

Sure, the Packers had a great opportunity on Aaron Rodgers’ fourth-down pass to tight end Donald Lee, who dropped the pass. But that play never would have happened if Leber hadn’t brought down a bigger and more athletic receiver.

Paging the Packers defense

October, 5, 2009

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Brett Favre will get all kinds of credit for the Vikings’ most recent drive, one in which he threw 25 yards to tight end Jeff Dugan and then 31 yards to receiver Bernard Berrian for a touchdown.

But let’s call a spade a spade: That was a horrendous two-play showing from the Packers defense.

I wish I had timed how long Favre had to throw before he found Dugan, the Vikings’ third-string tight end, running deep across the middle. It was at least three times as much as he should have. It seemed Favre could have stayed in the pocket all day. UPDATE: ESPN timed it at 7.34 seconds.

No one from the Packers pass rush made it more than two yards upfield. ESPN replays showed the Packers’ best pass rusher, Aaron Kampman, standing harmlessly in coverage.

On the touchdown, it’s pretty clear that cornerback Al Harris thought he was getting safety help from newcomer Derrick Martin. Immediately after Berrian made the catch, Harris went running over to Martin -- whom the Packers acquired a week before the regular season began. He started Monday for the second time this season.

Again, I won’t take anything away from Favre on what is rapidly becoming a legendary night for him. But he didn’t face much resistance on that drive.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- We’re calling the NFC North the “Air and Space” division for a reason. Minnesota and Green Bay combined for 305 net passing yards in the first half of a game the Vikings lead 21-14 at halftime.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has a 143.6 passer rating, having completed 14 of 17 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been under duress for much of the first half, but he has thrown for 174 gross yards. Rodgers, however, has two turnovers and has been sacked three times.

A few halftime observations:
  • I know this has been said before, but the Packers just aren’t getting NFL-caliber play from their tackles. How many times are we going to watch Jared Allen run around left tackle Daryn Colledge before the Packers try something different? I know Allen is an elite pass rusher, but you can’t allow anyone to get continuous backside shots at your quarterback. Colledge needs help on every play. Allen Barbre has been a little better on the right side. But not much.
  • I couldn’t figure out who Allen was jawing with after the final play of the first half. But Vikings receivers coach George Stewart and defensive tackle Kevin Williams had to drag Allen away from the Packers’ bench. That could have gotten ugly.
  • Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has often said he is more prone to fumbles because he keeps plays alive longer than most tailbacks. I’ve always been dubious about that. Why is it any harder to hold on to the ball at the end of a play than the beginning? But in the case of his fumble Monday night, I would tend to agree. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews made a great play to snatch the ball from Peterson, but most tailbacks would already have been on the ground by the time Matthews shook the ball loose.
  • Overall, Peterson has fumbled 15 times since the start of the 2007 season, the most for an NFL running back in that span.
  • It’s hard to find much to pick on when you look at Favre’s first-half performance. He’s kept his emotions in check, thrown accurately on almost every pass, and mixed the ball among seven different receivers.
  • We’re seeing some good open-field running, or poor tackling, on both sides. Vikings receiver Percy Harvin made several Packers miss on a 43-yard reception to set up the Vikings’ third touchdown. And Packers tight end Jermichael Finley rumbled through the Vikings’ secondary during his 62-yard touchdown reception.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Wow. I think we can all agree that Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson is one of the strongest players, pound for pound, in the NFL. So what does that say about Green Bay rookie linebacker Clay Matthews, who just ripped the ball from Peterson’s hands and dashed 42 yards for a game-tying touchdown?

I’d say Matthews is pretty strong.

We should say that Peterson’s strength worked against him on that play. He extended the play for several seconds by refusing to be tackled, giving Matthews a chance to grab the ball before Peterson’s knees hit the ground. Peterson walked very slowly off the field after the play, limping a bit, and Chester Taylor has replaced him to start the following drive.

I’d call that a game-changing turn of events. Wouldn’t you?

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- I’m no doctor, but I don’t think we’re going to see Green Bay kick returner Will Blackmon any time soon.

Blackmon suffered what looked like a nasty injury to his left leg at the end of a 19-yard kickoff return here in the second quarter. We’ll just say that replays showed that his left leg moving in an unnatural direction as Blackmon tried to cut to the outside.

