For 17 minutes Sunday, the offense of the Green Bay Packers looked unstoppable against Mike Zimmer's vaunted Minnesota Vikings defense.
The Packers gained 198 yards on 22 plays (9.0 yards per play) — scoring three straight touchdowns to lead 21-0 — and reached the Minnesota 28 on their fourth drive.
Then Geronimo Allison fumbled, and Green Bay didn't score again. The Packers totaled 137 yards over their final 47 plays (2.9 average), punting eight times.
What the heck happened?
The good: Run game
The final numbers weren't eye-popping (144 yards on 33 carries, 4.4 average), but the Packers' ground game was extremely steady. Of 33 runs, 17 gained at least 4 yards and 24 gained at least 2.
Instead of the Vikings' touted D-line pinning its ears back, the Packers' front dictated tempo, getting consistent push in Matt LaFleur's zone scheme. They excelled sealing the backside to open cutback lanes, and rookie Elgton Jenkins — rotating with Lane Taylor at left guard — brought extra pop.
Even in obvious running situations, Green Bay's front got push. All six rushes on the final drive gained yardage, totaling 25 critical yards to bleed clock, a rarity against a defense selling out vs. run.
LaFleur's opening script was the primary reason for the Packers' roaring start, starting with a staple play-action deep shot with a twist to attack Minnesota.
As Marquez Valdes-Scantling ran a shallow cross, Davante Adams started a typical deeper crosser from the other side. But after initially stemming inside, Adams broke to the corner, fooling safety Harrison Smith and coming wide open in the Cover-2 void. It was perfect for Zimmer's split-safety coverages (Cover-2 and Cover-4) and gained 39 yards.
LaFleur committed to play-action much heavier than in Week 1. Just as important, the offensive line sold play-action better, driving off the ball low — to simulate run-blocking — after several unconvincing reps in Chicago.
LaFleur also built plays off each other with a purpose. He tried two play-action deep shots with Adams actually breaking inward, drawing a 25-yard interference penalty and just missing a big play (more on that below) on another.
He also installed a two-RB package (called "pony") with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, creating the opening TD. On the game's second snap, Jones went in jet motion left on a run-pass option for a flare screen, while the O-line blocked a run for Williams to the right. Rodgers hit Jones for 6 yards.
Two plays later, Green Bay showed the same exact look and motion, but Rodgers faked the flare and flipped a screen to Williams, who scurried in for a 15-yard score.
It sounds obvious, but Rodgers simply threw the ball much better Sunday than in Chicago. He even had gorgeous incompletions, including two deep balls that hit receivers' hands, both thrown off his back foot with pinpoint ball placement.
The bad: Missed opportunities
Both were heavily contested, but Adams and Valdes-Scantling each failed to hang on for gains of 33 and 28 yards, respectively, with the latter on third-and-6 to start the fourth quarter.
Rodgers also had narrow back-to-back misses in the fourth. First, he threw too high for Valdes-Scantling, who couldn't get his feet down inbounds, preventing an 18-yard gain.
Then, Rodgers threw just behind Jones' wheel route, allowing Eric Kendricks to bat it away. Placed in front of Jones, it might have been a touchdown, as LaFleur's design had cleared out that side of the field.
The ugly: Self-inflicted wounds
Allison's fumble was one a critical error, and the Packers also lost the ball late in the first half because Rodgers didn't realize it was fourth-and-1.
Then after halftime, a fumbled snap set up the Vikings' second touchdown. Corey Linsley appeared to snap before Rodgers was ready, and it also came out low.
Another drive ended with Danielle Hunter beating Jimmy Graham one-on-one for a sack, a major mismatch. (Jones was set to double-team Hunter, but Kendricks' blitz superseded that assignment.) LaFleur likely wants that call back.
Elsewhere, typical stalwart left tackle David Bakhtiari followed an up-and-down Week 1 with more leaks in protection. He allowed a hit when late off the snap and permitted bull-rush pressure on several others.
Coaches never like drops, fumbles or game-management errors, but those are relatively easy fixes. Green Bay's scheme was sound, creating defined reads to keep Rodgers on-schedule when necessary and allowing him to improvise when appropriate. The offensive line bullied a stout front in the run game, which LaFleur's scheme is built on.
Those are major reasons for optimism despite Sunday's drought over the final 43 minutes.