TiVo Time: San Francisco 49ers
As painful as it was, I have painstakingly broken down the tape of the Green Bay Packers season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers to give you the most extensive analysis of the game that you’ll find anywhere.
13:31, 1st quarter — The 49ers get the ball to start the season and the Packers faithful get exactly what they want to see with a three-and-out from their defense. The Packers play from their base defense on 1st and 2nd down and are clearly geared up for the run. Even so, they still give up four yards on both downs. On 3rd and a very manageable 2 yards, Alex Smith drops back, only to have both of his tackles collapse back in his direction. Smith sees Nick Perry pushing Leonard Davis back and decides to step up, only to run right into a diving tackle by Clay Matthews. Matthews gets his first sack of the year on an impressive bull rush against Joe Staley, but this sack doesn’t happen without the initial push by Perry.
9:31, 1st quarter — The Packers drive to the San Francisco 40 before a false start and a sack force them to punt from midfield.
The Packers first drive was a start-and-stop affair highlighted by a 15-yard penalty on Aldon Smith for popping up after an apparent sack and ripping off his helmet, ala Dwayne Rudd. The penalty nearly causes apoplexy for Jim Harbaugh, who clearly is auditioning for Ditka 2.0.
Still, even though the Packers pick up a 3rd and 1 on a quick hitter to Jermichael Finley, they go no further. After the false start on Marshall Newhouse made it 3rd and 11, the 49ers blitzed seven. This clearly caught the Packers by surprise and Rodgers looks outside before getting sacked by Carlos Rodgers.
4:58, 1st quarter — The 49ers go 58 yards in nine plays and kick a field goal to make it 3-0. The 49ers drive is a mix of five-yard runs and 10-yard passes, with one 20-yard pass to Randy Moss to get to the Packers’ 28-yard line. The 49ers only faced 3rd down once and failed to convert that at the Packers’ 22, being forced to settle for a 40-yard field goal.
On this drive, the 49ers twice take advantage of the Packers being in their base defense by lining up Michael Crabtree in the slot and then dumping the ball to him. On the 20-yard completion to Moss, the 49ers lined up with six offensive linemen in the game. Rushing five against six, Perry gets around the extra right tackle and is a step from a sack when Smith delivers it 20 yards downfield to a wide open Moss. Jarrett Bush is in coverage and even though he has help all over the field, including deep, he acts like this is Moss circa 2007 and gives him six yards of cushion.
The Packers get a break on 3rd and 4 when Smith throws it behind Delanie Walker for an incompletion. Even though Walker is a tight end, Bush is also giving him plenty of room and it’s an easy 1st down if the pass is where it should be.
1:20, 1st quarter — The Packers go 35 yards in eight plays, but end up punting from the San Francisco 45. The drive is mostly quick passes and two Cedric Benson runs. On both short runs by Benson, there was excellent blocking and room to run, but Benson dives straight ahead and into the defense for minimal gains instead of finding the daylight.
Stuck with 3rd and 8 from the 45, the 49ers send a corner blitz. John Kuhn, who wasn’t properly positioned presnap, doesn’t see the blitz and slides out of the pocket instead of picking up the blitzer. Rodgers has no choice but to go to Greg Jennings, who is tackled short of the 1st down. Punt.
So far, the Packers have no answer for these 3rd-down blitzes if it’s longer than 3rd and 5.
11:10, 2nd quarter — The 49ers take control of the game with a nine-play, 92-yard drive that ends with an embarrassing wide-open 14-yard TD to Randy Moss.
Two penalties GREATLY helped the drive. On 3rd-and-4 from the 15, Bush got called for an obvious hold, granting the 49ers a 1st down when otherwise they would have been looking at a three-and-out. The Packers then got tagged with a horrific personal foul on Clay Matthews that moved the ball to the 40-yard line, when it otherwise would have been 3rd and 7.
The 49ers offense really got into gear after that call. They would not face 3rd down again. On their biggest gain, the 49ers surprised the Packers once again by going empty backfield and spreading everyone out. The Packers counter with Perry on Crabtree, which unsurprisingly results in a 16-yard completion up the middle.
Shortly thereafter, the Packers look confused by Moss lining up in the slot, which they resolve by just refusing to cover him. This appears to be Morgan Burnett’s assignment, but he immediately bitches at M.D. Jennings, who stayed on the other side of the field to double cover Vernon Davis.
4:40, 2nd quarter — The Packers respond with their best drive to date, going 80 yards in 10 plays.
The Packers essentially forego the run here and repeatedly line up with Randall Cobb in the backfield. Even though this drive would be marred by penalties, most of them complete horseshit, the Packers actually made it look otherwise pretty easy. They appear to have found something in Jordy Nelson against Tarell Brown and Cobb out of the backfield.
After some buffoonery by Jermichael Finley in the end zone — he was rewarded with a phantom call — Finley gets the 1-yard TD catch and it’s game on at 10-7.
00:59, 2nd quarter — The 49ers add a 43-yard field goal to go up 13-7. The Packers continue to play their base and the 49ers continue to spread them out and work the slot against their linebackers. The 49ers pick up only one 3rd down and that is once again via penalty.
This is the third 3rd down converted via penalty in the 1st half, and oddly, the 49ers would end the half without converting a single 3rd down.
On 3rd and 1 from the Packers 25, A.J. Hawk shoots a gap and stuffs Frank Gore in the backfield, forcing the field goal. Actually, per the tape, Hawk has had a hell of a 1st half.
00:00, 2nd quarter — In a disastrous turn of events that certainly reminds one of the last end of half played on this field, the 49ers add a 63-yard field goal that bounces off the crossbar and through.
The Packers took over at their 20 with 55 seconds left to go in the half. Not only do they go three and out, but they also manage to hand the 49ers the ball back without them having to use their final timeout. First, Mike McCarthy very foolishly calls timeout on 3rd and 8 with only 39 seconds left. Then, Aaron Rodgers not only fails to pick up the 1st down, but also throws the ball away to stop the clock.
A decent punt return gave the 49ers the ball at their 38 with 18 seconds remaining. Even though the 49ers insert their wildcat QB, the oblivious Packers coaching staff puts the dime defense on the field. The same wildcat QB predictably runs right up the middle for 17 yards on an extremely well-blocked play where the Packers once again look surprised.
After a couple strange incompletions by Alex Smith, David Akers hits the NFL record-tying 63-yarder off the crossbar. One of the risks of kicking a long field goal is that it raises the chance of a block and yet, the Packers make very little effort to even try to block it, with only B.J. Raji, whose vertical seemingly resembles that of Phil Mickelson, bothering to jump up in the attempt.
13:33, 3rd quarter — The Packers add to the 49ers’ momentum by going three-and-out to start the half. The Packers ran Benson left out of the I formation on 1st down. Everyone is blocking their man except for T.J. Lang, whose man takes a shot at Benson in the backfield. Benson does well to get two yards. On 2nd down, Rodgers finds Nelson for 7 yards. Nelson goes out of bounds instead of getting the 1st.
On 3rd and 1, the Packers go with their second play-action pass of the game, and Rodgers overthrows Nelson on the deep slant. Considering this is the only time I’ve seen the 49ers with just one safety back, it’s understandable that you would take a shot here. What doesn’t make any sense is that you would do it while down two scores.
That is probably a perfectly thrown ball except that safety Dashon Goldson gets into Nelson’s path, causing him to cut underneath instead of over the top, which is what Rodgers would be expecting.
8:20, 3rd quarter — The 49ers take immediate advantage of the three and out and jump out front 23-7 by going 84 yards in nine plays.
After a Woodson sack started the half for the Packers defense, the 49ers faced 3rd-and-8 from their 18. They easily pick it up by sending Crabtree in motion and then back to the outside. This is simple film study by San Francisco. They know the Packers outside cornerbacks will go into off coverage if the outside receiver motions into the slot. Once Tramon Williams is in off coverage, it’s nearly impossible for him to stop this play. Crabtree cuts off Vernon Davis and is wide open. Williams has to wait for Davis to clear before he can get back outside. Crabtree jukes Williams and gets 20 yards.
Frank Gore immediately followed that up with a 20-yard run around the right end. On that play, Ryan Pickett and D.J. Smith allowed the same guard to block them, springing Gore up the right side, where he juked M.D. Jennings and got another 20 yards.
Shortly after, the 49ers got their longest gain of the game by hitting a wide open Vernon Davis across the middle. In a near replay of the breakdown that sprung Moss, Morgan Burnett moved over to line up across from Davis, only to let him run right by him while no one picked him up. Meanwhile, Burnett stayed in the right flat, covering no one. This is the second blown coverage of the game for the Packers secondary.
The 49ers would score on a huge 3rd-and-goal from the 4, where the Packers rushed three and dropped eight. Even though there are eight guys in coverage, I see at least three 49ers receivers open. Alex Smith, as seemed to be the case all game, never takes his eyes off of the same guy — Davis — who took advantage of an old-school pick at the goal line to shake loose of Bush.
This is the fifth straight possession the 49ers scored.
4:50, 3rd quarter — The Packers drive to midfield only to have Finley drop the ball on 3rd and 3. It’s even more sickening on replay because Greg Jennings is wide open in the middle of the field.
00:50, 3rd quarter — The 49ers pick up a couple 1st downs before failing to convert 3rd and 5 and punt it back to the Packers.
On 2nd-and-15 from their own 10, San Francisco runs Gore around the left end. Matthews gets great penetration and forces the play to the far outside. Hilariously, D.J. Smith is in coverage on Delanie Walker and is completely unaware that a run is occurring. Thus, Gore runs right by the unblocked Smith and up the sideline for 16 yards.
14:10, 4th quarter — The Packers finally go back to the formation that got them their TD, with Cobb in the backfield, and proceed to drive past midfield.
