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Jerry Gilbert
As the Green Bay Packers have shocked the world by defeating almost everyone they have faced, there has been a consistent theme expressed here, by Coach Mike McCarthy, and elsewhere, that the team still has much room to improve. On Veterans Day 2007 against the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers played fairly close to their potential at that moment and routed the Minnesota Vikings 34-0 before the largest official crowd in the history of Lambeau Field. It was also the occasion for Brett Favre to join Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks to pass for more than 60,000 yards.

It is fair to say that the Vikings did not bring their A Game to Green Bay. The collision between defensive backs that produced the last touchdown and missed tackles on running plays are signs of a defense not playing its best. A quarterback missing open receivers, and converting no third of fourth downs are signs of a pretty bad offense. On the other hand, this is a team that one week ago defeated the San Diego Chargers 35-17 with a smothering defense and record setting running back. There was every reason to expect that the Viking offense could present a great running attack and a fair passing attack, based mostly on play action. Why did what looked like a fairly even match up turn into a one sided affair?

Possibly the most important reason for the blowout, and a positive factor for the future, is the fact that Mike McCarthy and his staff totally out coached the Viking brain trust. In preparing for the game, the Packer Coaches totally analyzed why the Viking Defense had been successful, and designed an attack to beat it. It began with varied formations and play calling. The spread offense has been a staple of the Patriots and many college teams for years. By spreading out as many as five wide receivers, the Packers created so many options in the passing attack that the Viking linebackers and defensive backs were unable to cover everyone. However, Green Bay did not stick with that formation. They also used one, two or three running backs and motioned players in and out of the backfield. In one creative formation, there were 2 fullbacks on either side of the tailback.

From these varied formations, Brett Favre handed off, pitched out, and served up 3 shovel passes. That is akin to a baseball pitcher throwing three straight change ups. The shovel pass is a gimmick. Mike McCarthy made it a significant part of the offense. There were also the 7 to15 yard passes that have been the staple of the offense this season, along with a few longer passes as the opportunities arose. Finally, there was a running attack that produced 86 yards in the first half and about 120 for the game. By always double-teaming nose tackle Pat Williams and by working the edges, the Packers were able to run with enough success to keep the Vikings completely off balance. The game plan was impressive, and the execution was good enough.

Actually, the Packer passing attack was rather ordinary in the first half. A combination of bad throws and dropped passes limited the team to a few short tosses. Fortunately, behind a motivated offensive line, Tailback Ryan Grant made the right cuts and broke enough tackles to sustain drives. His 30 yard touchdown run was a version of the old Lombardi power sweep. Again smart game planning produced a temporary abandonment of the zone-blocking scheme for that play, and the sweep worked as planned. Tackle Mark Tauscher and Center Mike Wells pulled around the corner to lead Grant down the sidelines. That was the only rushing touchdown allowed by the Vikings this year, and it was impressive.

As the first half ended, the Packers led 13-0, and I remember feeling confident because they had dominated the game without any outstanding passes by Brett Favre or receptions by his wide receivers. In the opening drive of the second half, Favre threw every pass exactly where it needed to be; Greg Jennings made a circus catch between two defenders, and the rout was on. Even though the Viking Defense did a better job against Ryan Grant in the second half, the damage was done. The play action pass was viable, and the Vikings had no answer for the Green Bay passing attack.

Dominance by the Green Bay Defense was less surprising. As the season has progressed, the Packers have become very effective against a running attack and they were able to contain Viking rookie sensation Adrian Peterson. Most likely, the injury he suffered in the third quarter contributed to the margin of victory. A runner with his talent is likely to break away at least once in a game, particularly in the fourth quarter. However, without a big contribution from Peterson, the Minnesota offense produced very little. The Packer defensive backs were dominating, and as the threat of Peterson went away, the pass rush became increasingly effective. Third string quarterback Brooks Bollinger could not produce any sort of comeback.

As well as the Packers played, a couple of individual efforts were also important. Just before Ryan Grant ran for his touchdown, receiver Koren Robinson kept the drive going by his own effort. He caught the fourth down pass, fell down on his own, and had the presence of mind to roll ahead for the first down. The other big play was earlier and by a defensive player. During the Vikings first drive, they faced third down and two. Peterson ran, and linebacker Brady Poppinga filled the hole to drop him for no gain. The Packers followed with a long drive for a score. Momentum was established by that tackle.

Have no fear of over confidence. The Packer running attack was only semi-dominant for one quarter, and it took some deception and misdirection for the success they had. When Ryan Grant was rested, Brandon Jackson was not impressive. The passing attack was pretty ordinary in the first half, and the Vikings best defensive back did not play in the game. The problems on the offensive line are not solved, and good defenses await the Packers in future games.

Turning to the defense, it is hard to know whether this unit will stop other offenses based on this game. The Vikings, at this point in the season are offensively challenged. Brooks Bollinger is not an NFL starter, and he was without some receivers including Sidney Rice, who caught a touchdown pass in the earlier game this season. The Packer defense was not really tested once Adrian. Peterson was no longer a threat. Packer fans know that if Robert Ferguson is your best receiver, you do not have a great offense.

Bottom line, this was a fantastic game to watch. We can hope that they can play this well against a better opponent. Regardless, we have now seen how good this team can be.

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