Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' playoff loss to the Packers
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in an NFC wild-card playoff game on Saturday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Christian Ponder's late scratch left Joe Webb (62 snaps) with a difficult job -- but one he's paid to handle. Instead, he turned in a pitiful performance that only was exacerbated by OC Bill Musgrave's puzzling abandonment of the read-option plays that gave Webb a prayer on the opening drive. He was 7-of-24 passing for 61 yards until the last two series, when the Packers dropped coverage to allow a 50-yard touchdown and Webb upped his total to 180 yards on 11-of-30 passing (36.7%). He looked lost as ever in the Vikings' base offense and the Packers largely contained his scrambling, too -- at times employing as many as three spies to contain him, rather than trying to rush. He stepped backward into a strip-sack by ROLB Clay Matthews in 3.0 seconds on fourth-and-3 and wandered into another sack in 3.9 seconds. He threw late on a deep ball CB Sam Shields picked off along the sideline. He missed badly on several intermediate and deep throws, including three in a row before halftime. He almost served up another interception on a throwaway toward the line of scrimmage and was called for intentional grounding when he failed to get another back to the line. Only one of seven passes on third downs led to a conversion. Webb was at his best outside the pocket on bootlegs and other pass plays with designed movement -- but even there, he seemed confused about where to go with the football. He ran for 68 yards, including read-option keepers for 17 and 5 yards. They ran three of those plays on the efficient opening series and only three the rest of the game, even though the average gain was 10.8 yards and five went for first downs. The Packers were sealing the backside to take away the keeper, but so what? The odds were better there than having Webb hurl another bomb to nowhere. He targeted a dozen passes at least 10 yards downfield and only hit on one before the Packers called off the dogs. There's blame to go around, for sure, but coaches will have regrets about the approach here.
Running backs (3½)
The Packers finally got things right with their run defense, save for those plays they hadn't seen. HB Adrian Peterson (56 snaps) gained 43 yards on four read-option handoffs (10.8 average) and 56 yards on his other 18 carries combined (3.1 average). Green Bay put a safety in the box on 72.6% of the snaps, held their gaps to spill Peterson horizontally and took away the cutback lanes he'd exploited in the first two meetings. Peterson did what he could, forcing five missed tackles and gaining 65 yards after contact (65.7%). The closest he came to busting was a big one was the last option, which DB Charles Woodson stopped for an 11-yard gain after NT Ryan Pickett couldn't bring Peterson down. Footing seemed to be an issue at times. Peterson caught one pass for 8 yards and couldn't handle two others. His pass protection was as good as it has been all season on a night DC Dom Capers rushed five or more 12 times in Webb's 32 dropbacks (37.5%). That mostly kept HB Toby Gerhart (six) on the sideline. FB Jerome Felton (19) was just OK. He let LOLB Erik Walden bounce off to ruin one power run.
Jerome Simpson (41 snaps) finally got a shot on the deep ball he was brought here to catch, getting a step on Shields to the post -- only for Webb to throw 5 yards over his head. He also had to break up a sure interception to CB Tramon Williams on a go ball Webb threw too far inside. He went to the sticks on third-and-9 and the ball came out a hair late, leaving him a yard short. Simpson's only other catch was a backside option throw for 13, breaking Shields' tackle along the way. If only he'd seemed this dialed in and healthy all season. Michael Jenkins (52) didn't have a catch until garbage time and ended up with three for 96 yards, including a 50-yard score when the Packers melted down on the back end. His blocking wasn't great, but he didn't have a damaging letdown like Jarius Wright (36), who whiffed on Woodson's run blitz that snuffed a draw on second-and-5 in the red zone early. Webb one-hopped Jenkins on third-and-7, the Vikings kicked a field goal and it was downhill from there. Wright was on a different page on one incompletion, ran through SS M.D. Jennings' tackle to convert third-and-8 after pulling in a drag and caught a slide for 5. Devin Aromashodu (21) blocked well, stopped running off his double-move on the interception and never put a finger on the ball in three targets.
