Winning ugly was a lot more fun than what took place Sunday evening. But congratulations to the 49ers! They are a team worthy in every way of being in the Super Bowl, as are the Chiefs. The cream has indeed risen to the top this season with respect to these two teams. They seem to share many things in common, which will make a good TP topic sometime during the long, long offseason.
Do you get the feeling that Kyle Shanahan is building a dynasty? While there will be plenty of time – about the next half year – to analyze all the failings that the Packers displayed on Sunday, I came away more impressed with the Niners than disappointed with the Packers. San Francisco has it all going for them, in virtually every aspect of the game, their roster, and for that matter their entire organization.
We’ll have lots of time to chat about, and give full credit to, the Niners. By analyzing all the things they do right, we should get a good idea of the areas in which Green Bay needs to improve, and what our guys will need to do to reach the top tier that the 49ers now occupy.
As Jimmy Johnson said during halftime, and we at TP have often pointed out, Kyle Shanahan is the best in the league at scheming running plays. I doubt any Green Bay defender would take exception to that.
On Sunday evening I observed the most domineering run attack I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s saying something, though it’s not true that I’m 104 years old.
The Niners were in fact very superior in their line play – both offensively and defensively.
The Psychology of Pressure
Here’s my quick-take on why what you saw happen happened. You’ve heard the expression: “he broke under the pressure?” Well, that applies in spades to big-time athletic events. Heavy and/or relentless pressure will cause an athlete to break down mentally, resulting in mistakes and malfunctions that would not normally occur.
How else do you explain such first-half screw-ups as: two sacks resulting in a loss of umpteen yards and a turnover (just like in Week 12), a muffed kickoff, multiple false starts, a 20-yard shanked punt, an ill-advised intercepted throw directed toward a typically-blanketed Geronimo Allison, and the topper: a dropped routine snap from center that turned the ball over?
Rodgers, the player to whom the most pressure was applied, had the most obvious performance breakdowns, though several of his teammates also succumbed to either the direct pressure of 49ers players or the situational pressure of a conference championship.
A couple weeks ago, I did a post titled “Ground Attacks Are Ascendant This Postseason.” Little did I realize I was understating things. More recently I pointed out how speedy San Francisco RB Tevin Coleman is, with his 4.39 40-yard dash time. A 49er fan then informed me that “he’s the slowest of the Niners’ three running backs,” and that Matt Breida is the league’s fastest RB. He’s probably right – but I can’t tell the difference in any of the three.
It’s obvious that 48-year-old general manager John Lynch, now in his third year on the job, knew exactly what he wanted in running backs. Lynch was a nine-time Pro-Bowl strong safety, who played for the Bucs and Broncos, and who last played in 2007. The Pack’s Brian Gutekunst is 46. These two guys will likely be keen competitors for decades.
Tevin Coleman, a round 3 pick in 2015, played without great notice for the Falcons for four years, and then signed a 2-year $10 million deal with the Niners last March. After going undrafted in 2017, Breida was one of new GM Lynch’s first acquisitions, in May of that year. Raheem Mostert, whose name is now in several team and league postseason record books, is not only fast, he’s shifty even at nearly full speed.
Mostert, who was picked up from the Bears midway through the 2016 season, suddenly burst out in this his fifth year in the league – would you believe he has yet to start a regular season game in five years and while playing for five teams?
While taking nothing away from these three running backs, it is the melding of these athletes with Shanahan’s brilliant run schemes and play calls that has resulted in such a magical blend. How about that third-and-eight run call? It didn’t really matter which one was in the lineup, the Packers tacklers appeared to be playing in slow motion. Going forward, the Packers’ front office will have to take serious corrective action if the Packers are to ever have a run game on the level of what Shanahan has put together.
I should also salute the Niners’ blockers. The lanes they opened were huge. LaFleur has tried to copy Shanahan’s use of his blocking (and pass-catching) fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. Though the Packers’ Danny Vitale (who was inactive for this game due to injury) is in an early development stage, Juszczyk is now a four-time All-Pro. After this massacre, fullbacks soon might be back in high demand.
