Last spring the Minnesota Vikings signed defensive tackle Linval Joseph from the New York Giants for a five-year contract that averages $6.25 million a year and included $12.5 million guaranteed.
That's big money, and even though Joseph isn't a Pro Bowl-level interior defensive lineman, he's a good player and huge man (6-feet-4, 323 pounds) signed to anchor the middle of the Vikings' defensive line.
So what does it tell you that with the game on the line, the Green Bay Packers ran the ball right up the middle five straight times, picked up two first downs and ran out the final 3 minutes, 23 seconds of their 24-21 win over the Vikings?
It tells you that Corey Linsley, the Packers' rookie center, deserves all the good publicity he's been getting the last few weeks.
That final series Sunday was a crowning moment for the Packers' offensive line, because it helped run out the clock even though the Vikings knew halfback Eddie Lacy was getting the ball. The interior of the Packers' line was especially good on that series, which says a lot for guards Josh Sitton (torn ligament in big toe) and T.J. Lang (sprained ankle), who are playing through lower-leg injuries that are visibly hindering them.
Try pushing a truck with either of those injuries and you'll get an idea of what they're going through on the field.
But while the Packers' line as a whole did the tough job that final series, in reviewing the video it's difficult to overlook Linsley's blocking against Joseph. Overall, the Packers had a non-descript day offensively, and Joseph won plenty of his battles – he slipped Linsley's blocks several times on the way to making four tackles. But with the game on the line, Linsley won decisively.
On four of the five runs to end the game, Linsley moved Joseph anywhere from two to five yards, even though Linsley (301 pounds) was giving up more than 20 pounds. He could do it because he has excellent upper-body strength and as a rookie is showing attention to detail in his techniques.
On first down, a Lacy run to the left, Linsley pushed Joseph back at least two yards, and Lacy cut back right off Linsley's backside for a three-yard gain. If Joseph gets a stalemate, that run goes for nothing.
On second down, Linsley knocked back Joseph four or five yards and dropped him on his back. Basically a pancake. Lacy also got a good block from fullback John Kuhn and ran behind Linsley for a big five-yard gain.
That left third-and-2 with the game on the line. Short enough where the Vikings had to defend run and pass. Coach Mike Zimmer went with his signature double-A gap look, with linebackers Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway lined up over each of Linsley's shoulders, Joseph between right guard and tackle. Linsley knocked back Barr two yards, Lang drove back Greenway the same, and Lacy plowed right behind them for an easy four yards and huge first down.
On each of the next two plays, Linsley pushed back Joseph three yards, the rest of the line got some push as well, and Lacy picked up five yards, then 10 yards for the game-clinching first down.
Yes, having a power back such as Lacy is a huge edge when trying to run out the clock. But just as important was the Packers winning the battle in the interior of the line with the Vikings knowing what was coming. The last time the Packers had a center who run blocked like this was Frank Winters.
PERRY ON THE RUN
Nick Perry's absence Sunday showed how important he is to the Packers moving Clay Matthews to inside linebacker.
Perry didn't play because of a shoulder injury. It showed in the Packers' run defense, because Perry has been their best run defender at outside linebacker.
The Vikings didn't have a huge day rushing – running backs Jerick McKinnon and Joe Banyard combined for 80 yards on 20 carries. But giving up a 4.0-yard average can't be considered a success against an offense that came into the game ranked No. 30 in the NFL in yards, No. 28 in points, and with scattershot throwing rookie Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.
With Perry out, Mike Neal and rookie Jayrone Elliott split the snaps at outside linebacker opposite Julius Peppers. Perry (265 pounds) doesn't weigh quite as much as Neal, who's listed at 285 pounds but probably is a few pounds lighter. But Perry plays the run better because he's thicker through the haunches and thus stronger holding the point of attack. He's able to keep his shoulders square to the line and not give up ground as he works to the outside.
Elliott, in his first extensive playing time of the season (19 snaps), showed glimpses of the quickness and motor that won him a roster spot in training camp as an undrafted rookie. He drew a facemask penalty when he beat left tackle Matt Kalil with an outside rush in the third quarter. But against the run Elliott took himself out of plays.
The Packers face a huge challenge playing the New England Patriots, who are the NFL's top-scoring team. It will be that much tougher if Perry misses a second straight game.
NOT SO BAD
Bad games by quarterbacks might tell you as much about them as good ones.
When Aaron Rodgers has what's considered a bad game he misses a couple tough throws downfield, passes for only 209 yards, doesn't throw an interception, and his team wins 24-21. When Eli Manning has a bad day, he throws three or four or five interceptions and the New York Giants lose badly.