Tight ends (1½)
The Vikings had some vertical opportunities in the game plan for Kyle Rudolph (61 snaps), but for one reason or another, Webb never went his way. He finished with three catches for 42 yards, including a meaningless 23-yarder against prevent coverage on the final play. He didn't allow a QB pressure or have one major letdown in the run game. But he struggled to get movement like most everyone else. Rhett Ellison (14) fared a little better, though he had one standup lead stonewalled by Pickett and gave up pressure on a counter by Walden that led to a sack. Knocking down Webb's throwaway to the line was a heads-up play, considering he wasn't even in pattern. The Vikings made one last effort to get John Carlson (four) going. They were rewarded with airmail on a wheel route and a diving drop on an out against MLB Brad Jones. It just never came together.
Offensive linemen (2)
LT Matt Kalil (62 snaps) raised his arms in frustration after Matthews' second sack. What more could he do? He steered the Packers' best rusher wide on speed rushes each time, and somehow, Webb found a way to stagger into Matthews each time. Kalil didn't have his best day in protection, though. He fell on the third down that ended the opening series, allowing Matthews to get a piece of Webb before the incompletion. He also gave up a hit to OLB Dezman Moses and another to Matthews and failed along with LG Charlie Johnson (62) to pick up a T-E game that forced a third-down scramble. Kalil was far cleaner in the run game, showing again he's capable of playing with some power. Johnson allowed two QB pressures and couldn't move anybody at the point without help from C John Sullivan (62). Neither could RG Brandon Fusco, who was more aggressive and sustained well at times, but nonetheless had his hands full with NT B.J. Raji and company. Raji got him for a hit and a pressure that set up Matthews' strip-sack on fourth-and-3. Fusco also gave up a pressure to Moses and lost some turns against Pickett in the run game. Sullivan gave up a pressure to DE Mike Neal, let Pickett clutter one power run and absolutely mauled Pickett to the ground on a counter lead play. RT Phil Loadholt (62) snapped his penalty streak, was solid in the run game and didn't allow a pressure. He's a keeper, period.
Defensive linemen (2½)
The Packers' running backs averaged only 2.1 yards on their 27 carries, and the Vikings' nose tackles had a lot to do with it. Starting NT Letroy Guion (31 snaps) had his strongest showing all season -- shedding blocks, hustling down the line and batting down a pass. NT Fred Evans (24) was even better. He anchored well against double teams, at one point getting off C Evan Dietrich-Smith and RG Josh Sitton to stop a draw to WR Randall Cobb. He shot inside LG T.J. Lang once to drop the third-and-goal dive to FB John Kuhn and again to redirect a zone play to HB DuJuan Harris that ended up losing 8. He also beat Dietrich-Smith and Kuhn to disrupt a lead play to Harris that went nowhere and shed blocks for a couple other stops. That'll stick in coaches' minds as they ponder the position in the offseason. They'll need a replacement sooner than later for UT Kevin Williams (50), who kept getting turned around, ran himself out of the play on Kuhn's 3-yard touchdown and went nowhere as a rusher. He lined up offsides the play before he got flagged for it on third-and-2, extending the Packers' first touchdown drive. That shouldn't happen. RE Jared Allen (68) just kept coming around LT Marshall Newhouse for a sack in 4.2 seconds and hit QB Aaron Rodgers three other times. He mostly held up well in the run game outside of getting run out of the cutback lane by Newhouse on Harris' 9-yard touchdown. How did Newhouse get away with some of those bear hugs? LE Brian Robison (27) gutted it out for most of three quarters with a bad shoulder before saying uncle. He made a nice play off RT Don Barclay's block to stop a draw to Kuhn on first-and-goal but plainly wasn't himself, especially as a rusher. DE Everson Griffen (52) took over and was quiet, save tipping a pass and finishing off a sack of Rodgers in 4.9 seconds. DT Christian Ballard (24) cleaned up a blitz for the other sack in 3.7 seconds. It's all about effort with the way Rodgers holds the ball.
