Total View: Packers vs. 49ers, Playoff Edition
For those finally willing to go back and take a close look at the debacle that ended the Green Bay Packers 2012 season, I have all the sickening details right here, just in time for all the San Francisco 49ers media hype.
12:48, 1st quarter — The Packers have their ideal start when the first 49ers’ possession ends with a defensive touchdown to give the Packers an early 7-0 lead.
After picking up a 1st down with a 7-yard run by Frank Gore, the 49ers ran the exact same play again and got 4. On 2nd-and-6 from the San Francisco 47, Colin Kaepernick had plenty of time in the pocket against a four-man rush, rolled to his left and threw behind Vernon Davis in the flat. Sam Shields — Mr. January — stepped in front of Davis for an easy pick, outran Kaepernick to the sideline and then was free for a 52-yard interception return for a TD.
Many Packer fans immediately believe Kaepernick is going to implode and this game will be a walk.
9:09, 1st quarter — Any delusions of grandeur are quickly dispelled as Kaepernick takes the 49ers 80 yards in eight plays to tie the game at 7-7.
The drive could have been a three and out, except Tramon Williams was called for defensive holding on 3rd-and-2. Williams had inside position on Michael Crabtree and refused to concede it when Crabtree tried a quick in. Tough call within the 5 yards, where some contact is allowed, but there is little doubt Williams held on the play.
After two incompletions, the 49ers faced 3rd-and-10. The Packers rushed four with no spy. Clay Matthews was double teamed and ran around the pocket. This opened up the entire left side to Kaepernick. He ran to his left, where Charles Woodson was covering Frank Gore in the flat. If Woodson turns and runs with Gore, Kaepernick easily runs for the 1st down. Instead, Woodson cheated up towards Kaepernick, who lofted it over his head to Gore for a 45-yard gain.
The Packers would have a good shot at a stop again on 3rd-and-8 from the 20. Unfortunately, they would play probably their most idiotic defense of the game. After a timeout, the 49ers purposely spread the field with three receivers and two tight ends. The Packers counter with the defense typically played against them — five guys in tight man underneath and two safeties over the top. This is actually a single-deep safety with M.D. Jennings taking the middle of the field while Morgan Burnett doubles Crabtree.
This leaves four guys rushing against five blockers and no spy. Might as well have planted a neon sign telling Kaepernick to go ahead and run with it. After Matthews gets pushed around the outside again, Kaepernick runs to his left and goes untouched for a 20-yard TD.
8:06, 1st quarter — The Packers have been bad to start most games and great following the half this season, which has led me to wonder if the drive after the half is the one they actually script. Regardless, the Packers once again go three and out to start a game.
On 1st down, Aaron Rodgers finds Greg Jennings on a 7-yard hitch. On 2nd down, Rodgers fakes it to DuJuan Harris when he should have given it to him, and then throws it away in Harris’ general direction. On 3rd-and-3, Rodgers has all day to throw, but tries the well-covered quick out to John Kuhn, throwing it wide of the mark.
3:20, 1st quarter — The 49ers advance to the Green Bay 40 before punting.
On 3rd-and-8 from the Packers’ 40, Kaepernick tried a comeback to Delanie Walker against Sam Shields. Shields knocked it away to force the punt.
0:30, 1st quarter — The Packers go 80 yards in seven plays to take their last lead in the game at 14-7.
A play after we had our first “incidental facemask” in history, it was 3rd-and-5 from the Packers’ 38. Given a good pocket, Rodgers threw the go to James Jones up the right sideline. Jones is open on the play and has a touchdown with a perfect pass. The ball is slightly underthrown and Jones leaps over Chris Culliver for a juggling catch and a 44-yard play.
On the very next play, the Packers run the draw to Harris. Justin Smith gets upfield too quickly and is sealed off by Marshall Newhouse when Harris gets the ball and runs past him. Harris runs through the gap opened by Smith, jukes safety Donte Whitner and gets to the end zone.
11:50, 2nd quarter — The Packers force a relatively easy stop on 3rd-and-12 near midfield and have all the momentum with a 14-7 lead. This abruptly changes when Jeremy Ross muffs the following punt and the 49ers recover at the Packers’ 9-yard line.
I’ve noticed that in today’s NFL it is common policy for returners to field punts inside the 10-yard line. This seems strange to me considering the odds of the ball either bouncing into the end zone or upfield.
Regardless of whether he should have fielded it, Ross certainly should have fair caught it. If he had, he would have had no reason to take his eye off the ball to look upfield. To make matters worse, if Ross would have immediately fell on the ball after it went through his hands, he would have recovered it. Instead, he tried to pick it up and allowed the 49ers to jump on it.
