Before the game even finished today, the Green Bay Packers had clinched a franchise-record seventh straight postseason appearance with losses by Tampa Bay and New York. Green Bay needed a win on the road, however, to maintain a one game lead in the NFC North over Minnesota. They improved their road record to 5-2 by defeating the Oakland Raiders, 30-20.
A hot start by the defense set the tone early in the game. Back-to-back interceptions, including a pick-six by Damarious Randall, propelled the Pack to a 14-0 lead before you could say “Amari Cooper is about to go off.” If you happened to say that, you were right on cue. Randall shut down Dez Bryant last week after Sam Shields went down. Unfortunately for Randall, Matt Cassel was no longer under center.
The Raiders took advantage of a James Starks fumble when Derek Carr found the rookie receiver for a touchdown near the end of the first half. Cooper continued stealing Randall’s lunch money in the third quarter, including 67 of his 120 receiving yards on one drive.
On the offensive side, Green Bay struggled mightily to move the ball in the first half. The lone offensive touchdown came following Micah Hyde’s interception that set up Aaron Rodgers and company at Oakland’s 17 yard line. Eddie Lacy was seldom used again, with no signs of breaking curfew to defend his limited touches. Davante Adams, meanwhile, continues his disappointing year with more dropped passes and poor route running.
The offense put together a solid string of drives in the second half. Randall Cobb was much more active and even took carries at running back for a full drive. Green Bay scored on four straight possessions, highlighted by a 19 play, 92 yard drive that ate up 8:11 of time but ended with a field goal. Green Bay’s defense held Oakland’s offense to just seven first down on seven drives to preserve the lead and the victory.
This has been an unconventional season by Green Bay football standards. Their record shows 10-4, but the eye test says otherwise. The types of inconsistencies we have seen this year, particularly on offense, are unheard of in the McCarthy-Rodgers era.
Dropped balls. Bad routes. Three-and-outs. Struggles on short yardage. Struggles in the red zone. Eddie Lacy. These are prevalent issues that are either going unaddressed or poorly executed. These are issues that take you out of the playoffs right away. Green Bay has been out-gained in five of their ten wins this year. Yet, somehow, they find a way to get it done.
Every week it baffles me. A lot of credit goes to the defense for stepping up when it counts. Dom Capers’ unit has forced a turnover in every game this season except one. Yards will be given up, but points are hard to come by against Green Bay. The sixth ranked defense in terms of points allowed made two more red zone stops this afternoon. Still, the defense has had their troubles.
A big reason for Green Bay’s success resides has seemingly gone unnoticed. The hidden gem behind this 2015 Green Bay team was the achilles heel to the 2014 Green Bay team: special teams.
The best kept secret this year has been Ron Zook’s unit. In a year full of inconsistencies, a steady special teams has been a quiet anchor for this team.
Green Bay is one of four teams to not allow a non-offensive touchdown this year. Green Bay leads the league in opponent punt return average (4.3 yards/return). Green Bay even recovered an onside kick. Not to mention Mason Crosby has been money from everywhere this year. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Jeff Janis makes the Pro Bowl off his special teams play alone (still waiting for him to bring a kickoff back, though).
Field position is extremely important in the NFL and Green Bay has done a great job keeping opponents at a respectable distance. For all the special teams hysteria following the playoff loss at Seattle, there hasn’t been a peep this year. The ineptitude of last year’s team is no more. Silence about special teams means they are doing their job and doing it well.
The mantra will forever reign true – a win is a win. It seems as though Green Bay is embracing that more than ever this year. The three-game win streak will face a tough test at Arizona next week, which could have huge seeding implications in the playoffs.
First Downs – GB 18 / OAK 20
Turnovers – GB 2 / OAK 2
Time of Possession – GB 29:29 / OAK 30:31
Penalties – GB 6-75 / OAK 10-95