With two weeks to prepare for the big showdown in Palo Alto, it was clear what the Packers had to fix — things such as loose coverage by the defensive backs, low third down conversion rate, under-utilization of running backs as receivers, allowing too many receptions in the middle of the field, giving up too many big pass plays, and poor special teams play – and they’d need to contain the league’s consensus top tight end, George Kittle.
The score for the Packers’ coaching staff: zero for seven.
I’m thinking of writing a book, whose working title is “NFL Defensive Strategies for Dummies.” Okay, some big publishing company has that trademark, so maybe I’ll change it to “. . .for Simpletons.”
Even a simpleton knows that the primary requirement for receivers in today’s NFL is speed. Above-average speed is highly desirable, whereas blazing speed is manna from heaven. And while speed is important for receivers, it is essential for cornerbacks.
Two years into the Brian Gutekunst reign as general manager, the Packers are moving briskly in the right direction, but San Francisco showed us they aren’t there yet.
If an NFL team’s cornerbacks aren’t faster than the opponent’s receivers, that spells major trouble. We saw that play out on Sunday evening.
Here are the pertinent 40-yard dash times for Green Bay’s defensive backs (cornerbacks, as opposed to safeties, are shown in bold): Tremon Smith (4.30); Tony Brown (4.35); Darnell Savage (4.36); Jaire Alexander (4.38); Will Redmond (4.38); Ka’Dar Hollman (4.39); Kevin King (4.43); Ibraheim Campbell (4.50); Raven Greene (4.51); Adrian Amos (4.56); Josh Jackson (4.56); Chandon Sullivan (4.60); Tramon Williams (4.67)
In Tramon’s case, I took his Pro Day time of 4.57 and added on .10 due to his age of 36. Ibraheim Campbell had a Pro Day time of 4.47, so I added .03 due to his age of 27. Redmond’s time is somewhat suspect, as it was reported by his school, Mississippi State.
Even the simple-minded can see that Jackson and Sullivan don’t have the speed to be solid pro CBs. Williams by now is totally off the chart – he should only be out there when the Packers are playing a team with a below-average-speed set of receivers.
Alexander and Hollman, two Gutekunst acquisitions are fine speed-wise, and Kevin King’s speed might be acceptable in most situations. Tony Brown’s time is more than fine. I’m not sure whether Tremon Smith, at 190 pounds and chosen in the sixth round by the Chiefs, is viewed as a bona fide CB or strictly as a kick and punt returner.
The 49ers Matchups
The 49ers have a fast receiving corps – though by no means one of the league’s fastest. It’s obvious that the game plan of Kyle Shanahan and his staff was to create favorable receiver-defender matchups. The two key players were tight end George Kittle and rookie wideout Deebo Samuel.
Kittle’s dash time of 4.52 is 94th percentile for tight ends. Samuel’s time of 4.48 is better than average at 64th percentile.
Based on these numbers, it would have seemed that once Kittle made his breaks King would have been able to close on him. However, the game film tells us otherwise – 40-yard dash times are sometimes not truly indicative of one’s speed over shorter distances or in the heat of competition. In the second quarter Kittle ran a crossing route, with King initially one stride behind – and he remained that same distance behind throughout the 22-yard pass play. The two appear to have equal game speed, whereas a cornerback needs to be faster than the receiver.
On Kittle’s 61-yard touchdown stroll, King, the only defender in the vicinity, was a full nine yards behind Kittle when the ball was delivered on another pretty crossing route.
The 49ers other big offensive play was another beautifully conceived crossing route, this time from right to left, by Deebo Samuel. As with King’s defense, Tramon Williams was in hot pursuit but a step behind when the ball was delivered. Tramon actually managed to chase him for 30 yards without losing ground, but also without gaining any ground.
The 49er’ five big pass plays, of 61, 42, 22, 22, and 18 yards, constituted 165 of Garoppolo’s otherwise modest 253 yards through the air. What made these plays so conceptually sound was that they isolated the two targeted Green Bay slow defenders on equally fast or faster receivers, and they cleared all others out of the area. In so doing, the passes were relatively short and easy, and the receivers were afforded lots of unimpeded yardage after the catch.
One of the most enduring clichés in the NFL, “you can’t teach speed,” played out at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.
At the same time, don’t you wonder how the Packers were able to vanquish the hyper-fast Chiefs in Week 8? They had Tyreek Hill, whose Pro Day dash time was 4.29 seconds – he caught six balls for 76 yards, but didn’t have a catch over 21 yards. Green Bay also did relatively well in holding superstar TE Travis Kelce (4.61 dash time) to four completions in eight targets, including a 29-yarder. The Chiefs air attack also featured Sammy Watkins (4.43 speed, 4th pick overall in 2014), and rookie Mecole Hardman (4.33!) – who had two catches for 55 yards and a touchdown against the Pack. Coach Andy Reed positively lusts for speed.
One thing for sure: Packers’ opponents the rest of the way are going to be keying, as did Shanahan, on Kevin King and Tramon Williams. King, chosen 33rd overall, actually had a promising rookie season in 2017, but he now seems totally lost. Things were so bad on Sunday that the Packers might choose to give up on him, as they did with Round 1 picks Damarious Randall (4.46) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (4.50).
Going forward, Packer fans need to hope and pray that Mike Pettine can get more speed on the field. They might already have the solutions on the roster: Tony Brown, Will Redmond, and Ka’Dar Hollman are all plenty speedy at sub-4.40.
By the way, whatever happened with Tony Brown? After an impressive preseason, he’s gone from getting 37 percent of the defensive snaps in Game 1 to barely finding a spot on the bench to park his butt. He appears to be in the doghouse – did his emotional volatility get the best of him?