He left the field with help from Packers medical officials but did not put any weight on the leg.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Aaron Rodgers’ first interception of the season bailed out a late reaction by Minnesota’s bench two plays prior.

I thought Greg Jennings’ 3-yard reception on fourth down hit the ground and might well have been overturned if the Vikings had challenged it. But coach Brad Childress didn’t get the flag onto the field until after the Packers ran their next play.

But Rodgers then threw his next pass into the arms of Winfield, making the challenge delay moot. Rodgers has already committed two turnovers in the first 19 minutes of this game.

Hello, Jermichael Finley!

October, 5, 2009

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS – Jermichael Finley, meet world. World, meet Jermichael Finley.

The Green Bay tight end, who many of us have touted as the second coming of Kellen Winslow, has finally emerged to make a huge impact in the first quarter of this game.

On his 62-yard touchdown reception, Finley ran past Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. Then he juked safety Tyrell Johnson. Finally, he lunged into the end zone with cornerback Cedric Griffin hanging onto his legs. That play was the modern-day definition of what a big-time tight end can bring.

Overall, Finley has three receptions for 82 yards here in the first quarter.

Smooth start for Favre

October, 5, 2009

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Interesting scene here during Minnesota’s first offensive drive. I don’t know if some people needed permanent proof of Brett Favre in a Vikings jersey, but camera flashes went off throughout the possession.

I thought it was notable that the Vikings called Adrian Peterson’s number on their first four plays, and five of their first six. Remember, those plays are scripted long before the game. So if Favre felt any heightened emotions as he jogged onto the field, the script allowed him to calm down before he had to make his first throw.

Frankly, Favre seemed collected throughout the drive, which he capped with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Favre completed all five of his passes on the possession.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- And we’re off. No quarterback had been sacked more in the first three weeks of this season than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. And on the 10th play Monday night, with his team approaching the red zone, Rodgers went down for the 13th time this season, losing a fumble in the process.

Same old story: Defensive end Brian Robison beat right tackle Allen Barbre, flushing Rodgers into defensive end Jared Allen, who beat left tackle Daryn Colledge. Allen ripped the ball from Rodgers’ hands as the pile crumpled to the ground.

We’ve all wondered how the Packers’ tackles would fare against Minnesota’s active defensive ends. So far, they’ve already allowed one big play to occur.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Just one person’s opinion on tonight’s Metrodome crowd: This isn’t the loudest I’ve heard it before a game, not by a long shot. I’m not sure if this is nervous crowd -- or perhaps drenched from today’s cold soaking -- but like everyone, I think fans here just want to get this game started.

In case you’re wondering, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers just shook hands and softly butted each other’s helmets during the opening coin toss. All is well.

I’ll be with you all night long. Let’s have a good one.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images; Joe Nicholson/US PRESSWIRE
Now that Brett Favre's divorce with the Packers is firmly in the rearview mirror and Aaron Rodgers has emerged as the apparent long-term quarterback, Favre and Packers Nation can move on.

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hype Week here in the NFC North was a dud. Fell flat. Totally ran aground. Sure, there was some roundabout talk of reven… er, “human nature” from quarterback Brett Favre. Otherwise, there was simply no evidence that anyone harbors much resentment stemming from last summer’s divorce between Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
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We media types tried. Oh, how we tried. Alas, no one bit. Frankly, the cordiality was sickening at times. But I suppose that’s what happens when everyone finds their happy place -- which is how I truly believe the Favre saga has ended. After the initial pain subsided, and rational analysis overtook raw emotion, this turn of events has worked out for everyone.

The Packers endured some short-term agony, but they also navigated a quarterback transition that historically has tripped up many franchises. A year later, Aaron Rodgers is among the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.

Favre not only landed on a team structured perfectly for this stage of his career, but also with a franchise that allowed him to define the parameters of their courtship. His arrival sparked Minnesota’s ticket sales, led to its first 3-0 start in five seasons and has excited local politicians who have thus far denied the team’s requests for a new stadium.

Immediate impact
Here's what happened on the Vikings' business side during the first three days after Brett Favre's arrival:
• More than 4,000 season tickets and 15,000 individual game tickets were sold.
• More than 5,000 Favre jerseys were sold.
• The team's web site had more than 1,000,000 visitors.
Even the league itself has benefited. Favre’s journey to Minnesota has transcended sports and crossed into celebrity journalism, drawing new eyes to the game. The Vikings’ Aug. 31 exhibition at Houston generated ESPN’s best preseason rating in 13 years, and Monday night’s showdown could be the highest-rated NFL game in the history of cable television.