Unfortunately, once past midfield, the Packers fail to convert 3rd and 6 and have to punt. On the 3rd down, Jennings and Cobb run a cross in the middle. Cobb is the underneath man and is open. Rodgers tries to hit Jennings instead, even though Carlos Rogers is running the cross faster than Jennings. Rogers has his back to the ball and his hands on Jennings, but apparently, only the 49ers can count on penalties for 1st downs.
11:35, 4th quarter — San Francisco goes into conservative mode and goes three and out. They pay for it when Cobb returns the ensuing punt for a 75-yard TD. The refs originally throw a flag on Brad Jones, only to correctly pick it up. The announcers are quick to show a real block in the back by Terrell Manning, but that was never an issue. The 49er who was knocked down never would have made a play on Cobb, and therefore, that is actually a break for the 49ers if it’s called. It didn’t affect the play.
Rodgers hits Nelson to convert the 2-point conversion and just like that it is 23-15.
9:05, 4th quarter — The Packers defense does its job again and gives the offense a chance to tie the game by forcing another three and out.
On 3rd and 2, Sam Shields miraculously tackles Gore short of the first and equally miraculously, the refs mark it correctly.
8:58, 4th quarter — It takes one play for Aaron Rodgers to throw the Packers’ momentum away when he carelessly hits NaVorro Bowman right in the hands for an INT.
VERY tricky defense here by the 49ers. They actually have Aldon Smith lined up on Greg Jennings. Smith lets Jennings go, who then believes he’s open. However, since Smith is out in the left flat, Bowman can release John Kuhn and drop back to cover the middle. He ends up dropping right back into the throwing lane.
This is a risky move by the 49ers that paid off big. If Rodgers simply hangs on to the ball, the safety has to vacate the middle of the field to cover Jennings, which leaves a big play possible for Jordy Nelson or James Jones.
8:41, 4th quarter — The defense collapses and gives up a 23-yard TD run to Gore around the right end.
The 49ers have no wide receivers on the field. They have all bigs, with only Vernon Davis capable of running a route. The Packers are in the right defense with their elephant package in, but they still have four guys off the line of scrimmage for some reason.
The debacle begins when A.J. Hawk attempts to jump a gap right in front of him that isn’t there and gets swallowed up. His unusual aggressiveness is probably because he knows Woodson is right behind him to cover the edge. The problem is, Woodson stumbles and is late getting to the edge. Burnett and D.J. Smith are also slow to react and get caught up in traffic.
Gore goes untouched up the sideline until dodging pathetic attempts to tackle by Smith and Burnett around the 5 before backing into the end zone. The score makes it 30-15 San Fran.
6:10, 4th quarter — The Packers do what they have to by going 76 yards in just five plays to make it a one-score game again. The drive is keyed by Rodgers’ best play of the game. He scrambled to his right and then found James Jones open downfield. Jones, who had a great game, broke a couple tackles and got loose up the sideline for 49 yards. Jones would cap the drive with a 10-yard TD catch just two plays later to make it 30-22.
I can only hope Mike McCarthy was more concerned with the Bears game than this one because the Packers hardly looked prepared for this game. Meanwhile, the 49ers looked like they planned all offseason for this game. They used numerous formations to put the Packers into defensive positions that they clearly weren’t ready for. On offense, the only new wrinkle I saw in this game was using Randall Cobb out of the backfield, which worked, but was strangely abandoned after getting the Packers their first TD.
The debacle before the half and Rodgers’ INT were the biggest factors in the game in my opinion. The refs were horrendous and I’ll leave it at that.
The 49ers scored 30 points even though they only converted two of nine third downs. The Packers defense had a good run in the 2nd half, but they were manhandled against the run and blew coverage twice to give up big plays.
Morgan Burnett, Ryan Pickett and D.J. Smith had poor games. B.J. Raji and Jerel Worthy were virtually invisible. A.J. Hawk had one of his better games in recent memory and made 14 tackles to lead the team. The Packers’ defensive line was so badly abused that Hawk and Smith had to get off blocks on virtually every single running play, which explains why most running plays went for at least four yards. The Packers defensive line also failed to pursue down the line, which allowed cutbacks on nearly every outside run.
The primary concern, the pass rush, was improved in this game as the Packers collected four sacks in just 26 dropbacks by Alex Smith. Nick Perry was good early on, but seemed to disappear as the game went on. Clay Matthews was the best defensive player on the field, period. The 49ers gave up a lot of sacks last year; so we will see shortly if the Packers are improved there or if it was just San Francisco.
The Packers offensive line gave Aaron Rodgers enough time to win this game. T.J. Lang had the worst game of the group and single-handedly foiled two running plays by failing to block his man. The failure in the rushing game was a group effort, with the line and Benson taking turns screwing up. Benson did not show great patience or vision and ran into the defense instead of to daylight the couple times it was actually there.
The Packers are going to continue to face this two-deep defense, which is aimed at taking away the big play. The Packers seemed to have something in Nelson and Cobb, but McCarthy appeared to care more about mixing formations than sticking with what was working.
I expect a much better game plan on both sides for the Bears game. Although the Bears will certainly air it out more than the 49ers, they would be foolish not to try the same basic formula: run the football, challenge the linebackers, limit the big plays.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.