NFC North standings
Green Bay Packers: 9-3
Detroit Lions: 8-4
Chicago Bears: 5-7
Minnesota Vikings: 5-7
Green Bay Packers
Last week: 26-21 win at home against the New England Patriots
The Packers continue to stay one step ahead of the Lions in the race for the NFC North title after their impressive 26-21 win over the Patriots at Lambeau Field in Week 13. A week after the Patriots dismantled the Lions, the Packers jumped out to an early 13-point first-quarter lead and never looked back. The Pack offense moved at will in the first half, scoring on each of their five drives. Meanwhile, the Patriots managed only 29 yards and two punts on their first two drives before Tom Brady and the Patriots offense found their stride to score touchdowns on their final two possessions to enter the half down 23-14.
In the second half, both of these high-powered offenses slowed to a crawl. The Packers had three consecutive drives of more than four minutes, but ended with only three points on those possessions. The Patriots again started the second half without any offensive spark and punted on each of their first two possessions before putting together a 78-yard touchdown drive to pull within two points of the Packers. The Patriots' death blow came when they ate up nearly half of the fourth quarter on a single drive, but walked away with nothing after missing a field goal. The Pack, with a five-point lead, ate up the rest of the 2:40 left in the game thanks to clutch 7-yard reception by Randall Cobb on a third down with 2:28 left to play.
Time of possession - For the second week in a row, the Packers set aside their high-flying offensive attack in exchange for a brutally efficient and balanced approach. The result in each contest was that the Packers owned the time of possession battle. This week, the Pack controlled the ball for over 36 minutes. Leaving Tom Brady on the sideline for that much of the game is never a bad idea.
T.J. Lang and Corey Linsley - This is anecdotal, but I noticed Lang and Linsley consistently dominating the interior while protecting Rodgers and blowing open holes for Eddie Lacy. Lacy seemed to always find space to run when he followed Lang and Linsley on the right side of the Packers' line.
Secondary tackling - When the Patriots were able to find space against the Packers, they punished the undersized Packers defensive backs. On several occasions, running back LeGarrette Blount broke through the line and immediately "truck sticked" the first defensive backs he found (most notably strong safety Morgan Burnett). Likewise, tight end Rob Gronkowski punished defenders after the catch. Luckily for the secondary, the Patriots were playing from behind for most of the game, so Blount only recorded 10 carries on the day.
Red-zone efficiency - The only thing that kept the Packers from blowing the Patriots out on Sunday was that the Pack settled for field goal attempts on five of their drives. Rodgers and company moved the ball with ease until they got within the Patriots 20-yard-line. From inside the 20, the Packers were 0-for-4 in finding the end zone, resulting in 12 points instead of a potential 28.
Next week: At home against the Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
Last week: 34-17 loss at the Detroit Lions
For news and recaps of the Lions' Thanksgiving feasting on the Bears, check out POD's coverage here.
Next week: At home against the Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
Last week: 31-13 win at home against the Carolina Panthers
How about those Vikings? One week after nearly knocking off the Packers, they dominated the visiting Panthers thanks primarily to the play of their special teams, which returned two blocked punts for touchdowns. Aside from those touchdowns, the Vikings played a conservative, efficient game. The Vikings' special teams and defense set up the offense with field position inside of Carolina territory three times, and the offense responded with a conservative attack through traditional runs and a short passing game. The Vikings took advantage of the game flow by playing smart football and did not ask too much of their anemic offense. They committed only five penalties and no turnovers for the game, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led the offense's short-yardage passing attack by going 15-for-21 for 138 yards and two touchdowns. This was a rare big win for the Vikings, which never led by less than a touchdown by the nine-minute mark in the first quarter.
Special teams - Obviously, as mentioned above, the Vikings' special teams led the team this week. Aside from blocking two punts for touchdowns, they also forced several short punts by the Panthers, and punt returner Marcus Sherels returned punts for 19 and 26 yards, giving the Vikings the ball in Panthers territory both times.
Pass rush - The Vikings front seven put a lot of pressure on quarterback Cam Newton all game, getting to him for four sacks and registering another five hits. Three of those sacks effectively ended Panthers drives, and the pass rush played a big part in Carolina going only 7-for-16 on third downs.
Sustaining drives - It is hard to tell whether the Vikings' poor offensive output on Sunday was a result of poor play or whether it was just part of the game plan given the circumstances. Regardless, the Vikings offense was uninspiring, going three-and-out on four drives and scoring only 17 points despite routinely working with short fields.
Next week: At home against the New York Jets (2-10)