Rodgers, Packers' offense clicking again
GREEN BAY – Mike Zimmer gave Aaron Rodgers everything he had Sunday.
There were linebacker blitzes, safety blitzes, green-dog blitzes, double-A gap blitzes, zero blitzes, zone blitzes, just about any kind of blitz you could name. He threw man and zone coverage, single safety and Cover 2 and some others maybe only the crafty Minnesota Vikings head coach can name.
The Vikings aren’t the same defense they were the first five weeks of the season, but they are still good enough to hold the Packers to 40 yards rushing (2.7 average) and sack Rodgers four times. They were a better defense than a week ago simply with the return of Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith from an ankle injury.
But right now the Green Bay Packers' offense has the same look it had during its most recent Super Bowl season and the quarterback’s two MVP years.
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“He’s a great coach and he has a great football mind, and they threw a lot at us,” Rodgers said of Zimmer after the Packers dispatched of the Vikings 38-25 at Lambeau Field. “They got us a few times on some pressures we hadn’t seen and (we had) some communication issues.
“To put up 38 points on a defense like this, you take a lot of pride in that.”
In a game the Packers needed to maintain control of their future within the NFC North, Rodgers completed 28 of 38 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns. He connected with receiver Jordy Nelson nine times for 154 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Brett Favre's and Antonio Freeman’s franchise record for touchdown connections (58) with the first of the two scores.
Rodgers kept taking advantage of the single coverage Zimmer afforded him with all those blitzes and when he wasn’t hitting Nelson for big gains, he was connecting with Geronimo Allison (four catches for 66 yards), Davante Adams (four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown), Richard Rodgers (two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown) and Jared Cook (three catches for 37 yards).
His ailing right calf in much better condition than it was two weeks ago, Rodgers ducked and dodged and spun around his offensive line’s blocks, buying enough time to slice up the NFL’s No. 3-rated pass defense to the tune of 18 passing first downs and 9.13 yards per attempt.
In Week 2, the Packers threw for 180 yards and 10 passing first downs while scoring just 14 points at U.S. Bank Stadium. This time, they scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives and four of seven in the first half.
“We’re improving as an offense,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’ve gotten some balance back. We’ve been able to run the football more, just frankly, from an attempts standpoint. I thought we did a very good job today.
“But today even with that extra passing game, I think you’re seeing more of a flow to our offense.”
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Until Saturday, nobody had thrown for more than 261 yards or completed more than 25 passes or thrown more than two touchdown passes against the Vikings' defense. Even last week in a 34-6 Vikings' loss at home to Indianapolis, the Colts managed just 250 yards passing.
The Packers, however, entered the game having climbed from 22nd in rushing at the start of their four-game winning streak to 15th after their 226-yard game against Chicago last week and it allowed them to run play action that actually drew linebackers out of pass coverage.
Then, despite missing slot receiver Randall Cobb, who sat out due to a lingering ankle injury, the Packers attacked the Vikings’ secondary with everything they had. Instead of sticking with the same guys on the field in a no-huddle look, McCarthy ran players on and off the field as though he were changing hockey lines on the fly.
“Did some new things, some wrinkles, but really it was the execution of the players,” McCarthy said. “We did some really good things, and frankly, we made some mistakes in protection that resulted in sacks for them.
“Excellent defense, excellent players, excellent scheme. It was a challenge, and I thought our guys played very well.”
Unlike midseason when it seemed like Rodgers was enamored with scrambling and Nelson couldn’t run past anybody and Davante Adams was up and down and the tight ends were a non-factor, the current Packers have more options than they know what to do with.
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Nelson is back to being the favored target, but Rodgers kept hitting big plays to some of his other targets.
He got Adams in single coverage against cornerback Trae Waynes and connected on a 20-yard touchdown to make it 14-3 in the first quarter. He completed a 32-yard pass to Allison — who had one catch in the previous five games — to help set up a touchdown at the end of the first half.
He spotted Cook one-on-one with Waynes on first and 20 in the fourth quarter and connected with him on a 30-yard pass. He had Cook open on the other side of the field a few plays later, but spotted Richard Rodgers down the middle and hit him for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 38-13 midway through the fourth quarter.
“I’ve been saying ever since I got here, if we’re clicking on all cylinders and we put it in our minds we can accomplish something, I don’t feel like anybody can stop us,” Cook said. “When we’re good, all around, it’s hard for teams to be right.”
Rodgers, who was sacked four times, hit another six times and suffered a neck stinger that sent a burning sensation down his left shoulder, is the one orchestrating it all, just like he did during those Super Bowl and MVP seasons.
He even turned a first and goal at the 6-yard line into a 20-yard scramble that ended with him juking cornerback Xavier Rhodes near the goal-line on his way into the end zone.
Rodgers is healthy again and, so it appears, is the offense. The Packers are going to need every bit of what they presented Saturday to win the division next week in Detroit and go where they ultimately want to go.
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“We’re just taking care of the ball, getting in a rhythm, feeding off of each other’s energy,” Adams said. “Jordy is playing great and then that gets everybody else – when we score early – it kind of gets the juices flowing and the defense gets out there and has that confidence.
“They don’t have to play with their back up against the wall like they had to do in some of these other games earlier in the season. When it’s all coming together and (we’re) playing a complete game as a team, then it’s pretty tough to stop.”