“I feel good about where I am,” Favre said in a statement that could speak for all involved. “I feel very good about what I did in Green Bay those 16 years. I was not going to play there forever. I’ve said that over and over. You can’t take away the 16 years I spent there, and what I was fortunate enough to accomplish and the great teams I played on. You can’t take that away. But there is no afterthought, really.”

The Packers had the most at risk in this gambit. Favre had one of the best seasons of his career in 2007, and the team fell one step short of the Super Bowl. With a full nucleus returning, the Packers would have been a prime championship contender in 2008.

We could debate the he-said, she-said of Favre’s retirement decision for eternity. But one fact can’t be disputed: The Packers groomed Rodgers for three years and believed he was ready for the next step. The transition was going to come sometime, and I think ESPN’s Mike Tirico said it best: “It’s better to say goodbye too early rather than too late.”

Yes, I still think the chaos of Favre’s departure distracted the Packers last summer in training camp and played a role in their 6-10 season. But I attribute that to an error in timing, not in the content of the decision. Resolving Favre’s status before training camp should have been a higher priority, I believe, but it’s now quite clear that Rodgers was ready to take over.

Did he perform last year as well as Favre might have? We’ll never know. But as we discussed Saturday, Rodgers and the Packers have already done a better job of replacing Favre than most NFL teams have when bidding farewell to a future Hall of Famer.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Aaron Rodgers, a first-round pick in 2005, waited three seasons for his turn to start.
“There comes a time in everyone’s career and at an organization when you have to make those tough decisions,” said former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, who will join Tirico and Jon Gruden in the broadcast booth Monday night. “Where are you going to be three years from now and five years from now? If you look historically at teams that have been successful over a long period of time, they aren’t afraid to make those tough decisions.

“If you’re the Green Bay Packers and you have a guy like Aaron Rodgers -- who you believe is your guy that’s going to be your quarterback for the next 10 years -- and you’ve got a 39-year-old guy, it’s a tough decision but I believe it’s a decision that had to be made.”

You might say that another season of grooming wouldn’t have hurt Rodgers. But most football observers agree there is a diminishing return after two or three years of inaction.

“I’ve always felt in the development of a quarterback that once you get to play, that is really the last hurdle to get over,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Some individuals do and some don’t. I think when you talk about quarterbacks in their development and you make statements where you always knew he was going to be a great one, I’m not necessarily a believer in that. … We were always excited about [Rodgers’] talent and his ability. He showed a lot of promise in his limited opportunities playing behind Brett Favre. … You always felt good about the way he was developing, but truly you never know until you go through the games.”

While Rodgers slipped seamlessly into a starting role, compiling a 92.3 passer rating in his first 19 NFL starts, Favre found a team that couldn’t have catered any better to his needs. Upon arriving in Minnesota, Favre admitted: “I don’t think I am capable of making some of the plays I used to make.” But fortunately for him, the Vikings have a crew of receivers who can make plays on their own.

Favre’s average pass is traveling only 5.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, an unprecedented short distance relative to his career. (It also ranks No. 36 among NFL quarterbacks.) But his top targets -- Chester Taylor, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian -- are all excellent open-field runners who excel in gaining yards after the catch.

The Vikings spent years building a talent-laden roster but had been unable to match it with a stable, veteran quarterback. The situation was so ripe that coach Brad Childress hardly blinked when Favre passed on attending offseason workouts and then training camp. In fact, it was Childress who decided to resume his recruitment after training camp ended.

Where some might see a self-absorbed quarterback holding on to the last strands of his career, Childress has only seen a quarterback who brought, as he put it, “experience equity” and wants nothing more than to win a Super Bowl.

“It’s been a good process here,” Childress said. “He’s a consummate team guy. He’s got history. He’s got wins. He’s got a Super Bowl ring. He’s got money. He’s here to win. I don’t think anybody takes anything away from that. That’s what we’re all about.”

I compare this dynamic to childbirth. (Or what I imagine it must feel like.) There can be prolonged and excruciating pain. But eventually it fades away, leaving nothing but cooing and giggling in its place. I’d say we’re pretty darn close to the cooing stage by now.