Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The 53 - Packers Tie the Vikings at Lambeau Field

The Green Bay Packers lead their all-time series with the Minnesota Vikings 56-49-1 following their win over the Vikings in their last ever visit to The Humpty.  The Vikings were 2-8 heading into their corresponding match up with the Packers at Lambeau Field.  The inactives for the Packers against the Vikings were: Don Barclay (T, knee), Chris Harper (WR, healthy scratch), Johnny Jolly (DL, groin), Nate Palmer (LB, healthy scratch), Nick Perry (LB, foot), Aaron Rodgers (QB, broken collarbone), and Sam Shields (CB, hamstring).

Quarterback Scott Tolzien scored on a scramble to put the Packers up 7-0 in the first quarter.  After that Tolzien was mostly ineffective and was ultimately replaced by Matt Flynn early in the 3rd quarter.  The Vikings scored 23 unanswered points to lead 23-7 early in the 4th quarter.  Luckily Flynn engineered three scoring drives and the defense finally held the Vikings in check in the 4th quarter to force overtime.

The Packers won the toss and elected to receive to start overtime.  Thanks to a long completion from Flynn to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, the Packers had a first and goal from the seven yard line on their initial drive of overtime.  If the Packers scored a touchdown they would have won the game.  Unfortunately the Packers could only muster a field goal to go up 26-23. For a great breakdown of whether Packers head coach Mike McCarthy should have gone for it on 4th and goal from the 2-yard line, check out the end of Bill Barnwell's post yesterday for Grantland.com.

The Vikings matched the Packers with a field goal on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 26-26.  After trading 3-and-outs, the Packers got the ball back with two minutes left.  After picking up a couple first downs, the drive stalled out and the Packers were forced to punt with seven second left in overtime.  Ultimately the game ended in a tie, which was the first tie for the Packers since September 20, 1987 against the Denver Broncos at County Stadium.

Even though the Packers were starting a backup quarterback, with their playoff hopes on life support they should beat a Vikings team with a 2-8 record and Christan Ponder as their starting quarterback.  Here are my updated rankings of The 53 and thoughts on certain players following the Packers/Vikings tie at Lambeau:

The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2) 
3. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 3)
4. Josh Sitton (G, LR 4)
5. T.J. Lang (G, LR 5)
6. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 7)
7. James Jones (WR, LR 6)
8. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 8)
9. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 9)
10. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 10)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 11)
12. Sam Shields (CB, LR 12)
13. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 15)
14. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 13)
15. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 14)
16. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 16)
17. Davon House (CB, LR 17)
18. Datone Jones (DL, LR 18)
19. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 19)
20. Don Barclay (T, LR 20)
21. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 22)
22. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 24)
23. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 23)
24. Tim Masthay (P, LR 25)
25. Jerel Worthy (DE, LR N/A)
26. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 26)
27. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 27)
28. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 28)
29. Matt Flynn (QB, LR 43)
30. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 29)
31. Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 30)
32. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 31)
33. Mason Crosby (K, LR 32)
34. James Starks (RB, LR 33)
35. Brett Goode (LS, LR 34)
36. John Kuhn (FB, LR 35)
37. Derek Sherrod (T, LR 36)
38. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 37)
39. Jonathan Franklin (RB, LR 38)
40. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 39)
41. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 40)
42. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 41)
43. Sean Richardson (S, LR N/A)
44. Chris Banjo (S, LR 44)
45. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 42)
46. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 45)
47. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 46) 
48. Myles White (WR, LR 48)
49. Lane Taylor (G, LR 49)
50. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 50)
51. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 52)
52. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 47)
53. Chris Harper (WR, LR 51)
Physically Unable to Perform
1. JC Tretter (T)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Jermichael Finley (TE)
2. Bryan Bulaga (T)
3. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 16)
4. DuJuan Harris (RB)
5. Robert Francois (MLB)
6. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
7. Sam Barrington (LB)
8. Seneca Wallace (QB)
9. James Nixon (CB, LR 53)
10. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
11. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, Buccaneers)
#2) Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2): After suffering a Bennet's fracture against the Detroit Lions, Matthews missed the next four games and consequently the defense struggled.  When Matthews returned against the Eagles he was completely ineffective wearing a club that looked like an illegal weapon.  After arguing with the medical staff, Claymaker was able to wear a modified cast the last two weeks that let him use the rest of his fingers.  After registering two sacks and two tackles for a loss against the Vikings, it looks like Claymaker is close to finally be his old self.  Claymaker's game is predicated on using his hands effectively so I expect to see Matthews to continue to improve as he gets more use of his hands.
#6) Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 7): My affinity for Lacy continues to grow.  Lacy had 25 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown to go along with six catches for 48 yards against the Vikings before missing most part of overtime due to an asthma attack. That stat line is impressive for sure but it is the runs like his four yard run on 4th and 1 at the Minnesota 27-yard line when the Packers were trailing 23-13 that show how valuable Lacy is to the team.  On that particular play, Lacy was stuffed for a two yard loss that he turned into a four yard gain.  If Lacy doesn't pick up that first down, the game is over.  Luckily the Packers finally have a physical running back, which they haven't had since Ahman Green left town the first time. 

#8) B.J. Raji (DL, LR 8): I forgot to mention when breaking down whether to extend Raji what happened to another (former) Packer that turned down a big money deal to ultimately sign for less elsewhere in the end.  Going into the 2012 season wide receiver Greg Jennings reportedly turned down a deal worth $11 million a year. After an injury riddle season, Jennings hurt his market value and ultimately signed a five-year, $45 million contract with $18 million guaranteed with the Minnesota Vikings.  I get that Raji wants to test the free agent market but I would be surprised if he tops the $8 million a year offer the Packers currently have on the table.  Especially when you factor in that Raji is supposed to be the run stuffer for the defense but the run defense has been horrible for the last month.  Even when teams are in obvious running situations teams are still able to hand the ball off and shove the ball down the defense's throat.  Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is an all-time great so I am not surprised that he gained 146 yards on 32 carries and scored a touchdown on the ground but allowing backup running back Toby Gerhart (eight carries for 91 yards) to almost eclipse 100-yards is unacceptable.  One player does not make an entire rush defense but Raji's case for signing a big money deal this off-season continues to diminish as the Packers run defense continues to struggle.

#16) A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 16): I am not sure whether I've floated my "ultimate challenge theory" in this space before. The broad strokes are that every game each team gets one challenge on any aspect of any play.  Let's say a team thinks the refs made a questionable pass interference call on 3rd and 10 that resulted in a 40-yard gain for the offense. That might be the biggest play of the game but since you cannot challenge pass interference, the play would stand.  The head coach of the team on defense could use his "ultimate challenge" to have the refs review whether they made the right call.  I know this would end up being controversial but let's take an example from the Packers/Vikings game to illuminate why this would be useful. Hawk clearly grabbed the face mask of Peterson to slow him before knocking the ball loose early in the second quarter with the Vikings trailing 7-3.  Every turnover in the NFL is reviewed but when the refs reviewed that play they have to ignore that they missed a blatant face mask penalty.  If Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frasier had an "ultimate challenge" he could ask the refs to determine whether Hawk committed a face mask penalty.  In this instance the Vikings would have retained possession where Peterson was tackled at the Green Bay 44-yard line.  When you add on the face mask penalty, the Vikings would have had a 1st and 10 at the Green Bay 29-yard line instead the Packers getting the ball at their own 45-yard line.  Don't tell me this slows the game down too much because each team would only have one opportunity a game.  Plus it would add another set of controversies to each game, which the EPSN's of the world would love.  Did Frazier use the "ultimate challenge" too early?  If Frazier didn't use the challenge and no other play was deemed worthy he would get even more heat.  I hope the NFL competition committee just read my thoughts because I see no downside other than highlighting more errors by refs, which we know happens a number of times each game already.

24. Tim Masthay (P, LR 25): The conventional wisdom goes that as the weather gets colder, kickers and punters struggle more.  Since the Packers were unable to move the ball on offense for large stretches of the game, the Packers were forced to punt eight times against the Vikings.  Masthay averaged 40.8 yards per punt with two of the punts getting downed inside the five-yard line.  If Masthay's performance is any indication of how he is going to punt the rest of the season then the Packers are in for a treat.  While we are here, one other special teams related note.  After Eddie Lacy's touchdown run in the 4th quarter, the Packers trailed 23-13 with 11:42 left to play.  Head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for two points.  I still support McCarthy's decision despite the fact that the Packers did not convert.  I know that it mean Mason Crosby's field goal with less than a minute to go tied the game at 23 instead of giving the Packers a 24-23 win but McCarthy was actually following the correct decision process.  The Packers were struggling on offense and defense at that point so the thinking does that the Packers would have a hard time getting two stops and two scores.  Ultimately McCarthy and I were wrong since that is exactly what the Packers did but after McCarthy decided to punt last week against the Giants down 14 points with a little less than nine minutes to play, I like that he was aggressive this time around.  Any regular reads of this space know that I am very critical of McCarthy's in-game decision making process so when he makes a correct decision I have to give him his due.  Let's not confuse thought process and result.

#29) Matt Flynn (QB, LR 43): For the first time in a long time I got together with my buddies Fernando, Sug, and UP to watch the game at Sug's house.  Before the game started Sug asked if quarterback Scott Tolzien was ineffective should head coach Mike McCarthy turn to backup quarterback Matt Flynn.  I was firmly in the Tolzien camp.  Although Tolzien was cut by the San Francisco 49ers before the start of the season, the Packers have had Tolzien on the practice squad or The 53 since opening day while the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills thought so little of Flynn that they cut him despite having quarterback issues.  As it turns out I was wrong. As the late great Jerry Orbach said in Dirty Dancing, "When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong".  Flynn completed 21 of  his 36 attempts for 218 yards and a touchdown in relief of Tolzien to keep the Packers in contention to win the NFC North.  After Flynn's performance against the Vikings I am not sure how the Raiders and Bills thought so little of Flynn that they cut him but luckily for the Packers they have Flynn on The 53 and absent injury it looks like he is the guy until Rodgers returns.

#31) Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 30): There is no question that Tolzien is a hard worker.  There were reports that Tolzien essentially lived at the team facilities for the 49ers last year and the Packers this year.  I guess the fact that Tolzien threw for 339 yards against the Giants last week clouded my judgment because Tolzien struggled against the Vikings.  Despite rushing for a touchdown to put the Packers up 7-0, Tolzien was merely 7 for 17 throwing for 98 yards before getting pulled early in the 3rd quarter in favor of Flynn.  Absent injury I would be shocked if Tolzien saw the field again in 2013 but given his work ethic I would like to see the Packers keep Tolzien on The 53 in 2014 to see if he can develop into a quality backup that can perform in a pinch.

#43) Sean Richardson (S, LR N/A): Last week I gave an in-depth look at their impending free agents.  The one aspect I didn't cover was the overall positional depth of The 53.  In taking a look over The 53 for the Packers they really only have two glaring needs: tight end and safety.  The Packers were hoping that activating safety Sean Richardson from the physically unable to perform list would help fill one of those two voids but it is too early to tell whether Richardson filled one of those voids.

#45) Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 42): Over the last three games Newhouse has surrendered 3 sacks.  I presume Barclay will not be able to play on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions since he missed the Vikings game so let me reiterate for the 47th time that I think the Packers should give Sherrod a chance at right tackle ahead of Newhouse.  Worst case, Sherrod struggles.  Best case, Sherrod thrives and the Packers have to decide whether Barclay or Sherrod is their right tackle for the rest of the season once Barclay is healthy.

The NFC North struggled in Week 12.  The Chicago Bears lost on the road to the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions lost at home to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Through three quarters a tie would have felt like a victory for the Packers but after the fourth quarter and overtime, a tie against the Vikings felt like a loss.  Luckily due to the struggles of the Bears and Lions, the Packers only trail each of them by a half game with five games to play.

The Packers have a short week this week since they play the Lions on Thanksgiving.  Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin left the game with an apparent concussion and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson suffered what looked like a serious leg injury so I would be surprised to see either of those guys play against the Lions.  When you add in that the Packers already had five players inactive against the Vikings due to injury, the Packers could be hard pressed to field a healthy 46-man roster against the Lions.  If that's the case, why not make Rodgers the emergency quarterback?  That means if Rodgers plays before the fourth quarter, Flynn and Tolzien cannot re-enter the game.  I am obviously worried about the long-term ramifications of bringing Rodgers back too early but given the circumstances, the risk might be worth the reward. 

If the Packers make any changes to The 53 I will have a full breakdown, otherwise check back after the Packers/Lions game for full coverage.

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