Monday, November 03, 2003

Packers 30, Minnesota 27. Are there two more evenly matched teams in the NFL this season? They have played twice, each team has won once, while the Packers have scored 55 points to Minnesota's 57. The Packers have the #3 offense and the #30 defense. Minnesota has the #3 offense (both the Packers and Minnesota have so far averaged exactly 365.8 yards/game on offense) and the #29 defense. The biggest difference is in the record; Packers 4-4 and Minnesota 6-2. The Packers score a point more per game but allow almost 4 more points per game, and Minnesota has forced more turnovers and has 18 interceptions to the Packers 9. Both teams offenses seem to be improving each week and both defense seem to be getting worse. This was a very close game.

First Quarter: The first Packers drive was excellent and it was a sign of things to come. Ahman Green ran for 45 yards on the opening drive on the Packers way to running for 261 yards for the game. I thought it was a bad sign that such a great looking drive stalled in the red zone, and the Packers had to settle for a field goal. Minnesota responded with a great drive of their own. The Packers defensive line was stood up and blocked out from making any plays, especially on the touchdown pass to Randy Moss when Daunte Culpepper had enough time in the pocket to wait for the play to develop and to finish reading a novel. The Packers defensive line got better as the game went on. It reminded me of their game vs. Seattle when the Packers defensive line was shoved around in the first half but got better as the game went on. In this game, the Packers pass rush just got better each quarter. The long touchdown catch was the only big play Moss made in the game. Donald Driver got a big play on a reverse and I can't remember the last time the Packers got a big play on a reverse. Driver also caught a touchdown pass on the drive, but Robert Ferguson was flagged for an illegal shift (while in motion he was weaving around like a drunk walking a white line) which negated the touchdown and the Packers settled for a field goal. The rest of the quarter is good defense by both teams, which was quite unusual for this game, and three punts. Packers 6, Minnesota 7.

Second Quarter: Minnesota's run defense continues to break down and Green and Najeh Davenport run for 33 yards on 2 carries. Brett Favre spread the ball to three different receivers on the drive and Green catches the touchdown pass on a quick pass coming out of the backfield and Green beats the defender to the corner of the end zone. Minnesota punts again, and by this point the Packers pass defense is playing very well. After the 43 yard touchdown pass to Moss, Minnesota only has 4 passes for over 10 yards the rest of the game and the longest was a 24 yard pass to Nate Burleson. Minnesota has killed the Packers with big plays in the past so this was an essential part of the win on Sunday, but the Packers defense couldn't stop the run and they couldn't stop Minnesota on 3rd down (Minnesota was 6 for 12 on 3rd downs). The Packers have another great drive but it is stopped by a Favre interception. Minnesota outcoached the Packers on this play; Minnesota blitzed to force Favre into a hot read and Corey Chavous was playing right in the throwing lane. Favre didn't see Chavous, he should have seen Chavous, but Minnesota blitzed to give Favre no time to read the field. Turnovers have killed the Packers this season, but this was the only turnover and it was meaningless. There was 6 minutes left in the half and Minnesota was guaranteed to get the ball back anyway. The Packers have had turnovers on offense kill them on offense, but the offense was almost perfect in this game and the lack of turnovers caused by the defense didn't cost them this game, but this is still a problem for the defense. Minnesota scored the touchdown on the drive, but the way they were successful running the ball, they might have scored on the next possession anyway. Minnesota had a nifty touchdown pass to Jim Kleinsasser when Kleinsasser did a great job of fake blocking and then turn to catch the short pass. Fortunately the Packers had enough time to retake the lead for good before half time with a two big plays by Green and Tony Fisher (all the Packers running backs, Green, Fisher and Davenport, had a great game) and a touchdown pass to Javon Walker wherein Walker made a great move on his namesake, Denard Walker, to run in for the touchdown. Packers 20, Minnesota 14.

Third Quarter: The bend but don't break defense quarter. Even when the Packers had a great defense with Reggie White in the mid-90s, the defense was successful because it didn't allow touchdowns and it forced turnovers, but they had trouble preventing teams from running up and down the field. In this quarter, Minnesota had the ball for about 12 minutes, but only came up with two field goals. The Packers often allowed a good gain on first down, and had trouble stopping Minnesota on 3rd down. Culpepper was 3 for 5 on third down in the quarter, but those two stops were huge. I was worried that these long drives would leave the defense exhausted in the 4th quarter. Packers 20, Minnesota 20.

Fourth Quarter: This touchdown drive started in the third quarter, but was played mostly in the 4th quarter. The Packers converted both of their 3rd downs on the drive, including a rocket pass and great catch by Walker in the end zone for his 2nd TD catch. The first 3rd down conversion was short yardage, but a 1st quarter drive was stopped when Green tried to rush on 3rd and short, so the Packers went to using William Henderson out of the backfield on a pass. The Packers had a key 3rd and short on their next drive too and threw a quick slant to Walker for the first down. On the best day the Packers have had running the ball in almost 20 years, it was interesting that they converted two crucial 3rd and shorts by passing the football. This quarter was the opposite of the 3rd quarter because the Packers had possession for most of it. With over 10 minutes left in the game and Minnesota down by 7 points, Minnesota's first drive in the 4th quarter died when they passed on three consecutive downs and had to punt. The Packers defensive line must have been worn out by this point on run defense, so this play calling might have cost Minnesota the game. The Packers pass rush, keyed by some great effort by backups Larry Smith and Chukie Nwokorie, started generating pressure on Culpepper. The Packers also had to start blitzing and although it forced Culpepper to hurry, it did not force any sacks or turnovers. The Packers last drive of the game used up almost 7 minutes and was 10 rushes to 1 pass, but the Packers run offense was so effective, including one 3rd and short converted on a Green run, that it set up the field goal that put the game out of reach. Ryan Longwell made 3 field goals and he made it look easy. The Packers special teams did not have a great game today, few quality returns and Minnesota had almost double the Packers return yards, but Longwell's 3 for 3 on field goals was a difference in the game. Minnesota scored a late touchdown but the resulting onside kick failed and that was it. On Minnesota's last touchdown drive, Nick Barnett hurt his ankle at a point earlier in the 4th quarter but he was still limping around on this drive. He probably should have been pulled. At one point, both Mike McKenzie and Al Harris blitzed from the corner, but Culpepper stepped up to avoid them and McKenzie and Harris collided with each other. Culpepper almost fumbled Minnesota's week 1 victory away to the Packers, but in this game he had no turnovers. Both quarterbacks had great games and Culpepper avoided his usual turnovers and Favre his usual Metrodome jinx. Packers 30, Minnesota 27.

No comments: