Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar, left, and safety Charlie Peprah upend Vikings running back Adrian Peterson during the second quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. The Packers seem to be better against the run with Peprah at safety instead of rookie Morgan Burnett. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
There are a few critical positions in the National Football League where you canít hide players.
Quarterback is one.
Left tackle is another, as the Green Bay Packers were mercilessly reminded when Chad Clifton missed both games against the Minnesota Vikings last year, and they gave up 14 sacks, including 7Ĺ to Jared Allen.
Cornerback is yet a third as the Vikings learned again Sunday night. The Packers exploited the Vikingsí injury-depleted cornerback corps with their three- and four-wide receiver sets, including three plays for 101 yards that Greg Jennings and James Jones made against rookie nickel back Chris Cook in the first quarter that set the tone for their 28-24 victory.
But the old axiom in the NFL is there isnít much that separates the vast majority of players in the league and, therefore, most are easily replaceable. A big factor in the Packers taking the lead then holding onto it in the second half was some gritty performances and even some big plays provided by their injury replacements.
The Packers missed Ryan Pickett. He was hurting so badly he hardly could get out of his stance on the first two series, but they were both three-and-outs for the Packersí defense. The Vikings were double-teaming him and B.J. Raji, and that freed up a linebacker. As the game went on without Pickett, the Vikings rarely double-teamed the down linemen. But the Packersí replacements got better and made some nice plays late in the game.
C.J. Wilson played off blocks on consecutive plays on the Vikingsí final possession to hold Adrian Peterson to gains of 2 and 1 yard. Earlier, he also hit Brett Favre on Desmond Bishopís interception. Jarius Wynn got a sack, albeit somewhat of a coverage sack, that was another big play on that last series. What was impressive was the Packers were so thin on the defensive line that those guys were gassed and getting blown off the ball at times, but they had enough resolve to make those plays.
On Bishopís interception, he played it perfectly. He was between the quarterback and receiver, stepped in front of it and was off to the races. That was the game-winning play. With Bishop and A.J. Hawk, the balls hit them in the stomach on their interceptions. But give them credit; they made the plays. And they made some other good plays, too, but youíd like to see both of them attack the line of scrimmage more. If you watched E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway, the Vikingsí linebackers, those guys run upfield and hit the gaps.
Charlie Peprahís play on that screen pass to Percy Harvin on the first series was a thing of beauty. He ran through a blocker and made the tackle. He also had a breakup on a pass to Harvin on the final series.
On the third-and-1 post to Harvin for 37 yards, Peprah and Nick Collins bit on the play fake. But Peprah was the one that should have been giving help to the inside. Without safety help, there wasnít anything Charles Woodson could do. Brett Favre could throw it wherever he wanted. All it had to be was out in front of the receiver and it was going to be completed.
But the Packers are a better team against the run with Peprah than they were with Morgan Burnett, and thatís huge when youíre playing against Peterson.
Aaron Rodgers wasnít pressured the entire game. The tackles, Clifton and Bryan Bulaga, were outstanding in pass protection. There wasnít much push inside, either. The Vikingsí front four isnít what it used to be. Considering his struggles early, itís almost as if Clifton has come back from the dead. And Bulagaís upper-body strength is impressive for a rookie. There were a couple of times he just stood up Ray Edwards.
The tackles were good in the running game, too. The Packers ran better in the B-gap, or outside their guards, than inside their guards. Daryn Colledge and Scott Wells, and Josh Sitton and Wells did a nice job on combo blocks. The draw is a tricky play to block, and the Packers ran that well. Wells got blown up by Pat Williams a couple of times, and he doesnít blow anybody up. But he has good feet and can turn his hips, so the guard can get off the double-team and block the defensive end or outside backer.
Jackson is like a bad beer. The more you drink it, the more you like it. Heís getting better at picking holes, and heís making guys miss.
He made two game-changing plays in the fourth quarter. The interception was obvious. That was an awesome play. But another play that might have gone unnoticed was Collinsí tackle on Peterson on the second play of the final series. Collins got enough of Petersonís legs to hold him to 11 yards. Peterson was within an eyelash of breaking that run for what might have been a 78-yard touchdown.
Rodgers wasnít anything special, but the Packers clearly have the better quarterback. He plays a safer game, and he makes more plays with his feet.
That used to be Favreís game. When he got out of the pocket, it was big-play time. Now, thereís just not enough gas left in his tank to make those plays.
Cliff Christl is a former Packers writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Eric Baranczyk is a former player and coach at the high school and collegiate level.