MINNEAPOLIS—This was one of two games a year ago that changed the face of the Green Bay Packers.
When Adrian Peterson gouged the Packers for 199 yards rushing in a performance that humbled a young defense, the critics said the Packers were soft. When Colin Kaepernick ran through the Packers for 181 yards in the playoffs, the Packers became their own critics.
Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson embarked upon an offseason plan to transform the Packers into the same kind of hard-edged, physical football team as the ones that beat them late in the 2012 season. Sunday’s 44-31 win over the Vikings and Peterson, who rushed for 508 yards in three games against the Packers last season, is yet more proof that this is a different Packers team.
“Yeah, I think that’s safe to say. Eddie Lacy has done a great job. He’s like a bowling ball in there. James (Starks) is a slasher,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Rodgers, who once joked that the Packers don’t need a running game, is now its biggest fan. The best passer of the football in the world is changing pass plays to running plays at an alarming rate, and why not?
“That’s the way you want to call plays,” McCarthy said of a run-pass mix that was 42 run and 29 pass, which so confused the Vikings’ memory of the pass-pass-pass Packers of a year ago that star defensive end Jared Allen didn’t know whether to play run or pass, and consequently did neither. Allen finished the game with no sacks and no tackles.
“You never want to run just one guy 30 times,” McCarthy said. “I plan on being in the playoffs.”
McCarthy ran Lacy 29 times for 94 yards. So as to preserve Lacy for the playoffs, McCarthy inserted the newly-returned-to-health James Starks for seven runs that gouged the Vikings for 57 yards. Rodgers added six timely scrambles for 31 yards and, as a result, the Packers are almost certain to find themselves moving even higher up the league’s rush rankings this week.
How high can they go? No. 1? Is that possible? The Packers?
“We haven’t been doing that much in the last few years,” Rodgers said of mixing run and pass.
Mostly, the Packers missed pass with pass. As a result, opposing defenses yawned when the Packers tried to sell the threat of run. Threat? There was no threat.
There is now. Defenses are being forced to get that eighth defender up to the line of scrimmage and, when they do, Rodgers is making them pay with the pass.
With all due respect to the 2011 Packers that roared up and down the field to 15 wins, this offense is better. It’s better because it can do it all. This offense can beat the muscle teams. This offense makes its defense better. This offense gives the Packers the look of a team that can win in the postseason.
“We came in with a run-pass mindset,” McCarthy said. “They really put it on their defensive front.”
The Vikings are not a good defensive team. They have one of the league’s worst pass defenses, but they have star-quality talent on their defensive line, led by Allen, Kevin Williams and rookie first-round draft choice Sharrif Floyd. That trio combined for just one tackle on Sunday night.
“The offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” Rodgers said.
An offensive line that was the target of intense criticism last season, from the Packers’ No. 26 rush ranking to Rodgers being the most sacked quarterback in the league, is now playing at one of the highest levels in the league, and it’s doing so with a rookie at left tackle and without its best tackle, Bryan Bulaga.
Sunday night, these new Packers held Peterson to 60 yards rushing and dominated time of possession by more than 20 minutes, and the change can be traced back to two games late last season that made it clear to the critics that count the most that change was necessary.
They did it.
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