Green Bay Packers 42
Minnesota Vikings 10
The Packers wrapped up a vicious stretch of three games in eleven days by taking on back to back divisional foes over a five day span. Green Bay came into the Windy City with a 1-2 record and a very restless Packer nation. The performance that followed on Sunday and continued in a home tilt the following Thursday against Minnesota restored some sense of order for the Packers and the NFC North. Here are my combined Pick 6 for weeks 4 and 5.
1. Weekly ILB Check – It’s no secret that I’ve been keeping a close eye on the inside linebacker play. It appears that the play of Jamari Lattimore will keep him in the driver’s seat as the starting inside linebacker alongside A.J. Hawk. Brad Jones, as a full participant against the Minnesota Vikings, played just seven snaps in week 5, all of which came in garbage time. Speaking of Hawk, after having been critical of his pass defense through the first three weeks, he has been absolutely excellent in Green Bay’s recent winning streak. Since the beginning of the Bears game, Hawk has been targeted seven times, allowing four receptions for 15 yards (!!!!) and one pass defended. Their play has been significant in the resurgence of a Green Bay defense that has allowed 19, 17 and 10 points over the last three games.
2. R-E-L-A-X – One of the few people not concerned about the 1-2 start was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who asked all of Packer nation to relax on his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde. The play on the field over the last two games backed up the mantra – 34 of 45 (75.56%) for 458 yards, 7 TD and 0 INT. As long as Rodgers receives the time in the pocket he needs and can improvise successfully when plays break down, expect the Packers to keep winning. It’s that simple.
3. A Rousing Debut – Green Bay activated wide-bodied Luther Robinson on game day against the Vikings last Thursday. His overall body of work left a little to be desired (a -2.1 overall rating in 36 snaps, via Pro Football Focus) but he made an impact play rarely seen by the Green Bay defensive line this year, applying late pressure to Christian Ponder that caused the Julius Peppers pick six. Expect the quality of Robinson’s play to improve, and he may prove to be the younger version of veteran Howard Green, who played a similar role in Green Bay’s march to Super Bowl XLV in 2010.
4. Secondary Improvement – Two pieces of the Green Bay secondary that have struggled with either injury or mediocrity over the past year seem to have awakened from their slumber, at least momentarily, against the Vikings last Thursday. Following a rookie year in 2012 where he was one of the top cover corners in the league, nickel back Casey Hayward battled constant injury in his sophomore season and was never able to make an impact. Early 2014 seemed to follow the same negative trend, but against Minnesota, Hayward was targeted three times, allowing zero catches with two passes defended.
On the same token, starting safety Morgan Burnett may have played his best game in a Packers uniform, accounting for a forced fumble, 3 receptions on 4 targets for just 25 yards, 8 total tackles and 5 run “stops”. He played with a speed to the ball that we’ve rarely seen from him, and if that level of play can continue, expect the level of play of the entire defense to come along with it.
5. Spicy Peppers – Those who bash Ted Thompson for his lack of activity in free agency may have a point, but they’ll have a hard time attacking the quality of the ones that have made it to the green and gold. Just as Woodson and Pickett were mainstays through the Super Bowl year, Julius Peppers has found himself right at home in a Packer uniform. Though the Vikings game was not his strongest overall performance of the season, he looked incredibly athletic in returning an interception for a touchdown and currently stands as the #11 overall outside linebacker (and #6 pass rush linebacker) in the NFL, per the Pro Football Focus rankings.
6. A Look Ahead – The Packers will travel to Miami to take on former Green Bay coach Joe Philbin and the Dolphins. Miami has a run game that will press the interior of the Green Bay defense, but the Packer passing game should be able to press the deep middle of Miami’s defense. Expect the game to be close until the end, and the deciding factor to be whether or not the Green Bay offensive line can keep Rodgers clean from defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
The Miami game will allow another opportunity for the Packers to prove that they have turned the corner and can play at a high level on the road against an unfamiliar opponent. With three games to go until the bye, winning two of three would put the Packers in an excellent position to win the North and even chase a first round bye.