Breaking down the tape of the Vikings' loss to the Packers
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 28-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
Injured or not, Brett Favre gave coaches reason to begin wondering whether it's better to pay him $1 million a game to play like this or not play at all. Three interceptions led to two Packers touchdowns, including the horrendous duck Favre floated into ILB Desmond Bishop's hands for a pick-six. There would have been a fourth if CB Tramon Williams wasn't so stunned Favre hit him in the chest while the rest of the Vikings were executing a run play. Favre misfired as the Vikings opened with consecutive three-and-outs, heaved one ball to no one under duress, contributed to the Packers' only sack by holding the ball all day and didn't give WR Randy Moss a chance to get his hands on the game's final two throws, which both sailed high out of bounds. He did throw a 4-yard touchdown to Moss on a rub play, got robbed of a 17-yarder to TE Visanthe Shiancoe by a bum review and was a foot away from completing a miracle post to WR Percy Harvin in the final minute. One interception was the product of OLB Brad Jones' takedown that left Favre with two foot fractures, another a fantastic play over the top by FS Nick Collins. But the Vikings' decision to open each of their fourth-quarter drives with four consecutive run plays says plenty about the lack of trust they have in Favre at this stage. Give him credit for finishing on one leg. The fact remains that, week after week, Favre is missing too many easy plays, trying in vein to make too many difficult ones and showing few signs his 41-year-old body can muster any more magic.
Running backs (3½)
HB Adrian Peterson (42 snaps) had a half-dozen carries of 9 yards or more on his way to another highly efficient day (28 carries, 131 yards, 4.7 average, one TD). He took a power-left play for 17 by setting up the defense inside, then bursting out behind FB Naufahu Tahi's lead and running over CB Charles Woodson to finish it. Peterson also had receptions of 15 and 26 yards and made a stellar blitz pickup off play-action, chopping down Bishop to give Favre time to hit Shiancoe for the TD that wasn't. Two questionable reads put the Vikings in tough second-down situations on the final drive, on which Peterson surprisingly ceded six of 16 snaps to HB Toby Gerhart (20). The rookie had five carries for 24 yards (4.8 average), caught one pass for 6 and couldn't make a one-handed grab on a red-zone checkdown from Favre that was a little wide and forced a field-goal attempt. Tahi (25) returned from an inactive week and acquitted himself well.
The more the Vikings manufacture touches for Harvin (62 snaps), the more he seems to improve as a receiver, too. He took a shotgun counter for a 17-yard touchdown, a bubble screen for 12 (nearly scoring again) and an end-around for 12 more. He beat Williams on an in-cut for 20, Woodson on a post for 37 and the entire Packers secondary on what would have been the play of the year if Harvin had kept his right foot in-bounds for a 35-yard TD late. That production has helped cover for the relative invisibility of Moss (63), who had seven balls thrown his way -- mostly against Williams -- and caught three for 30 yards. The TD was a waltz after Williams let him go and Woodson hit the deck. Moss was visibly frustrated after coach Brad Childress let the final 26 seconds drain off the first-half clock, and why not? Bernard Berrian (32) looks like he has a hop back in his step, but Favre only threw two balls his way -- a deep in against zone coverage for 30 and the wayward cross ILB A.J. Hawk snared for the first interception. Greg Lewis (13) let SS Charlie Peprah roast Harvin to kill the Vikings' first drive and didn't run the route Favre wanted on the only ball that came his way. Greg Camarillo (eight) remains the clear No. 5.
Tight ends (2½)
Just like last season, the Packers played a lot of nickel against the Vikings' two-tight sets because of the threat posed by Shiancoe (38 snaps) in the passing game. His numbers (three catches in six targets, 30 yards) would look better had officials not biffed the challenge of his sprawling end-zone grab. But Shiancoe also dropped a catchable ball early, took a dumb delay-of-game penalty for flipping the ball across the field, got flattened on a Peterson run for minus-2 and false started on the final series. Those mistakes add up. Jimmy Kleinsasser (28) and Jeff Dugan (seven) were typically solid in the blocking phase. Kleinsasser is a beast when he gets some momentum going on the edge. Dugan led the way on Harvin's TD run with a big block on Hawk.
Offensive linemen (2½)
RT Phil Loadholt held up so well all day against Packers OLB Clay Matthews, it's a shame he got flagged for a facemask to back up the final drive. Loadholt got help -- the Vikings chipped or kept in an extra blocker on 12 of 26 dropbacks (46.2%), while the Packers rushed five only eight times (30.8%) -- but there's no shame in allowing a pass rusher of Matthews' caliber one hit and three total pressures. The protection unit as a whole seemed to function better with C John Sullivan back in the lineup; Green Bay's only sack came when DE Jarius Wynn got a push against LG Steve Hutchinson and Favre didn't get the ball out. However, this also was against a depleted Packers front seven that at times was using G T.J. Lang on defense. Sullivan gave up two QB hits and mostly was solid in the run game. Hutchinson brought DE C.J. Wilson to his knees on Harvin's TD and uprooted NT B.J. Raji on Peterson's fourth-and-1 run. Overall, Raji fought Hutchinson to a draw. The Vikings pulled RG Anthony Herrera six times and love his power leading up through the hole. He has to finish better, though. LT Bryant McKinnie has been so good in protection all season, but letting Jones get free off a counter left Favre with an injury that might sideline the NFL's ultimate ironman.
