The anatomy of a drive, those special ones by quarterbacks, is always something fun to study, even more so when they help keep a team in line for a possible perfect season.
That's what we had last week when the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 38-35. Aaron Rodgers had one of those special drives the great quarterbacks have in the final minute to lead the Packers to a 31-yard game-winning field goal by Mason Crosby on the final play of the game.
In studying the five plays that led to the game-winner, moving from his own 20 to the Giants' 18 to set up the field goal, the thing I noticed on tape was how easy it was for Rodgers.
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That's where he is now.
He's like Michael Jordan in his prime. He's making tough things look easy to do. The other thing you notice is how he uses his eyes and his pre-snap reads to influence the defense, always seemingly knowing where he's eventually going to go.
Rodgers was special on the drive. Here's a breakdown of it:
• First-and-10 at his own 20 with 58 seconds left in the game: Rodgers lined up in the shotgun with one back and one receiver to his left, three to the right, including tight end Jermichael Finley lined up in the slot between the other two receivers. The Giants rushed four and played man-under coverage. Rodgers took the snap and glanced inside at Greg Jennings, but he was doubled. He then snapped his head to the right and saw Finley in man coverage with rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams. Finley beat him to the outside and Rodgers hit him with a rocket in the perfect spot. Williams dove to tackle Finley, but missed, and Finley ended up with a 24-yard gain when he turned it up the right sideline.
• First-and-10 at his own 44 with 51 seconds left: Rodgers lined up in the shotgun with one back to his right. He had two receivers lined up to the left with Jordy Nelson wide of Jennings. Finley was also lined up next to the tackle on the left side with another receiver wide on the right side. The Giants rushed four and played man coverage with a single-high safety. Rodgers took the snap and immediately was pressured by Justin Tuck, who beat guard Evan Dietrich-Smith with a hard inside move. Rodgers glanced inside at first to Finley, but he was covered. He then took a shot on a long throw to Nelson, who beat corner Will Blackmon in man coverage. Rodgers dropped the ball perfectly into Nelson's hands for a 27-yard gain.
• First-and-10 at the Giants' 29 with 44 seconds left: Rodgers again lined up in the shotgun with running back Brandon Saine to his right. He had one receiver on his left and two to the right. Finley was lined up next to the right tackle. The Giants changed things up here. They went to a zone defense with a four-man rush. Rodgers took the snap and tried to go to the receiver on his left, but he was covered. He quickly turned and threw to Saine on the right, but Corey Webster made a great play to tackle him for a 1-yard loss. Saine actually lost the football, but fell on it.
• Second-and-11 from the Giants' 30 with 21 seconds left: Rodgers again lined up in the shotgun with Saine to his right in the backfield. The Giants were in two-deep zone again and rushed four. Donald Driver was lined up wide left with Jennings in the slot inside of him. Finley was in-line next to the right tackle with Nelson lined up wide right. Rodgers took the snap and quickly saw that Jennings beat corner Aaron Ross with a quick outside move from his slot position. It was an easy throw, and Jennings turned it up field for a 12-yard gain to the 18. Ross played way too soft in coverage.
The next play, Crosby came in and banged home a 31-yard field goal to win it. Five plays, 68 yards in 58 seconds and the ball didn't hit the ground. He also picked on a rookie linebacker and a backup corner in Blackmon, a former teammate in Green Bay. Rodgers knows where to go with the football and he also knows how to make it look really easy.
Film Study (10 things I saw from the tape)
1. In studying Chris Johnson's past two games, the thing you notice is how much quicker and more decisive he looks than earlier this season. He's cutting better and he's also breaking tackles. Earlier this season, Johnson struggled with all of that. But in the past two games, he has looked like the Johnson the Titans expected to see when they signed him to a long-term extension. Maybe Johnson wasn't in shape. He sure looks faster now. In the past two games, Johnson has rushed for 343 of his 852 yards. His per-rush average is now up to 4.1 a carry. At 7-5, Johnson has the Titans back in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
2. The Arizona Cardinals defense is much improved the past four weeks. The big reason is the improved play of several younger players, including corner Patrick Peterson. He still gives up some catches, like he did against Dallas, but he's improving in coverage each week. He got beat on an inside move by Dez Bryant for a touchdown, but it was asking a lot of him on that play. The Cardinals blitzed the middle of the field and it was wide open. Bryant, lined up on the left side of the formation, ran an inside route, stopped for a second to make it look as if he were going back outside, and then continued inside for an easy score. But Peterson broke up a couple of passes and was better in man coverage. Another player who played well is defensive end Calais Campbell. He was a major flop in 2010, but he has emerged as a good down end in their 3-4 scheme.
3. You know we have to have some Tim Tebow evaluation here this week. After watching his tape against Minnesota, here's the conclusion: Better. But I will say this: Both touchdown passes were off the option fake. And the first one was a busted coverage. The second one was a nice scramble play by Tebow, and a good play by Demaryius Thomas to get open off the scramble. But here's the kicker on that: Thomas was open after Tebow's play-fake, but he didn't throw the ball on time. He held it. That led to him scrambling to his left -- even though there wasn't any pressure -- and then he did keep his head up to find Thomas. But he has to get to the point where he throws to Thomas on time. You can't count on "accident" plays all the time. He did move his head better against Minnesota the few times where he did stay in the pocket. The best throw he made all day was on the drive to the tying field goal. The Vikings busted coverage again in zone, and Tebow looked to the middle of the field to make it happen. He then snapped his head to the left and hit a wide-open Thomas for a 40-yard gain. There is no denying he was better last week, but the Vikings helped him with busted coverage.
4. Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson, playing for the injured Stephen Nicholas, played like he did five years ago in Jacksonville. Peterson excelled against the Texans running game, flying around to make tackles. On one play, he took on the fullback, lost his helmet, and still tried to tackle the running back. Peterson, who isn't great in coverage anymore, also had an interception for a touchdown. But it was called back for defensive holding away from the play. For one game, Peterson looked good.
5. I was impressed with T.J. Yates in his first start against the Falcons. He was poised and made some really nice throws. His deep ball to Andre Johnson to set up the first touchdown looked like something you would see from Matt Schaub. He also made a nice throw on a deep cross to Johnson that he dropped. For the most part, Yates seemed to pick out the right receiver and he didn't miss many when they were open. It wasn't a great performance numbers-wise, but it was a good first start. Peterson did pick him for what should have been a score. Yates looked like a rookie on that play, staring down Arian Foster. But he looked poised for much of the day.
6. Whenever you look at a stat line and see interceptions thrown, you immediately think horrible day by the quarterback. But Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw two picks last week against the Texans. One was on a flea-flicker play in which he made a bad deep throw, but the other was the fault of receiver Julio Jones. Ryan thought Jones was going inside Jason Allen on a long route, but he actually jumped outside of him. Allen picked the ball off and returned it 33 yards. That was not on Ryan. I will say that Ryan missed some deep shots by throwing long or high to open receivers.
7. If the Cowboys are to have a real chance to slow the Giants and Eli Manning this week, corner Terence Newman has to play better. He wasn’t very good last week against Arizona. He was picked on all day, and one of the biggest Cardinals offensive plays came when he bit on what looked to be a short pass to Andre Roberts and then Roberts spun away from him down the field for a 40-yard gain to set up the Cardinals' tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Newman was beaten several other times. He just doesn't seem like the same player he was earlier in his career. Expect the Giants to attack him this week with Hakeem Nicks.
8. How do big mistakes happen for quarterbacks? A lot of times, it's because there aren't enough receivers in a route. Take Eli Manning's interception that Clay Matthews returned for a touchdown last Sunday. On a first-and-10 from the Giants 39, New York ran two receivers into the secondary. The Packers had both covered well, dropping seven, and Manning had nowhere to go with the football. As the Green Bay rush got close to him -- it was linebacker D.J. Smith -- he was flushed to his right where he saw back Ahmad Bradshaw slip out of the backfield. What he didn't see was Matthews, who read his eyes, jumped the route and returned it for a touchdown.
9. Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert continued his struggles Monday night against the Chargers. But here's something that most don't know: The Jaguars don't have sight adjustments in their offense. That means when Gabbert sees a blitz, he and the receivers can't adjust to it. On one play Monday night, the Chargers showed an all-out blitz. Gabbert had to call timeout. He saw it, but he couldn't get out of his play. The Jaguars also don't run enough deep routes to the receivers in the middle of the field and rarely use bunch formations. It's too early to call Gabbert a bust with everything going on around him. But he needs to be more comfortable in the pocket. He feels pressure at times when it is isn't there.
10. It's funny what missing a pass rusher can do to an average corner. We know Champ Bailey is special. But Andre Goodman isn't in that class. When Von Miller is on the field rushing the passer the way he has this season, it helps hide Goodman some. Miller missed last week's game against the Vikings, and Goodman had a rough day. He was picked on a lot by Christian Ponder. But, hey, even Bailey gave up a touchdown in man coverage on a crossing route to Percy Harvin. That's how important Miller is to that defense.
1. Ravens running back Ray Rice: He rushed for 204 yards against the Browns, showing how valuable he is to this team. He has to get the carries down the stretch and in the playoffs.
2. Texans linebacker Brian Cushing: If he isn't in the Pro Bowl this season, it will be a crime. He was everywhere against the Falcons.
3. Vikings receiver Percy Harvin: He turned in two huge plays because of his speed last week. This is the Harvin the Vikings need to have.
4. Packers DT B.J. Raji: He hasn't had a good year, but he had one of his best games against the Giants. He looked quicker than he has all season long.
5. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul: He didn't get a sack, but he spent the day pressuring Rodgers.
1. Bears tackle Lance Louis: He had a horrible day against the Chiefs and is really a guard trying to play tackle. He wins the Spinning Top Award this week.
2. Falcons receiver Julio Jones: Ran the wrong route on the pick and also dropped a pass that would have been a first down. He also could have caught the final pass of the game that would have tied it on the final play.
4. Texans right tackle Eric Winston: Normally one of the top players at his position, he struggled against John Abraham and others last week. Abraham beat him for a sack and also tipped a ball on the next play.
5. Chargers nose tackle Antonio Garay: I watched the Jacksonville game live. Watching Garay, it's hard to believe he's the same player he was a year ago. He spent the game getting blocked.
Three and outs
Three players who are moving up draft boards
1. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: He reminds me of Mike Wallace of the Steelers. He can fly.
2. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: He is a pass-rushing force who has really come on this year. He has a quick first step.
3. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina: His size is a concern, but boy, is he an athletic player. He will be a 10-year starter and a good one.
Three players you need to keep an eye on when you're playing against them
1. Steelers receiver Hines Ward: Yes, he does it in a sneaky way. But he's as chippy as they come.
2. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh: What he's about has come to light with his Thanksgiving Day stomp, but it's more than that. Just ask his opponents.
3. Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo: He loves the idea he's on any list like this. And watching him, you know he deserves it.
Tweets at Me
1. From @BradyMagic: @PriscoCBS I think you deliberately incite your twitter haters. We need more ppl like you to expose their spectacular stupidity #Prisco
2. From @BjornTouraque: @PriscoCBS LOVE YOU UNCLE PETE!
3. From @anjamo9: @PriscoCBS thank goodness for adulthood. it allows Pete Prisco to forget how terrible he was at everything as a child and teen