So I know this was over a week ago, but I just watched the game film from the Packers' visit to the Metrodome in the NFL's Week 7. The thing I wanted to focus on for this post was the absolutely crushing final drive of the Packers that ran out the final 2:30 of the game and squashed any hope of a Vikings comeback. I'm going to break down the three biggest plays of the six (plus one penalty) on the clock-killing drive.
The Packers got the ball, up 33-27, in a game that had turned from a rout to a close game after two straight Vikings scores. They needed to kill the clock and force Minnesota to burn its timeouts. A three-and-out before the two-minute warning would force Minnesota to expend its timeouts, but leave them with two minutes to mount a potentially game-winning drive.
Before the start of the drive, the Packers (as a team) had carried 20 times for just 59 yards, a 2.95 yard average. RB James Starks hadn't done much outside of an early 16-yarder, having carried seven times for 20 yards. So there was no reasonable expectation for what happened next.
(Just to be clear, the three plays I'm outlining are first, second and third down sequentially, but they weren't on the same series. It went first and 10, Starks first down. First and 10, Finley false start, Starks carry, Starks first down on 2nd and 11. First and 10, Starks carry, Starks carry, Starks first down on 3rd and 7.)
First and 10
Starting from their 20-yard line, the Packers lined up with a tight end to either side of the formation (Jermichael Finley on the left, Andrew Quarless on the right). John Kuhn, at fullback, and Starks lined up in an I-formation with James Jones split to the right side. The Vikings countered with their standard four-man line of (offense's left to right) DE Jared Allen, DT Remi Ayodele, DT Kevin Williams and DE Brian Robison and brought all three linebackers up near the line of scrimmage.
The play is a called run off right guard. At the snap, Quarless steers Robison way past the line of scrimmage as he charges into the backfield. RG Josh Sitton ties up Williams, which allows RT Brian Bulaga to move around him and pick up MLB E.J. Henderson. Meanwhile, C Scott Wells stymies OLB Chad Greenway, who's coming up the middle. Bulaga and Sitton essentially wall off their men towards the middle of the field and Quarless steers Robison out of the play, creating a huge hole off right guard.
Starks follows Kuhn through the hole. Kuhn lays a devastating block on S Jamarcus Sanford at the 20, giving Starks more room. LG T.J. Lang, who has leaked out of the scrum to the second level, ties up OLB Erin Henderson long enough to take him out of the play. When CB Asher Allen tries to go the wrong way around Jones, Starks has ample room in the open field. He's taken down by safety Husain Abdullah, who initially bailed deep, at the 35-yard line. Fifteen-yard gain.
Second and 11
After a false start on Finley and a four-yard gain when Starks pushed the pile, the Packers faced 2nd and 11 at their own 34, with the Vikings having burned two timeouts.
This time, Mike McCarthy splits Jones wide right and WR Jordy Nelson wide left, with Finley in the left slot. Starks lines up to the left of Aaron Rodgers in the shotgun. Quarless is initially lined up next to LT Marshall Newhouse, but motions back to just behind the line (although basically in the same place, just a few feet back).
The run, again, appears to be called off right guard. Rodgers hands the ball off to Starks. Bulaga does to Robison essentially what Quarless did to him three plays ago; Robison charges into the backfield and Bulaga pushes him wide and out of the play. Sitton goes right to the linebacker level and tries to grab Erin Henderson. Scott Wells makes the whole play with a phenomenal block on Williams, absolutely tying him up and eventually driving him into the ground after Starks has passed. Lang also moves to the linebacker level to take on E.J. Henderson.
Starks makes this play, however. Neither Sitton nor Lang's blocks on their respective Hendersons are that great, and both linebackers are charging laterally at Starks as he gets to the line of scrimmage. He simply outruns both Hendersons around the corner. Erin Henderson gets his hands on Starks and might have dragged him down from behind, but Starks makes Abdullah miss with a great cut in the open field and Abdullah crashes into Henderson instead. Starks is finally brought down by a combination of Allen, who had just gotten off Jones' block, and backup safety Tyrell Johnson, but the damage is done and it's a 20-yard gain.
Third and 7
The 20-yard first down forced the Vikings to spend their last timeout. Starks was dropped for a 1-yard loss on first down in a general blocking catastrophe before the two-minute warning. Starks then ran for 4, setting up a critical third and 7 at the Vikings' 44 with around 1:20 left in the game. A first down would effectively end the game.
This time, the Packers are back in a two-tight end set, with Finley tight to the right side and Quarless tight to the left. Nelson is split wide left. Kuhn and Starks are in the I-formation. The Vikings, meanwhile, have six men actually on the line (the down line, Erin Henderson on the offense's left and Asher Allen on the right) and nine in the box with Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Johnson. Everybody in the building knows the Packers are going to run the ball.
The play appears to be a called run off left guard. Wells takes on Remi Ayodele, while Lang chips on Ayodele before peeling off to block E.J. Henderson. Henderson and Johnson both read run at the snap of the ball and charge the left side of the Packers' line (based, I believe, on the direction Kuhn was running). Newhouse ties up Jared Allen and Quarless blocks Erin Henderson. However, none of those Packers are able to really drive their men off the line and create a gap. It's a total snafu, and while the Packers are making decent individual blocks, Ayodele has managed to work his way into where the hole is supposed to be.
However, on the other side of the play, Brian Bulaga is being an absolute rock. Kevin Williams initially went to Bulaga's right shoulder, going outside instead of inside. In a fraction of a second, Bulaga takes advantage of that by getting to the inside and walling off Williams to the outside of the play. Not only does he eventually push Williams to the ground, but by getting to the spot he does, Bulaga prevents Brian Robison (blocked rather ineffectively by Finley) from getting to the play. To complicate matters for the Vikings, Asher Allen can't get around the mini-scrum of Bulaga, Williams, Finley and Robison and just sort of hovers indecisively near the line of scrimmage.
If you're keeping score at home, Bulaga effectively took care of the right side of the Vikings' defensive line (Williams and Robison) and everyone else went to the left, starting with center Scott Wells. Sitton, the right guard, is left with nobody to block, so he proceeds to the second level and obliterates the hapless Greenway.
Meanwhile, Starks (after taking the handoff) sees the cluster bomb on the left side and cuts back right into the huge hole opened by Sitton and Bulaga. He runs through the ineffective tackle of Allen at around the 39-yard line, breaks Greenway's tackle as well and manages a few more yards before Abdullah ropes him down. However, the damage is done. It's a 13-yard gain and the game-winning first down for the Packers.
Starks gained 55 yards in his six carries on that drive (9.1 ypc), all of them against a defense primarily concerned with stopping the run. The Packers finished with 114 yards on 26 carries, a 4.38 yard average. They're not normally a running team, nor are they especially effective under most circumstances running the ball. However, when the Packers absolutely needed to make plays, the offensive line and Starks (and Kuhn and Quarless) made them. Result: Packers win.
If you'd like to see the plays I'm talking about, NFL.com has the first and second ones here.