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Christl/Baranczyk analysis: Peterson's big day not the end of the world

Dec. 3, 2012
 

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Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) gets by Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward on a third-quarter run Sunday at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

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Adrian Petersonís 210 yards rushing was the third highest total the Green Bay Packers have allowed since the National Football League began keeping statistics 80 years ago. Only Touchdown Tommy Wilson in 1956 and Greg Bell in 1989 Ė both of the Los Angeles Rams ó gained more.

Considering that a week earlier the New York Giants pounded the Packers for 147 yards on the ground, it would appear that the Packersí defensive staff has one more brushfire to put out for them to have a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February.

But at the moment, if thatís so, that brushfire is barely smoldering.

No. 1, while coaches still emphasize it, itís no longer imperative to have a staunch run defense to win the Super Bowl. With the start of interleague play in 1970, 30 of 36 Super Bowl winners through the 2005 season ranked in the top 10 in rushing defense and 22 of those 30 ranked in the top five. Over the last six seasons, four of the Super Bowl winners ranked in the bottom half in rushing defense, including the last three: New Orleans (21st), the Packers (18th) and the Giants (19th). In 2006, Indianapolis ranked last and won it all.

No. 2, the Packersí defensive effort was much better against Minnesota than against the Giants. Peterson gained 153 of his yards on three runs. On the other 18, he gained 57 yards, a mere 3.2 average.

Granted, thatís a statement that invites ridicule. To quote an old saw, ďYeah, and if a worm had hips, he could use six-guns and shoot the birds out of trees.Ē

Whatís more, the Packers have some issues on defense.

They greatly miss Clay Matthews. And their tackling has been terrible at times. So much has been made of Cullen Jenkinsí departure last year and Charles Woodsonís absence for the past five games. But other than the recent, presumably short-term loss of Matthews, the biggest blow by far that the Packers have suffered on defense since winning the Super Bowl two years ago was losing Nick Collins.

Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, even Jerron McMillian and Woodson ó none of them compare to Collins when it comes to filling on the run, breaking down and being a sure tackler.

But back to Peterson and Sundayís game. While itís a half-full rather than half-empty assessment, the Packers contained him on 86 percent of his carries and thatís not a bad body of work against one of the great backs of all time.

Run defense

On Petersonís 82-yard run, the Vikings lined up with two tight ends but no wide receiver to the right. Against that alignment, unless the defensive call was outside the norm, the cornerback on that side would have contain. But Tramon Williams didnít run up to fill the gap. He allowed the right guard to pull and block him four yards up-field. That prevented the inside backers from having enough time to scrape. Then Burnett and Jennings both missed tackles.

If Williams would have attacked the play and pulled the guard out along the line of scrimmage, it might have given A.J. Hawk a better chance to get there, although he got turned by the fullback, and Burnett a better shot at Peterson.

On Petersonís 48-yard run at the start of the second half, the tackling again was atrocious. It started with Mike Neal and Hawk whiffing when they were slow to get off blocks, and then Burnett, Brad Jones and McMillian not wrapping up on tackles in that order.

Burnett had two interceptions, but he had a rough day tackling.

On Petersonís 23-yard run, Jones got blown up in the hole by the fullback and Hawk wasnít nifty enough to get through the trash. On the backside, McMillian took a bad angle and took himself out of the play.

But those plays aside, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, as usual, maintained the line of scrimmage, and Neal was an improvement after he replaced Jerel Worthy. Worthyís game is quickness. Neal is bigger, stronger and can put his head in the blockerís chest and hold his ground.

At inside linebacker, Jones was driven into the ground on one of Petersonís runs and missed a tackle on another, but he did enough where he filled gaps and was in the hole. Heís certainly more physical than Hawk. Like the Giants last week, it appeared the Vikings picked out Hawk and ran what they call an ďisoĒ play where the fullback led through the hole and blocked him.

Hawk takes on that lead blocker, but he almost never blows him up. What you want from that backer is to light up the fullback at the line, so thereís no crease for the back.

Overall, the Packers had good gap responsibility and didnít over-pursue, which usually are keys to stopping a back like Peterson. They just failed to finish three plays.

How many times did Petersonís feet stop behind the line? Thatís usually a sure sign of good run defense. But Peterson is rare in that when he does it, the play isnít over.

Don Barclay

His performance was certainly serviceable, especially in the running game. Sometimes players do better when theyíre thrown into the fire than they do when they have all week to think about it and get nervous. But when T.J. Lang comes back, itís hard to believe the Packers wonít at least consider keeping Barclay at tackle and putting Lang back at guard.

Evan Dietrich-Smith is no better than Barclay. He has bad feet and bad hands. So why not play Barclay? For instance, on James Starksí 22-yard touchdown, Barclay didnít block a soul. The defender messed up by trying to avoid him and taking an inside pursuit angle when he should have gone outside.

But give Barclay some credit. He was out there leading the play. That has been a problem for the Packers going back to the last years of Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, and still is with Marshall Newhouse ó getting the tackles out to the second level.

Barclay isnít likely to improve the big picture. Newhouse is still going to have good feet, but bad hands. Thatís why he overextends in pass pro Ė to compensate for it. Jeff Saturday is still going to be 37. But itís not like the Packers made drastic changes to help Barclay.

They did what youíd expect after the Giantsí game. They ran more pro set or some version of it with John Kuhn and also used Kuhn as their third-down back for blocking purposes. They had a tight end on the line or in the backfield all the time. And they kicked up the three-step game with Aaron Rodgers. One, two, three and the ball was gone.

Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

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