DC Alan Williams heated Rodgers a little more than expected -- seven times in Rodgers' 32 dropbacks (21.9%), primarily with SLB Chad Greenway (68 snaps) completing a five-man rush in front of man coverage. The Vikings got two sacks out of it, but Rodgers also completed 4 of 5 passes for 55 yards, including a 9-yard TD to Kuhn when Greenway added late and the middle was wide open. He took those screens, swings and checkdowns all day against the Vikings' soft zones, targeting only four of his 23 completions (17.4%) more than 9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Greenway had decent coverage on the second-and-goal throw TE Jermichael Finley dropped, got picked off by Barclay on Kuhn's first touchdown and kept coming close to making a play in the backfield with penetration. Ditto WLB Erin Henderson (66), who got eaten up by Sitton on the screen to Grant for 16, took a false step on Harris' touchdown and crushed Grant for a 2-yard loss after making Newhouse miss on a zone play late. He was the nickel mike again and seemed more concerned with getting depth against no one in his middle drops than defending the passes Rodgers kept dropping in front of him. The Vikings barely played any base defense, rendering MLB Jasper Brinkley (14) a spectator. He still had time to miss two tackles.
Defensive backs (1½)
Credit CB Antoine Winfield (49 snaps) for giving it a go with that broken right hand, but he wasn't himself and the defense suffered for it. Playing mostly in the nickel, Winfield got mugged up by WR Greg Jennings on the screen Cobb took for 7 on the Packers' first snap, and things didn't get better from there. He couldn't get off Cobb's block on a swing pass to Harris for 16, whiffed on the screen Grant took for 16 and gave up five completions for 64 yards, repeatedly getting stuck guessing as Rodgers looked him off to the flats to clear lanes for in-breaking routes. The fact Winfield could only jam and shed blocks with one hand certainly didn't help, mentally or physically. It also meant more snaps for CB A.J. Jefferson (49), who surrendered completions of 23 yards to Nelson and 9 to WR James Jones before giving way to rookie CB Josh Robinson (16). Back on the field for a rare dime snap late, Jefferson gave up the 6-yard out to Nelson that converted on third-and-5 to seal the decision. Not getting a reroute in that situation is the sort of fundamental lapse that has hurt the secondary all season. Robinson actually held up well, running step for step with Nelson on a go ball. CB Chris Cook (66) couldn't tackle Jennings at the sticks on fourth-and-5, yielding a 32-yard gain before SS Mistral Raymond (19) pushed him out. Stopping TE Ryan Taylor for no gain in the flat late didn't exactly atone. Raymond was quiet despite extra snaps in relief of FS Harrison Smith (64), who fired past Jennings to drop a toss to Harris for loss, broke up a pass to Finley in the red zone and returned after tweaking his balky right knee. His blitz set up Ballard's sack. SS Jamarca Sanford (53) twice missed chances to make a stop at the goal line, though neither was an easy play. There remains a lot of work to be done here.
The 12 men on the field penalty was a proper capper on a calamitous day. Robison and Griffen both stayed on for the field goal after playing third down, and Brinkley -- the guy responsible for counting -- realized it too late to get off the field. The Packers scored six on the next play and that was that. Marcus Sherels' muffed punt didn't lead to a score, but it was another gut punch, especially for a defense that was in the midst of forcing five consecutive three-and-outs. Marvin Mitchell took a holding penalty for wrapping up Kuhn around the shoulder pads. LS Cullen Loeffler's snaps were low on PK Blair Walsh's 33-yard field goal and one of five punts by P Chris Kluwe, who bailed him out again. Just sloppy all around. Walsh converted an extra point and averaged 4.15 seconds with one touchback on two deep kickoffs, not including the pop-up kick from the onside formation late. Kluwe grossed 49.6, netted 46.2 and averaged 3.62 seconds of hang time, with a long of 56. Sherels averaged 8.3 yards on three punt returns and 30 on two kick returns. Ellison returned another for 13. Sanford and Larry Dean had two stops each on coverage units.