Prior to Sunday I had already discussed how GM Lynch (and his predecessor) had come to acquire not just one or two, but four dominant pass rushers. Due to picking high in the draft every year from 2015 through 2018, the Niners drafted: DT DeForest Buckner, the 7th overall pick in 2016; DE Arik Armstead, the 17th overall pick in 2015; and Nick Bosa, the 2nd overall pick in 2019.
Though all were successful selections, Lynch still wasn’t satisfied. He went out last March and stole away Dee Ford, who was the Falcons’ 23rd overall pick in 2014, from the Chiefs.
Lynch obviously believes there’s no such thing as having too many elite pass rushers, or too many speedy running backs.
The Packers’ pass rushers were simply rendered non-factors, as QB Garoppolo only threw eight times. That’s one way to nullify the strength of your opponent.
As impressive as is the Niners defense, their run attack overshadows their defense – at least when they play Green Bay.
Packers High Points
Still, we can all be proud of the effort put forth by some of the Pack’s finest. Davante Adams wound up with 9 catches out of 11 targets, for 138 yards; his 65-yard over-the-shoulder catch was his longest of the year. I’m also proud of Aaron Jones, who worked his tail off to rush for 56 yards and a TD in 12 carries, and who caught 5 of 5 throws for 27 yards and another TD.
Aaron Rodgers’ line was 31 of 39 for 326 yards and 2 TDs and 2 Interceptions; but for that last (desperation) interception, I think his passer rating was close to 110. Of course these numbers don’t make up for a first half that included two big-loss sacks (and a recovered fumble) or the fumbled snap that was lost.
For what it’s worth, the Packers’ total yardage was 358, four more than the 49ers’. Okay, that’s worthless. As you might have heard the announcer say during halftime, in six quarters of football on the season, the Niners outscored the Packers 64 to 8.
The Wonder Is. . .
What I can’t get a handle on is how the Niners can run roughshod over the Packers, but didn’t do the same over the rest of the league in 2019. What is it that makes this team such a mismatch for Green Bay?
They 49ers played the Cardinals (5-10-1) twice in 2019, but only won by 3 and 10 points. The Pack just conquered the Seahawks, but those same Hawks beat the Niners once and literally were within inches of doing it a second time. The Falcons (7-9) beat them. The Steelers (8-8), with Roethlisberger out and Mason Rudolph thrown in at QB, only lost by 4. How did the 49ers offense only score 9 points in blanking the Redskins (3-13)?
I understand that General Manager John Lynch was named by Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers’ Association (PFWA) – well deserved. Soon the 2019 NFL Coach of the Year will be selected, and the frontrunners are said to be John Harbough (Ravens), Sean McDermott (Bills), and Shanahan.
My vote, if I had one, would without hesitation go to Shanahan – though I’d have Matt in second place. As for Harbough, QB Lamar Jackson is a remarkable athlete, but he let his emotions get totally out of control in that postseason loss to the Titans – Harbough should have exercised more control – or if you prefer, guidance – over his budding superstar.
For those new to Total Packers, we keep up a lively conversation throughout the off season. In fact, some of the most interesting back-and-forth takes place after things settle down and the tensions and emotions of the weekly struggles lessen for a while. Speculation about the draft (commences April 26) is of course a major topic. I nailed it last year – though Gutekunst failed to heed my advice.
If nothing else, Sunday’s loss should serve to show the front office where we need to invest in personnel. I’m sure that coach LaFleur will also learn greatly from these two painful encounters.
I’ll leave this rambling narrative at this: Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, in their first years as head coach and GM, went 6-10. In their second year, they finished 4-12. Therefore, I’d say that Gutekunst, in his second year, and LaFleur, having just concluded his first campaign, are off to a very fast and successful start. Well done, guys!