Behind the Numbers: Packers one win from playoffs after dominant performance vs. Vikings

The Green Bay Packers played on Sunday like a team controlling its own destiny, with a dominant performance over the Minnesota Vikings in what was easily the Packers’ most complete and complimentary game of the season.

“This is probably the first game all season we’ve played complementary football in all three phases,” Aaron Rodgers said after the game. “The way our defense played, forcing turnovers. Offensively, not a huge game stat wise but we did a good job holding onto the football and then running the ball effectively. And then Keisean, what can you say?”

With the game complete, the rewatch done, and the numbers dissected, it’s time to go Behind the Numbers, with the stats and figures you need to know about from the Packers performance.

15

After torching the Packers in Week 1, going for nine receptions, 184 yards, and two touchdowns, Justin Jefferson was held to just one catch for 15 yards this past Sunday. Green Bay’s stark turnaround in performance began with game plan changes made by Joe Barry, which included Jaire Alexander lining up on Jefferson much more often. We also saw more press coverage, which allowed Alexander to be physical at the line of scrimmage with Jefferson and consistent safety help as well. But on top of that, the play was simply better. There were no coverage breakdowns that plagued the Packers the first time these teams met. When a Vikings player made a catch, more often than not, multiple defenders were in the area. Green Bay’s tackling was also sound, and they swarmed to the ball carrier. One major difference on the Vikings’ end was that Jefferson was rarely sent in motion after being moved around constantly pre-snap in Week 1. This allowed Alexander to stay lined up with him because on the few instances when Jefferson was moved around; Alexander didn’t travel with him.

5.8

As I discussed in an article before the game, the Vikings played a lot of cover-2, which is their M.O. under defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, which made pushing the ball downfield challenging for the Packers. Rodgers finished the game with only 159 yards, with one completion over 20 yards. Green Bay had to remain patient in the passing game, but one of the best ways to attack Cover-2 is through the run game, which the Packers did. Aaron Jones finished with 111 yards on only 14 carries. Together, he and AJ Dillon rushed for 152 yards at 5.8 yards per carry. Overall, it wasn’t a flashy performance by the Packers’ offense, but it was effective.

3.8

Part of the Green Bay Packers’ success in defending Justin Jefferson came from their ability to get after Kirk Cousins with regularity. ESPN credited the Green Bay defense with two sacks and a whopping 10 quarterback hits. One sack led to a forced fumble and recovery by Kenny Clark, while Adrian Amos’ interception was a product of a deflected ball by TJ Slaton. In the run game, the Packers held Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison to just 3.8 yards per rush. Against a struggling and banged-up Vikings’ interior offensive line, the Packers interior defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.

4

The Packers came away with four turnovers against the Vikings, giving them 12 in their last four games. Turnovers are a volatile stat and can be difficult to predict from game to game and year to year, but as the old saying goes, they come in bunches. For the Packers, there are two things I would attribute this newfound success to, one is consistent pressure on the quarterback, and the other is all 11 players being on the same page. There have been a few, but not nearly as many coverage breakdowns or miscommunications as there were through the early and middle portions of the season. This means defenders are in the right spot to make a play on the ball or near the action and are the beneficiary of a deflected pass, with the interceptions by Amos and Darnell Savage against Minnesota being two examples of this.

7/12 and 2/3

Even as the offense has been putting up more points over the last two-ish months, the Packers continue to struggle on third downs and in the red zone. Overall, before the Vikings game, Green Bay ranked 20th in third down success rate and 24th in the red zone. But against the Vikings, the Packers were 7/12 on third downs and 2/3 in the red zone. As is the case for the offense in general, much of their success in these situations comes down to the run game. Being able to move the ball on early downs creates manageable third downs. In the red zone, teams have been daring the Packers to throw the ball since they still don’t have that go-to option in the passing game in those situations. However, as Matt LaFleur said this past week, they can’t always let the defense dictate what the Green Bay offense is going to do.

105

Keisean Nixon is an absolute game-changer for this Packers team. It felt like it was only a matter of time, but he finally took a kick return back for a touchdown, going 105 yards. That was a huge sequence in the game as well, with the defense coming off a goal line stand and Nixon then scoring. It looked like Green Bay was going to be down 7-0, but instead they were up 7-3. Despite not being the return man for the entire season, Nixon ranks first in the NFL in total kick return yards, he ranks among the best in average return, and he’s one of just four players with a touchdown, while also leading the league with five returns of 50-plus yards.

12

As Andy Herman of Packer Report noted, the Packers’ defense had been dominant during its 12 possessions that spanned from the second half of the Miami game to when they pulled their starters in the fourth quarter against Minnesota. These 12 drives by the opposing offense included seven takeaways for the Packers and only three points allowed, which was really the special teams unit’s fault. The Packers also had a three-and-out mixed in there, along with a goal-line stand. This is the defense that we all expected to see this season.

1

One more win, and the Packers are in the playoffs. About a month ago, they were 4-8, and many wanted to see Jordan Love for the rest of the season. But now the Packers find themselves on a four-game winning streak, and in all three phases, they are playing their best football of the season.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire