The Packers weren’t going to win this game 17-13. They weren’t going to be able to lean on a steady running game and a good defense to keep things close. From a match-up standpoint, the 49ers are a better team than the Packers in just about every way and at just about every position. With one exception – quarterback. For the Packers to win, Aaron Rodgers was going to have to be Aaron Rodgers. Matt LaFleur’s game plan was going to have to be centered around enabling him to push the ball downfield and be aggressive. Unfortunately for Green Bay, none of that happened.
As San Francisco’s offense was running up and down the field in the first half, the Packers Offense failed to match them. Much of this was due to their ineptitude on 3rd down. As good as the Packers were on the money down a week ago against the Seahawks, they were equally as bad against the 49ers. Rodgers not seeing the field well was one big reason why.
On their first drive, facing a 3rd-and-3, the Packers tried to catch the 49ers off guard by hurrying to the line and snapping the ball quickly. The Packers had a curl-flat combination with running back Jamaal Williams running the flat route. They hoped that rushing to the line would enable Williams to beat linebacker Dre Greenlaw to the edge, with a little aid from the traffic created by Jimmy Graham’s curl route. Greenlaw made a great play though.
That said, Greenlaw attacking the flat left Graham’s curl route open inside. Rodgers missed this one. The Packers punted on the next play instead of going for it on 4th-and-1 from the 50-yard line. We could do a whole article on this decision alone. Let’s just say that the Packers weren’t going to win this game by playing it safe or winning the field-position battle. But that’s what their approach seemed to be here, for better or worse.
On their next drive, facing a 3rd-and-7, Rodgers had two slants to his left (Jimmy Graham inside and Aaron Jones on the perimeter). He looked at Graham first, who was taken away by the underneath linebacker and safety to that side. He did have a chance to hit Jones on the outside if he threw it right off his break. Rodgers can definitely make this type of throw. He ate it, though. By that point, DeForest Buckner was starting to beat left guard Elgton Jenkins to force Rodgers from the pocket.
These mistakes weren’t necessarily egregious. But they were missed opportunities.
On this next 3rd-down, the 49ers won via the blitz. You can see that Rodgers used a hard (silent) count, which forced the Niners to tip their hand. They were bringing 4 rushers to the backside where the Packers only had 3 to protect.
This should have led to a sight adjust or hot throw. Rodgers held the ball as if he thought the pressure was accounted for, though.
You can see from the sideline angle that Davante Adams was pointing to cornerback K’Waun Williams (#24) blitzing from the slot. Rodgers didn’t look that way or signal to Adams, so Adams didn’t break off his route.
This was another example of Rodgers not seeing the field well in the first half.
Giving Rodgers the benefit of the doubt, maybe he did see the blitz and wanted to hit the shallow whip route in the middle of the field. That was taken away, however, by defensive end Dee Ford, who dropped out into coverage at the snap. This was both a great design by the 49ers and a failure by the Packers in response.
The disaster of a first half continued for Green Bay with a fumbled snap on a drive that finally looked like it would result in points. Down 20-0 on their next possession, Rodgers fired an interception deep in Packers territory.
The interception was both a bad throw by Rodgers and a great read by cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (#41). First, look at the previous play before the interception. The 49ers rotated to a single-high look, which left Mosely responsible for the deep outside third of the field.
The route combination is below. The idea here was to hold Moseley with the outside receiver’s initial vertical stem, leaving the seam route open.
You can see that Moseley was primarily concerned with getting depth quickly outside to defend the deep third.
The Packers may have had a chance on that play, but Rodgers didn’t throw it. So, they decided to come back to it on the very next snap. They ran the exact same route concept, just out of a different formation.
The 49ers would play the same coverage. This time, Moseley was ready. Remember how he was more adamant on the previous play about getting vertical quickly? On this play, Moseley would end up sitting a little more, ready to drive inside knowing that the outside receiver was going to sit and not be a threat downfield.
Moseley recognized the route concept and pounced for the interception (aided by the poor throw).
Smart football by Moseley there. A touchdown 3 plays later gave the 49ers a commanding 27-0 lead.
The frustrating thing for Packers fans had to be watching their team move the ball at will in the 2nd half while attacking with downfield throws at a time when the 49ers were specifically trying to take away big plays. For some reason, the Packers came in trying to avoid that very approach. They didn’t attempt to stretch the field early. Where were the shot plays on first down? We saw lots of slant-flat combos, play-action boots with low-to-high reads, and other plays meant to target the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, why did it take a 27-0 deficit to finally start attacking downfield? In case you had any doubts about his physical abilities, Rodgers made about 3 or 4 ridiculous throws in the 2nd half. He definitely still has it.
A general rule, especially in the playoffs, is that you aren’t going to win too many games against better teams by playing it safe and hoping that they hand you the game by making mistakes. You have to take more chances and force the issue to give your team a shot. The Packers didn’t do this until it was too late, and it may have cost them a trip to Miami.
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