The Packers defense was at least in position to force a field goal when the 49ers faced 3rd-and-goal from the 12. The Packers rushed just four again. There still is no spy, but at least this time they are wary of the scramble and are sitting in zone with everyone watching Kaepernick.
Well, almost everyone. Woodson follows Vernon Davis on the out and completely vacates the middle. Crabtree runs an in from the outside, catches a pass at the 11 and goes untouched for an easy score to make it 14-14. The fact that neither safety was anywhere near the play after lining up in the middle of the field doesn’t speak well for either of them.
The two main concerns for the Packers defense coming into this game were Kaepernick’s running ability and the short dump to Crabtree. The 49ers have now scored their first two touchdowns on 3rd down plays where Kaepernick scrambled and Crabtree caught a short pass.
9:38, 2nd quarter — The Packers follow with another turnover, giving the 49ers the ball at the Packers’ 48.
After picking up one 1st down via penalty, the Packers faced 3rd-and-7 from their 26. The 49ers dropped Aldon Smith into coverage and blitzed Carlos Rogers from the slot. Kuhn picked up Rogers and without Smith rushing, Rodgers had all day to throw the ball.
If he leads Jordy Nelson across the field on the deep slant, he might have a big play. Instead, he throws it over the top, and it gets tracked down by Tarrel Brown. The play is as good as a punt until Brown eludes Nelson and returns the interception past midfield.
Rodgers said after the game it was a simple miscommunication, with him believing Nelson was going to take it over the top, not unusual on the deep slant. The film doesn’t support that explanation though. Rodgers didn’t throw the ball until Nelson had already made his cut and was clearly headed across field. Apparently Rodgers thought he saw something he didn’t.
5:30, 2nd quarter — The 49ers capitalize on the turnover, going 48 yards in eight plays to take their first lead of the game at 21-14.
The defense again had a good shot to force a long field goal attempt from a shaky David Akers. It was 3rd-and-9 from the Packers’ 24. The Packers play the same defense with a four-man rush and seven dropping back in man-to-man. The only difference here is that it’s essentially a three-man rush with Erik Walden spying Kaepernick. That’s a tall task to ask Walden to spy a man faster than him while having a large offensive lineman between them.
Kaepernick runs right up the middle, right by Walden and gets 15.
A couple plays later Kaepernick would hit Crabtree on a 20-yard post for the TD. Shields has great coverage on the play, but the perfect pass beats great coverage. The Packers had Woodson as the single safety, but he shaded towards Davis running the cross against Burnett and left Shields alone with Crabtree.
2:36, 2nd quarter — To the credit of the Packers offense, they responded with an 80-yard drive to tie the game again at 21.
A bullet to Jermichael Finley on a seam route got the Packers past midfield. A 15-yard penalty on Dashon Goldson moved the ball to the San Francisco 31.
On 1st-and-10 from the 20, Rodgers fired a strike to Jones, who faked the cross and instead found the seam right between the two safeties. I’m not sure where that pattern was all year, but it worked beautifully here.
0:00, 2nd quarter — The running of Colin Kaepernick is all the 49ers need to move into short field goal range before half. Akers kicks a 36-yarder to make it 24-21 at halftime.
On 2nd-and-7 from the San Francisco 23, Casey Hayward blitzes from the slot and has a free shot at Kaepernick. Kaepernick merely steps forward and Hayward’s momentum takes him past the quarterback. Kaepernick then escapes the pocket in the direction Hayward came from and runs for 19 yards.
On 3rd-and-10, three plays later, the Packers blitz six. They get what they want with Clay Matthews having to be picked up by LaMichael James. James successfully cuts Matthews to the ground and Kaepernick bolts straight ahead through the gap vacated by Matthews. He scrambles for 18 yards, getting to the Packers’ 40.
Stop me if any of this sounds repetitive.
On the next 3rd-and-10 from the Packers’ 27, it’s a designed run by Kaepernick. He just barely gets tripped up by Brad Jones and gains 9. Those yards would give Kaepernick 107 yards for the half. The 49ers would let the clock run down before kicking the field goal.
12:58, 3rd quarter — In an ominous sign for the Packers, their drive after the half is a three and out.
After two hard runs by Harris got 5 yards, the Packers faced 3rd-and-5 from their 32. The 49ers brought Patrick Willis and dropped Aldon Smith into coverage. The Packers have only James Jones not running a deep route and he ends up double covered by Smith and Brown.
Even though the 49ers are rushing four against six blockers, Willis beats Kuhn and sacks Rodgers. Given another second, Rodgers could have found Greg Jennings, who was breaking open deep down field.
