For the second time in as many meaningful games at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers (0-1) were handed a loss by a team more physical, better prepared and who executed better on both sides of the football.
The San Francisco 49ers impressively beat the Packers on the road to start the 2012 season, 30-22.
One week does not a season make, but the gut reaction from one watching was that the film would show some glaring worries for this team moving forward. After several re-watches early this morning, those fears were mostly confirmed.
Here’s some quick-hit observations from taking several more looks at Sunday’s game:
The first series was a precursor to Clay Matthews’ big day. On third down, Matthews walked 49ers left tackle Joe Staley into the offensive backfield, taking down Alex Smith in the process to finish the play. Staley, a Pro Bowl tackle, had his moments in containing the edge rush, but Matthews won this matchup for most of Sunday.
The 49ers played undermanned defensive fronts for most of Sunday, but the Packers couldn’t take advantage on the ground. Even early on, when it appeared Cedric Benson had a small crease or hole, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis were there to close up shop. The best inside linebacking duo in football were able to flow freely to the football as the Packers were incapable of getting their offensive linemen into the second level. It was another soft performance up front.
Vic Fangio was one step ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy all afternoon. Fangio’s looks were so well disguised pre-snap by the 49ers that Rodgers had trouble with what he was seeing post-snap. This is one of the best (if not the best) defenses the Packers have ever faced with Rodgers at the helm.
In the first quarter, Jarrett Bush gave up a big play to Randy Moss because he was terrified of getting beat deep. Moss pushed up field, Bush turned his shoulders and hips to sprint and Moss broke off the route. Bush was completely turned around by the time the ball was in the air. He’s physical and can tackle in space, but this is not a starting cornerback on a Super Bowl contending team. Period.
NaVorro Bowman might be the best linebacker in football.
Greg Jennings is so slippery after the catch. On a few early short routes, Jennings was able to escape the original tackle attempt. But in the second half, Jennings was mostly a ghost as Carlos Rogers shut him down. He caught just five passes for 34 yards on 10 targets.
Call me Captain Obvious, but I saw a number of poor calls from the replacement refs. An early phantom block in the back call on the kicking team, Matthews’ roughing the quarterback and picking up the block in the back flag on Randall Cobb’s 75-yard touchdown return were the big ones, but they also missed at least two easy false starts on Staley. The entire game just felt mismanaged by an overmatched crew. It won’t be the first time you read those words about a game officiated by a replacement crew in 2012.
Dom Capers was in a lose-lose situation for most of Sunday. If he went base defense, the 49ers were able to find mismatches with receivers against Packers linebackers. If Capers went nickel or dime, San Francisco ran it down his throat. There was very little in terms of successful adjustments.
However, Capers wasn’t helped by a secondary that once again looked confused and out of place. Just like 2011, receivers ran free and Packers defenders were left pointing fingers. These are young players, but break downs like the touchdown to Moss or Vernon Davis’ big gain on a shallow cross are unacceptable.
There wasn’t a soul watching the game who didn’t know Colin Kaepernick was going to run when he came into the game at the end of the first half. The Packers staff said during the week they had prepared for Kaepernick to take some snaps. Yet the Packers looked like they didn’t know what hit them as he helped set up David Akers’ miracle field goal.
Akers’ kick was among the best ever, but the Packers gave him a big hand. Kaepernick’s run, on top of Rodgers’ mistake throwing the ball away on third down and Mike McCarthy’s use of a timeout gave San Francisco the time it needed to kick a potential kick in place. And considering how low Akers’ kick had to be, it’s hard to believe the Packers couldn’t even get close to getting a hand on it up the middle. Zero push.
I wonder what McCarthy had in mind when he called for one of his staple plays on 3rd-and-1 during the Packers’ first series of the second half. He had no reason to assume single coverage on Jordy Nelson, who ran a deep post off the playaction. The 49ers had stopped the run without safety help all afternoon. Dashon Goldson had perfect help over the top and Rodgers threw into double coverage. Jermichael Finley had his man beat over the middle, and John Kuhn was available in the right flat, but Rodgers took the high-risk, high-reward throw and got nothing. The Packers punted, and the 49ers then proceeded to go nine plays to take a 23-7 lead.
Hard not to like the way Green Bay used Randall Cobb. In a way, he was used much like the Saints use Darren Sproles down in New Orleans. By lining him up in the backfield, the Packers almost always got a favorable matchup against a lesser athlete. And considering how good Cobb is after the catch, the short passes worked as replication of a running game that was otherwise non-existant Sunday.
Jermichael Finley’s issues catching the football are still present. He had one clear drop on third down that would have extended a drive and another that should have been caught away from his body. Both passes needed to be caught by a guy who wants to get paid like an elite NFL tight end.
Surprised Alex Green couldn’t get a snap. At the very least, a designed screen made sense on one of the many third downs that San Francisco brought an extra blitzer. Cobb’s role in the backfield contributed to Green’s day being limited to the sidelines.
Rodgers made probably the worst throw of his last 25-30 games during a time when he absolutely couldn’t make an awful decision. Bowman made the easy pick in front of Jennings, but the safety probably would have gotten his hands on the ball had Bowman not been standing directly in front of the play. Awful decision, awful time. It was the one play that the Packers absolutely had to avoid, especially in catchup-mode.
The defense actually made stops when they had to have them late. Matthews was unblockable during the 49ers final couple of possessions. Rodgers’ turnover fueled Frank Gore’s demoralizing touchdown run, but San Francisco was forced to punt on four of its last five possessions.
Rodgers’ struggles in rallying late continued.