TiVo Time: San Francisco 49ers
It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 34-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Green Bay Packers did what they needed to in dispatching the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Here is a closer look at the key plays in the game.
13:50, 1st quarter — On third-and-5 from their 34, 49ers quarterback Troy Smith rolls to his right and finds Michael Crabtree down the right sideline for a 39-yard gain. The play is mostly the result of the failure of two Packer defenders. With a four-man rush, Clay Matthews tried an inside move on right tackle Anthony Davis and the rookie buried him. This opened up the entire right side to Smith, who could have easily ran for 10 yards or more. Instead, Smith lofted it to Crabtree after Charlie Peprah mistakenly came up to double Crabtree and in doing so allowed the receiver to get behind him.
11:50, 1st quarter — San Francisco takes a 3-0 lead after Smith throws inaccurately on the post to Crabtree. Newly acquired and wildly inaccurate until this week, Jeff Reed, kicked a 44-yard field goal.
4:28, 1st quarter — Donk! Mason Crosby duck hooks a 29-yard field goal try off the left upright. Once again the Packers drive into scoring range and come away with nothing, a familiar problem this season. The offense visibly seems deflated after this miss. The drive itself was a balanced combination of dump passes to running backs and short outs to the receivers. The offensive line is off to a much better start than last week and blocked well on this drive. The Packers gained positive yardage on each of the running plays they called. With first-and-goal at the six, Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete to Donald Driver on an out. Driver was open, but appeared to hold up, expecting a lofted pass; Rodgers threw a flatter pass in front of Driver and was obviously ticked when Driver didn’t get to it. On second-and-goal, the Packers have a quick screen called to Brett Swain on the right. For some reason, Rodgers instead looks to his left, and with no one open, throws it away to his right. Even though there are two receivers on that side, the referees amazingly call Rodgers for grounding the football. I swear I’ve seen penalties called against the Packers that I haven’t seen called in any of the other 60-plus games I’ve watched this season. Depressingly, the Packers run up the white flag facing third-and-goal from the 16 and just dump it to Greg Jennings for a short gain. Regardless, Crosby has to make the field goal. He is now hitting around 78 percent for the year. There is a word for kickers who can’t average over 80 percent on field goal tries in the NFL — unemployed.
12:40, 2nd quarter — Jeff Reed kicks a 26-yard field goal to put the 49ers ahead 6-0. The 49ers started in Packer territory after a three-and-out by the offense and a poor punt into the wind by Tim Masthay. The key play in the drive is a 25-yard reception by tight end Vernon Davis. In man-to-man coverage, Peprah has good position and has perhaps an interception for a touchdown if he turns to look for the ball. Instead, Davis catches it off his back. The Packers’ defense keeps the game within easy reach by holding the 49ers to only a field goal after they had first-and-goal from the two. On first down, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop crushed a run over left tackle, and Cullen Jenkins recorded a sack on second down to set up a fairly easy third-down stop.
7:02, 2nd quarter — And in a flash, the game changes when Rodgers throws a perfect pass to Greg Jennings on a straight go route for a 57-yard TD. This was taking advantage of the 49ers jumping offside on a third-and-1. The 49ers claimed Rodgers was moving to entice them, but so far the tape has revealed none of that, only blatant idiocy by the 49ers. And they fall victim to the mantra that you can’t afford to end drives with field goals when playing on the road. On the play itself, it was good coverage, but a better pass and great concentration by Jennings. A cool thing I didn’t notice the first time I saw the play, Jennings signaled for the fans in the stands to wait a moment so that he could take a knee before going for his Lambeau Leap.
1:53, 2nd quarter — The Packers take advantage of a three and out by the 49ers and a short punt to start their own 50-yard scoring drive. The bulk of the drive is a 37-yard screen pass to Brandon Jackson that was perhaps the Packers’ best-timed screen of the season. Jackson showed a burst that we haven’t seen since his 71-yard run against the Redskins and has developed into an excellent pass receiving threat for the Packers. On the following play, John Kuhn powered his way into the end zone behind a serviceable push by the offensive line and a great clear out by Josh Sitton. The Packers have scored twice and the 49ers have scored twice, but the Packers lead 14-6.
1:26, 2nd quarter — Only two plays after the Packers’ TD, Davis catches a 66-yard touchdown pass to delay the 49ers inevitable butt whooping. On the play, Hawk and Nick Collins had Davis bracketed. Hawk didn’t get nearly deep enough, though the pass would have made it over him even if he was on Davis’ back, and Collins went for the pick and ended up somewhat embarrassingly missing the tackle when Davis made a leaping catch. After the play, the brash Davis took his helmet off and appears to have been yelling, “That’s what happens when you throw me the football!” However, Davis had been targeted 72 times this year and that was his longest touchdown catch. So, he actually should have been yelling, “That’s what happens once of every 72 times you throw me the football!”
11:51, 3rd quarter — On second-and-16, Rodgers finds a wide-open Driver running up the right hash mark about 20 yards down field. Driver proceeds to spin off a guy, duck another, shove another out of his way, and then bang his way into the end zone for a 61-yard TD. The electric touchdown gives the Packers the fast second half start they needed. It’s now 21-13 and the pressure to answer goes right back on San Francisco and their young quarterback.
6:39, 3rd quarter — The 49ers do their best to quell the crowd by answering with a long, steady drive that ends in another Reed field goal. The drive includes another 20-yard catch by Davis after Charles Woodson fell down in single coverage. It also included a 17-yard run around right end by Anthony Dixon. The Packers have clearly not been as strong in run defense on the outside this season versus the middle of the field. Still, the 49ers kicked another field goal when they needed a touchdown, and it appears Troy Smith gets worse as they get closer to the end zone.
3:37, 3rd quarter — Jennings shows his full repertoire in a quick 56-yard touchdown drive to finally put the Packers ahead by two scores at 28-16. The main part of the drive was a 46-yard pass to Jennings on a deep slant down to the three yard line. After James Starks cracked off a five-yard run on first down, the Packers showed what they can do on second-and-5, as Rodgers went to play action and had plenty of time to throw a perfect pass to Jennings, who beat the highly overpaid Nate Clements on the play. The offense waited until third down, as usual, to score with a quick pass to Jennings, whose quick feet made his defender look like he was watching paint dry.
13:50, 4th quarter — 31-16 Packers after Mason Crosby kicks a 43-yard field goal. The Packers started again in 49er territory after a short punt and a good return by Tramon Williams. From there, it was a steady push to the 20 yard line, where things broke down. Jackson only got one yard on first down, Rodge threw just wide of Jennings and out of bounds on second, and Rodgers took a short sack on third. On the third down play, the Packers appeared to have another well-timed screen set up, but Kuhn failed to look for the ball in time, forcing Rodgers to try to scramble out of a collapsing pocket.
11:55, 4th quarter — San Francisco can’t take advantage of a good kick return to near midfield and go three and out. On third down, Frank Zombo gets a sack and we get to see Zorro again. Great stuff. Zombo shoved Vernon Davis four yards into the backfield and then tackled Smith as he was trying to scramble forward.
3:10, 4th quarter — Mason Crosby kicks a 24-yard field goal to make it 34-16. This ends an impressive drive of over eight minutes, as the Packers effectively ran out the clock and ended the game. The drive was nearly entirely on the ground, mostly by Starks with one Rodgers’ scramble for a first down. Starks has been most effective out of the inverted wish bone and offset I, and the offensive line and Quinn Johnson blocked well on this drive. The Packers settled for a field goal after mysteriously throwing the ball on second and third down once they got inside the 10. The third down play, a quick pass to Driver, was doomed once he had to go down to a knee to catch the pass.
The Packers seem to have found their halfback for their multi-back sets. Jackson has developed into an excellent shotgun back who excels at picking up blitzes and slipping out of the backfield to catch passes. However, in Starks, the Packers have a guy who, for at least one game, against a usually capable run defense was able to consistently get three-to-five yards on first and second down. In the category of where-was-it-last-week, coach Mike McCarthy went back to the three fullback set for short-yardage situations. He also wisely ran behind Josh Sitton. Not surprisingly, the Packers converted every such situation on Sunday.
In reviewing the tape, the Packers appeared especially successful running the football out of the inverted wishbone set, and since they are the only team to run out of this formation, it’s probable most defenses have a hard time preparing for it. I hope
McCarthy doesn’t try to out think himself and simply sticks with Starks out of this set and the I. Go with what works best. If the Packers can consistently get second-and-5, big plays will continue to be there off of play action.
Rodgers and Jennings are torching fools right now, and it’s hard to see that changing in Detroit.
On the other hand, the defense needs to play better. What was worse than the big play Davis made at the end of the first half was the fact he got behind the defense a second time, and the Packers were only saved by a dropped pass. The safeties need to be more assignment sure and need to tackle better. The Packers also need to generate more pass rush and play faster on the edges of the defense. The lack of a pass rush, greatly affected by teams shutting down Clay Matthews and more conservative game plans the last couple weeks, is a big reason why the defense has failed to generate turnovers the last two weeks (not counting the meaningless interception by Collins at the end of this week’s game). This is a defense that needs to generate turnovers to be at its most effective.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.
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