12:04, 3rd quarter — The Packers defense has its last great series of the season, forcing a three and out to give the ball right back to the offense.
On 3rd-and-8, the Packers again rush four out of their dime, but play a combination of zone and man behind it. Instead of running, Kaepernick actually tries the out to Vernon Davis. Woodson makes his last good play of the season by diving in front and knocking the ball down.
8:25, 3rd quarter — The Packers drive 76 yards in nine plays, but only get a field goal to tie the game at 24.
The Packers bring back a look we haven’t seen in awhile — the shotgun with Randall Cobb as the lone back — for a lot of this series and it works.
On the second play of the drive, Rodgers found Jennings on the seam route for 30 yards. That is shortly followed with a 19-yard draw to Cobb. After another draw to Cobb moved the ball to the San Francisco 18, the Packers would go no further.
On 3rd-and-6, Rodgers strangely calls timeout while still in the huddle. The Packers would come back from the timeout, see a different defense from San Francisco and promptly false start to face 3rd-and-11. On 3rd-and-11, Rodgers would find Cobb on the cross, but James Jones didn’t drive his defender far enough upfield and that’s who cut Cobb off before he could get the 1st down.
7:15, 3rd quarter — It would take just three plays for the 49ers to go 80 yards and take the lead for good at 31-24.
Kaepernick first hit Crabtree on a back shoulder pass for 18 yards. It appears that the 49ers are aware that Tramon Williams has the tendency to play over-the-top coverage and are taking advantage of that. Crabtree then catches a rare pass on the other side of the field. When Shields lines up 7 yards off the ball, as would be the norm this half, Crabtree gets a short dump pass for 6 yards.
On 2nd-and-4 from the San Francisco 44, Kaepernick would run the read-option, keep the ball and go untouched around the right end for a 56-yard touchdown. The obvious key to the play is that Walden, Brad Jones, Woodson and Burnett all were convinced James got the ball on the draw. By the time anyone other than Matthews and Shields — both clear on the other side of the field — knew Kaepernick still had the ball, he was outside the pocket with a full head of steam heading upfield.
It’s hard to say who the biggest fool is. The play happens right in front of Brad Jones. He has a clear line of vision, no reason to not see that James doesn’t have the ball. If he merely obeys his eyes and flows to the ball, the play has a different result. Morgan Burnett is 15 yards deep in the middle of the field, and yet, he reacts to a fake so badly that he never even gets anywhere near Kaepernick. Walden, on the other hand, might have the excuse of being partially blocked on the play, but he assumes James has the ball, spins to the inside off the block, and is actually running away from Kaepernick as he escapes the pocket with the ball.
Comically, Kevin Greene would say Walden did his job on this play. Little did we know that “his job” meant running in the opposite direction of the guy who had the ball.
5:08, 3rd quarter — Needing a response, the Packers get one 1st down before having to punt it away.
Even though the Packers are only down one score at this point, this possession features six passing plays. Yet, the only play that gets over 3 yards is a 17-yard scramble by Rodgers on 3rd-and-10.
Ironically, the 49ers have gone back to playing the defense that worked in week 1 — tight man underneath with two safeties back. The Packers, who played that defense in the first half, have adjusted to playing off man mixed with some zone with one safety back. For the Packers, the adjustment did help contain Kaepernick’s running. He got 74 yards in the half but 56 of that came on the one read-option. For the 49ers, the adjustment slowed the Packers’ passing attack enough to limit them to 10 second half points.
On 3rd-and-6 from the 41, the 49ers play that same defense, dropping seven and rushing four. However, the two deep look is a ruse. At the snap, Whitner rotates to the deep middle while Goldson jumps up to double Finley, who’s running the post from the slot. Even though Goldson, Whitner and Navarro Bowman have Finley triangulated, Rodgers, with plenty of time to throw, tries for Finley only to have Bowman knock it down.
14:55, 4th quarter — Frank Gore punches the ball in from 2 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting the Packers into a two-TD hole at 38-24.
The 49ers have to start from the 7-yard line, but that just allows them to take more time off the clock. They drive 93 yards in eight plays.
The Packers are clearly more concerned with keeping Kaepernick in the pocket than rushing him and so he’s got plenty of time and makes a couple big throws on this drive.
On 3rd-and-2, he fires a deep out to Crabtree for 16 yards. On 2nd-and-8 from the San Francisco 41, Kaepernick has lots of time and picks on Woodson as the single safety by firing deep to Vernon Davis. A.J. Hawk has close coverage, but Davis catches the pass in stride and gets 44, down to the Packers’ 15.