Defensive linemen (2)
Whatever progress the Vikings' pass rush showed a week earlier against Dallas disappeared at Lambeau Field. They finished with no sacks, three hits and six total pressures, including RE Jared Allen (60 snaps) drilling backup QB Matt Flynn on a failed field-goal fake. Packers LT Chad Clifton needed no help to erase Allen, who never laid a finger on QB Aaron Rodgers and finished without a sack for a fourth consecutive game -- the longest streak of his career. Allen's impact would have been nil if Rodgers hadn't planted a screen pass in his facemask for a gift interception. LE Ray Edwards (58) got chipped or doubled on eight rushes, managed only two pressures and was at his best on fourth-and-inches, twice trashing rookie TE Andrew Quarless to ruin running plays. DC Leslie Frazier didn't call for much backup, rushing more than four only seven times in 34 dropbacks (20.6%). UT Kevin Williams (55) almost made an incredibly athletic interception after batting a pass but otherwise was quiet. NT Pat Williams (42) mostly anchored fine against the Packers' combo blocks as HB Brandon Jackson and FB John Kuhn combined for 70 yards on 20 carries (3.5 average). He also torched C Scott Wells to stop RB Brandon Jackson for a 3-yard loss on first-and-goal, though a senseless 12-men penalty wiped that out. Snaps remain hard to come by for DT Letroy Guion (13), DT Jimmy Kennedy (12) and DL Brian Robison (two). Guion got flattened on Jackson's 14-yard run and effectively submarined big RG Josh Sitton on the fourth-down stop.
At this point, SLB Chad Greenway (60 snaps) deserves Pro Bowl consideration, if for no reason other than the consistency of his production. He stripped Jackson on the Packers' first play, thrice dropped Jackson or Kuhn for a 1-yard loss and got in on 12 tackles (10 solo). If Greenway made a costly mistake, it was letting Jackson get outside on his 14-yard run. MLB E.J. Henderson (55) could have done a better job locating the ball on Quarless' 9-yard touchdown catch. He got stood up by Kuhn on Jackson's 1-yard TD run and at times looked like his balky knee might have been bugging him. WLB Ben Leber (23) took a handful of snaps off Henderson in the nickel package, which the Vikings used on 42 of 60 plays (70%) against the Packers' spread-out attack. None of the group's seven blitzes got home.
Defensive backs (2½)
CB Chris Cook (16 snaps) looked like a rookie coming off twin knee surgeries before getting the early hook. Rodgers threw at Cook's coverage three times, completing them all for 101 yards, and two screens to his side netted 52 yards. Bottom line: Cook needs more time on the practice field. Veteran CB Frank Walker (27) took over and handled all but four of the nickel reps for the final three quarters. Rodgers threw at his ex-teammate eight times with mixed results -- two completions for 28 yards, a defensive holding penalty and an interception when Walker batted a jump ball for WR Greg Jennings to FS Madieu Williams in the end zone. Rodgers mostly steered clear of CB Antoine Winfield in the slot, instead going after CB Asher Allen for eight throws and four completions for 39 yards, including a 14-yard TD off a nasty triple move by Jennings. Quarless had Allen beat on the fake field goal for at least a 30-yard gain if he didn't fall on his face. Williams took a lousy angle on the screen Jackson took for 36, but it didn't help that Jennings was walking Cook was down the field in front of him. SS Tyrell Johnson showed some rust and hesitation in place of SS Husain Abdullah (concussion) -- he got all twisted up on what would have been a 65-yard touchdown to WR Jordy Nelson if Rodgers hadn't airmailed it. SS Jamarca Sanford played one snap, was the 12th man on the field and got flagged for a penalty that set up a touchdown on the next play.
Harvin almost had his second kick-return TD in as many weeks had Tramon Williams not grabbed his hand. He settled for a 48-yarder that had the Packers squibbing after halftime. Camarillo gained 13 yards on his only chance. PK Ryan Longwell's kickoffs averaged 3.56 seconds of hangtime and a starting field position of the 29-yard line -- a price the Vikings are willing to pay for a veteran who remained perfect on the field goals with a 28-yarder. P Chris Kluwe booted a pair of 50-yard punts with 4.1 and 4.9 hang, respectively, and netted 45.