After the beating the Green Bay Packers’ defense has taken from the San Francisco 49ers in their last three meetings this was a step in the right direction, but not quite a big enough one to ensure their playoff survival. They had one opportunity to turn the game in their favor late on when Micah Hyde got his hands to an ill-advised and poorly executed throw by Colin Kaepernick but he just couldn’t bring the pass in above his head. Instead, the 49ers ground out the final five minutes of the game to kick a game-winner and continue their quest for Super Bowl redemption.
This was not a game which you could easily draw a narrative from like one team dominating the other or one team capitulating under the pressure of expectation as the Bengals and Andy Dalton did earlier in the day. Much like the other NFC wild card game, this was a good game of football — remarkably short on handling errors when you consider the frigid conditions — that was decided by fine margins with the road team coming out on top with a physical final drive.
As the Packers head into offseason mode ,the 49ers will turn their attention toward the Carolina Panthers seeking to avenge a home defeat suffered earlier in the season. Their defense looks in strong if not spectacular form while the ground game got the job done through physicality and persistence more than tremendous precision and execution. The important thing is that they advanced and will hope to execute in slightly less polar conditions next weekend.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Gore and Kaepernick Get it Done on the Ground
This was by no means a classic performance from the San Francisco 49ers and their offensive line (much like the Eagles’ 24 hours earlier) as they did not hit the sort of form that we know them to be capable of. However, the men carrying the rock were still able to do a good enough job to pull the 49ers over the line to another playoff victory. Colin Kaepernick was at his best when scrambling. The option runs that devastated the Packers last year were held out of the arsenal this time around, collecting 85 yards on four scrambles to take advantage of the Packers in the open field.
At tailback, Frank Gore’s 66 yards on 20 carries may not look terribly impressive but his work rate and vision in maximizing every single carry led to some crucial conversions and ensured that Green Bay’s disruptions did not lead to big losses or a completely stagnant ground game. Helped most by Will Tukuafu who impressed with some punishing lead blocking (+2.0 run block) until the final play of the game, Gore ensured that the 49ers’ offense kept ticking and didn’t freeze over on the tundra.
Brooks Follows his Pattern
In our end of season NFC Stock Report we highlighted Ahmad Brooks’ late season decline which mirrored a similar decline in his last two seasons as a starter as well. Just like clockwork, Brooks has rebounded from that form to start the playoffs with a strong performance for the second year straight as a pass rusher. After going without a sack since the 49ers’ Week 12 visit to Washington, Brooks recorded two yesterday evening (including a forced fumble) and snagged another five hurries to record a season high with seven pressures. Last season Brooks notched eight pressures in the playoff victory over the Packers (1 Ht, 7 Hu) meaning that, though Don Barclay held Brooks in check back in Week 1, the 49ers’ edge rusher has convincingly got the upper hand in this matchup when it matters most. Brooks struggled to back up strong opening playoff performances in each of the last two seasons; can he buck that trend and press on against the Panthers next weekend?
McDonald Stout Up Front
Though he hasn’t re-discovered his 2011 form in the two years since, Ray McDonald has remained a stout presence in the San Francisco defense and turned in a strong game in Green Bay to open the playoffs yesterday. Snagging a sack (helping Aldon Smith finish the play on Aaron Rodgers) early on, McDonald would also log a pair of hurries against Evan Dietrich-Smith on bull rushes through the rest of the game and it was that strength that marked out his run defense as well.
Though he only notched one stop, McDonald consistently had the upper hand on T.J. Lang in the ground game, surrendering no movement or driving the Packers’ right guard into the point of attack to disrupt and re-direct Eddie Lacy. The 49ers’ other defenders weren’t always in the right spots to finish off the plays close to the line of scrimmage, but McDonald was a persistent nuisance and he’ll look to carry over this physical brand of play into the 49ers’ game with the Panthers next weekend.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Tremendous Finish for Tramon
One of the Packers’ most consistent defenders this season has been Tramon Williams and he did as much as he could to help Green Bay advance this weekend. Targeted nine times he surrendered only two catches (one) for 19 yards, getting his hands to as many passes as the receivers he was covering did (one interception, two pass defenses). His interception early in the second quarter handed his offense possession which they converted into their first touchdown after a lengthy drive. Williams baited Kaepernick into the throw breaking off of the deep route by Anquan Boldin to jump on the corner route to Vernon Davis, taking advantage of a pass lofted rather than driven. Williams took away possession just as the 49ers were driving into scoring territory to establish what would have been a two-score lead. Instead, Williams set up the offense to take the lead after the 49ers had controlled the early going without getting the ball across the goal line to capitalize.
Bested on the Edge
The Packers have made strides on the offensive line this season and in particular at offensive tackle, but it is still a spot that they can be got at and both David Bakhtiari (-4.1) and Don Barclay (-4.7) had rough outings last night against the 49ers’ edge rush duo. On the left side, Bakhtiari let up four pressures including two sacks but struggled more in terms of discipline (one false start, one illegal use of the hands penalty) and run blocking with the pressure he surrendered tending to be slow developing. Up against the Smiths (Aldon and Justin), Bakhtiari failed to consistently get the upper hand and the number of carries that actually got to his outside (two) is lower than the number that were aimed there and re-directed elsewhere. On the other side, Barclay renewed his battle with Ahmad Brooks and came out second-best in both phases of the game, very rarely getting the better of the matchup on a given play.
The defensive line has not been a strength for the Packers this season but up against a physical and relentless offensive line yesterday they put in one of their better displays as a group this season to slow the 49ers’ ground game. Notching his third-highest snap count (47) of the season, Ryan Pickett (+2.6 run defense) tied a season-high with three defensive stops and was able to outwork Jonathan Goodwin over the nose while still being effective against Anthony Davis when he lined up to the outside. Joining him in this solid display were Mike Daniels (+1.0 run defense) and Josh Boyd (+1.5 run defense) who only just topped Pickett’s snap count in combination. Daniels also chipped in with three stops which included a sack of Kaepernick as he tried to escape on another scramble early in the third quarter. One exception to this strong showing was B.J. Raji who was largely invisible for the first three quarters of the game only notching his first stop of the game on the 49ers’ final run as they setup their game-winning field goal.
– 17.9% of Ryan Pickett’s snaps this season have come in the two games against the 49ers, two of only four times he has topped 40 snaps in a game.
– Rookie outside linebacker Corey Lemonier notched 15 snaps in his playoff debut, his most since Week 8 when he played 49 snaps against the Jaguars at Wembley.
– Not suffering a repeat of his disappointing season opening display against the 49ers, Josh Sitton (+4.3) earned his 10th straight positive overall grade and finishes the season grading positively in pass protection in every single game.
PFF Game Ball
In a game short of standout performers Ahmad Brooks was the most consistent disruptive force and will look to repeat this form against the Panthers next weekend as the 49ers seek out a third straight NFC Championship game appearance.