Gore would score two plays later.
11:35, 4th quarter — The Packers use short passes and the hurry-up offense to advance the ball to midfield. However, on 3rd-and-5, Rodgers tries a deep shot to Jennings and misfires. Amazingly, the Packers decide to punt on 4th-and-5 from midfield. Game over.
3:45, 4th quarter — The 49ers start again from their 7-yard line, but so what? They drive 93 yards, again taking up nearly eight minutes of clock while doing so.
The Packers defense has pretty much run up the white flag here, obviously unbeknownst to Mike McCarthy. After doing pretty well on Frank Gore all game, they allow him 45 yards on this drive, including a 26-yarder that moves the ball to the Packers’ 27.
Even though just a field goal ends the game, the Packers play too soft on 3rd-and-15 and allow Crabtree to pick up 14. From there the 49ers decide to go for it on 4th-and-1 — foolishly, considering what I just said, but B.J. Raji jumps offside, giving them the 1st down.
Anthony Dixon would join the party by taking it in a couple plays later. With less than four minutes left and the score now 45-24, the game is definitely over.
Even though the game is over, McCarthy apparently thinks Rodgers should finish on the field and leaves him in there. Rodgers takes the dinks and dunks that the 49ers are completely willing to give up and moves the Packers into scoring position. He ends the drive with probably Greg Jennings’ last TD as a Packer. The meaningless score gives us the final tally of 45-31.
After my extensive review of the tape, my summation of Dom Capers’ defensive strategy to stop and/or contain the running of Colin Kaepernick is rush four guys and let them handle it. That’s it. Don’t believe any of the talk about using a spy because I counted one play where a defender spied Kaepernick. That was on his 15-yard jaunt up the middle on 3rd-and-9.
Kaepernick’s running was the key to the game. The 49ers had just one scoring drive that relied on him throwing the football — their second to last. Especially baffling is the first half plan that included not just a four-man rush and no spy, but also man-to-man coverage underneath with two deep safeties. This was an invitation for Kaepernick to run and he did — for a record 107 yards in just that half.
Erik Walden had a decent first half of the season, but his days as a starter are over. Dezman Moses is a better pass rusher and is better at maintaining the edge. It’s no coincidence that Kaepernick’s game-breaking run went around Walden’s edge. Even if Nick Perry doesn’t come back to start next season, the job belongs to Moses.
The Packers are still lacking speed and instinct at the safety position. Woodson has not developed into anything like the playmaker he was at corner and Morgan Burnett has not fulfilled the lofty praise given to him. If Jerron McMillian does not develop into a playmaker, then the Packers will still need to address that position. I am not a big believer in M.D. Jennings. He does not make enough plays in the passing game to justify the liability he is in the running game. Plus, I will always attach the epic fail in Seattle to him.
Brad Jones exceeded expectations this season, but he is not Desmond Bishop. The Packers suffered a big loss there and felt it all year. The Packers need the speed that Bishop and D.J. Smith bring to the middle of the field. Put those two in a linebacker core with Clay Matthews and Dezman Moses and the Packers defense would be a lot faster.
The Packers offense did nearly as much as one could have asked against a 49ers defense in San Francisco. As long as they only lose Jennings and Driver, they should be fine next season. The Packers should show more balance with having DuJuan Harris for an entire season. Not only was his touchdown run impressive, but something virtually unnoticed from this game is that the Packers converted every short yardage situation they ran Harris on. The Packers may finally have an answer for 3rd-and-1 — an area they’ve struggled with for the last two seasons.
The Packers offensive line showed something in this game and with Bryan Bulaga back, they should be better than ever next season. Did Aldon Smith even play in the game? One year after neutralizing Jason Pierre-Paul in the playoffs, Marshall Newhouse did the same to Smith. T.J. Lang even had a good game against Justin Smith. With Bulaga back, the Packers might have two good backup tackles in Don Barclay and Derek Sherrod.
The season for Aaron Rodgers was much the same as it was for this game — good but not great. Defenses know his strengths — namely the presnap read and plays out of the pocket — and they have taken steps to take those away. Rodgers’ ability to throw both the back shoulder pass and the go route made the receivers nearly impossible to cover man-to-man at the end of 2010 and through most of 2011. Rodgers struggled on both those throws this season and that made the Packers receivers much easier to man up on.
As usual, next season will rely on health and the play of Rodgers. The Packers appear to have a tougher schedule next season than they did this year. However, considering the youth on both sides of the ball, the guys coming back from injury, and the fact that they played most this season without Greg Jennings anyway, the Packers have every reason to be a better team next season.
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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