ReFo: Packers @ 49ers, NFC Divisional Round
After throttling the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round the Green Bay Packers earned a second chance at the San Francisco 49ers. Way back on opening weekend the Packers were grounded in a 30-22 defeat at Lambeau field when Alex Smith was the quarterback in San Francisco.
The 49ers were the better team on opening weekend, and with a switch made at quarterback they were every bit the better team this time around as well, running away with a 45-31 victory that, if anything, was more lopsided than that score line indicated.
The teams were able to trade touchdowns for much of the game, but the 49ers’ defense found its rhythm while the Packers’ forgot entirely how to stop the run. That allowed San Francisco to widen the gap and earn a comfortable win at home. This was the kind of game that Jim Harbaugh had in mind when he sat down Alex Smith who was having a career year, for Colin Kaepernick.
Let’s see what performances stood out in the end.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
Defensive Line Woes
Last week the Green Bay defensive line was able to get the better of the Minnesota Vikings, especially on the inside where the Minnesota guards simply couldn’t move the Packers’ big bodies at the point of attack. Their ability to limit Adrian Peterson was put down to their improved defense on the edge, but the play of their starting three linemen was a huge factor as well. In this game B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson were both overmatched, and only Ryan Pickett played well in the run game. Wilson, in particular, was routinely unable to hold his ground on the edge and struggled in dealing with 49ers RT Anthony Davis.
Davis caved in his side of the line, down blocking on Wilson in particular to free the edge for the 49ers’ running game on half a dozen occasions. When the 49ers got down to the goal line it was to the right side where they enjoyed the most success, as the Packers were unable to hold up and prevent losing ground. The Packer trio also combined for just two hurries in the game from a total of 62 combined snaps rushing the passer. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Raji and Pickett were both to blame for jumping offside on a 4th-and-1 play with 5:25 remaining in the game when the Packers trailed by only two scores.
Defending the Option
Last week the Vikings got a little success running the read-option with Joe Webb. However, they went away from it quickly and the tactic of bottling Adrian Peterson up around the perimeter served to effectively contain Webb as well. This week it was like they forgot everything they learned, getting gashed both by the read-option and when Kaepernick took off to scramble. Any time a quarterback sets an all-time single-game rushing record against you, things have not gone to plan. The sad thing is the Packers actually didn’t defend the read-option badly early in the game. Still, Dom Capers called for man-coverage constantly against a quarterback who was a threat to run, gifting Kaepernick a dozen yards any time he felt like picking them up.
As the game wore on the Green Bay option defense collapsed entirely, with assignments being blown and two players crashing on the same part of the option. The man coverage continued and the 49ers were able to run the ball seemingly at will. Brad Jones, Dezman Moses, and Erik Walden all had negative grades in run defense, and the angles taken in the secondary by Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett in particular didn’t help matters when the run got that far.
There wasn’t much to write home about for Packers fans, but Sam Shields had another excellent game. He was thrown at eight times and allowed just three catches for a total of 39 yards, though he was beaten for a touchdown by Michael Crabtree with 5:33 to go in the 2nd quarter despite tight coverage. It was Shields that got the scoring started with his pick-six of Kaepernick early in the game, undercutting an out route by Vernon Davis and taking it to the house. He also broke up another pass intended for Delanie Walker and generally looked the most assured of the Packers’ coverage players.
Only seven of the yards Shields gave up in the game came after the catch, as he was in excellent position even when he was beaten for the reception. It wasn’t enough to make the difference in the game, but Green Bay had some excellent performances in their secondary over the season and even in this game.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Where to Start on Offense?
Every single person that saw snaps for the 49ers on offense graded at 0.0 or above, with the lone exception of Delanie Walker, whose inability to catch a pass continued to haunt him in this game. The offensive line was dominant up front, with Mike Iupati justifying the All-Pro votes he garnered from most of the Associated Press. Iupati was a force in the run game whether it was in-line or pulling and leading through the hole. He was rocked back on only a few occasions by linebackers, and surrendered just two hurries. Joe Staley deserves a mention as well for keeping Clay Matthews as quiet as he did despite struggling through an injury for most of the game and being in considerable pain at times. Staley gave up a sack and a hurry, but nothing else from 36 snaps pass-protecting, which would be classed as a pretty good day given his opponent even without injury.
Colin Kaepernick was excellent after a rocky start that included the pick-six. From then on in he was in total control of the offense, making stick throws and picking up rushing yardage at will in both option runs and scrambles. The throw he made with 1:32 left in the third quarter to Vernon Davis was arguably his best throw of the night, dropping it into the big tight end’s hands despite excellent close coverage from A.J. Hawk.
Keeping Up with The Smiths
There is a case to be made that Aldon Smith was not as good this season as his sack numbers suggest. He struggled much more when Justin Smith went down injured, and a huge portion of his total production came against Chicago in one mismatched outing. In this game he produced five pressures, which isn’t bad, but wasn’t really a difference maker. Justin Smith for his part started the game strongly, and had a fine outing in the run game, despite struggling with his arm injury. Overall he was unable to really affect the pass game, tallying just a single hurry from 39 snaps rushing the passer. For his part, Ray McDonald was also conspicuously absent in that regard, matching Smith’s hurry total from one additional pass-rushing snap. The 49ers’ defense is at its best when they can rely on those three players to generate a significant amount of pressure over the course of the game and disrupt the rhythm of the opposition. In this game they weren’t really able to do it, and the back seven had to do a lot more work than they would like.
If there is a player on this 49ers’ defense flying completely under the radar this season it is Tarrell Brown, who has quietly been able to turn in some excellent performances when nobody has been paying attention. In this game he was thrown at four times, allowing just two catches for 16 yards. Brown’s big play came with Aaron Rodgers heaving deep to Jordy Nelson down the middle of the field. Nelson may have been able to get open had Rodgers lead him across the field away from Brown, but instead the QB airmailed it right over his head. Brown was able to bail on his coverage of Nelson, track the ball over his shoulder, secure the catch and then make the receiver miss on his way to return the ball into Green Bay territory. The Packers were able to have some success against the other corners, Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers, but Brown wasn’t to be exploited.
His other moment of note came deep in garbage time where he picked off another Rodgers pass in the end zone, but was flagged for a debatable pass interference call after Nelson had run into him and then pulled away looking for a back-shoulder throw.
– Michael Crabtree was thrown at 11 times, ending the day with 9 catches for 119 yards, two touchdowns and one drop. After a breakout regular season he is starting to have a breakout postseason.
– If Green Bay had been able to generate pressure they might have been in business. Kaepernick was pressured on just four snaps, but his passer rating on those was 0.0, thanks to one of them being the pick-six.
– Maybe the Packers should have stuck to the run game more? DeJuan Harris averaged 4.8 yards per carry from his 11 attempts, gaining 31 of those after contact and forcing one missed tackle on the way to his score.
PFF Game Ball
There were several impressive performances in the game, but how can you not give the game ball to Colin Kaepernick who overcame an ugly start to dominate the game and smash records.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam