Regular Cheesehead TV reader (and all-too-infrequent commenter) “Paul Ott Carruth”, a former player and coach who wishes to remain anonymous, breaks down different aspects of the Packers from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Today he takes a look at the Packers’ Divisional Round matchup with the 49ers.
Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be. Many Packer fans and pundits must feel like the 49ers dominated Green Bay in the week one match-up. The difference between fans and coaches/players is that coaches and players are able to remove emotion when reviewing a game. Film study takes on a clinical feel and it should. Should Packer fans believe what their eyes told them? Did their eyes really see what was instead of what it appeared to be?
Monday morning quarterbacking has a way of clouding judgement. It’s very easy to let pundits sway our opinions of a situation and get us second guessing ourselves. The 49ers won the game but did they really have their way with Green Bay from start to finish or is it possible Green Bay played poorly and yet had some successes and an opportunity to extend the game? I’d like to cover a few items from that week one match-up via some diagrams. Perhaps at the end of this we may discover things weren’t what they appeared to be for some very clear reasons.
Diagram 1 (Zone Blitz)
In this instance, the 49ers executed a zone blitz scheme. It is a 4 man pressure off of the slot vs. Green Bay’s Trey formation. The secondary rotation is like that of a fire zone in which there are 5 rushers and a 3 deep, 3 underneath shell. In essence, the 49ers are playing Cover 3. It gives the appearance of a fire zone type of pressure but is nothing of the sort. Aldon Smith (99) drops to play the Curl/Flat area while the SS on the right “screws” down in the box to jump any quick route by Jennings but is really playing the Curl/Flat area as well. Willis and Bowman are Curl area droppers.
You can see the corners bail out to their deep outside 1/3 while the FS rotates to the middle 1/3. This is a nice attack by the 49ers as it gives the appearance of pressure while playing safe zone coverage behind the rushing Nickel back. The weak areas of the defense (yellow boxes) are ripe for attack. Finley executes a stick route and catches the ball for a 1st down. In the week one matchup this play was challenged by the 49ers and the call on the field was upheld in the Green Bay’s favor.
Diagram 2 (Firezone)
The Packers are again in a Trey formation to the left. This time the 49ers execute a “firezone.” I use this term loosely on this play because in the truest sense it is not fire zone as it does not have the traditional 3 deep 3 underneath coverage. Instead, the 49ers go to a Dime look and put Brooks and A. Smith out wide. You can see the linebackers and Dime back bunched up in the middle. The 49ers bring all 6 rushers from the core of the defense, leaving 5 in coverage. The 49ers vacate the middle underneath coverage defender (final 3 player) usually occupied by a linebacker in a true fire zone (5 man rush, 3 under, 3 deep). Fangio makes a nice call for the down and distance situation, banking on the ball coming out quick and hoping that his sure tackling secondary can get the job done on any quick routes.
Ultimately this play ends up in a sack on Rodgers. Rodgers had Finley open for a 6-7 yard completion but didn’t pull the trigger. I doubt that it would have mattered anyway as the safety was covering the deep middle 1/3. The safety rotated quickly when reviewing the film. The exposed areas of the defense can be seen in yellow. Again, the Nickel back rushes off the slot. In this case it was Carlos Rodgers and he got the sack.
Diagram 3 (11 Personnel)
I personally believe the Packers need to run more of these types of looks on early downs, namely 1st down. It accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gives you a decent run presence as well as passing threat with the personnel on the field. Second, the 49ers linebackers like to attack downhill vs. these looks. I believe the Packers can take advantage of the downhill style of the 49ers linebackers and free up Finley on “thru routes” in the middle of the defense. It also will allow for one on one matchups. The Packers ran this exact formation in week one and narrowly missed a deep shot on the 49ers. It was a good play by the corner but it can potentially pay huge dividends if Jones and/or Nelson can win on the outside, which I believe they can.
Diagram 4 (Slot/Finley Mismatch)
This is a formation the Packers used sparingly between the 20 yard lines. I believe it can be a big payoff. You’ll notice Finley is aligned as the lone receiver on the left. This is a mismatch for the 49ers. They played him with a corner. Secondly, Jennings motions from his trips alignment over to the left and is now in the slot one on one with Willis. Don’t get me wrong….Willis is as good as they come, however, against Jennings or Cobb in the slot? The Packers will take that matchup all day. On the play, Jennings gained 9 yards on a simple stick route. Why the Packers didn’t move Finley outside more to take advantage of this is unclear. I would suggest you may see more of this on Saturday especially with Cobb and Jennings both playing well. I suspect you may see a combination of Finley, Jennings, Cobb with either Jones or Nelson as the final receiver. The 49ers may find it challenging to cover perhaps two of the top two slot receivers in the game.
So what did you see? While diagrams can only show you so much they do give you a window in to the thinking of the Packers in week 1 in terms of formation and personnel. It also shows you how the 49ers like to attack certain formations. When you see the Packers line up in their Trey formation you can bet the 49ers will blitz off the slot. You can also be certain they will play some form of zone coverage (i.e. cover 3) behind the pressure. It is what Fangio does. Yes there will be “tweaks and adjustments” but at their core the 49ers are a zone blitzing team. Pundits often confuse them with being a man pressure team, and while they do some of that (every team does) that is not their predominant approach.
The Packers were successful in diagrams 1 and 4 picking up a total of 15 yards combined. To a lesser extent they got some matchups they wanted in diagram 3, narrowly missing a deep shot to Jones. What’s my point? It is this…..the 49ers did not dominate in week 1. Please get that out of your head. The only team to impose their will on Green Bay this year was New York. Remove all emotion and go back and watch the 49er film. The Packers moved the ball against this defense and moved it quite well, despite a turnover in their own territory. It was a one score game until the last 40 seconds or so. The Packers failed on a 4th and 12 in 49er territory. Defensively, there were some busted coverages by the Packers that I don’t expect we’ll see this time around. Gore got 112 but it was a tough 112. Brad Jones and Eric Walden didn’t play. DJ Smith was terrible. Bush was atrocious. Shields is not. A lot has changed but what hasn’t is the myth that the 49ers dominated the game by imposing their will on the Packers.
A cursory look at the stats shows a pretty even game. The 49ers ran 62 plays to Green Bay’s 61. The Packers had the edge in the passing game. The 49ers bested the Packers in sacks by one 4 to 3. Time of possession was 33-27 49ers. The real difference in the game came in rushing attempts 32-14. Additionally, the 49ers got the one turnover and did not forfeit the ball. Perhaps the biggest stat that goes unnoticed is the manageable down and distances the 49ers had on offense. Rarely did they shoot themselves in the foot. They had very few false starts or holding penalties unlike the Packers who found themselves in long 3rd down situations. Likewise, Alex Smith was patient in taking the short completion. He had several of the 5-8 yard variety. I would argue the 49ers played poised and composed and made fewer mistakes and yet had to go the entire distance to end the game. The Packers were out of the Giant game fairly early.
2011 vs. 2012
I’ve asked myself why fans could think this 49er team dominated the Packers in the week one matchup and I think I’ve found the answer.
2011 saw the offense score at will. The Packers averaged 35 points per game last year. In 11 of their 16 regular season games they scored 30+ points. Contrast that with 2012 and you can see the Packers averaged 26 points per game and 30+ points in 5 of 16 games. Coming in to the week one matchup expectations were high. Pundits and fans alike were expecting Green Bay to pick up where they left off. The divisional round game was merely a hiccup. So when the Packer offense only put up 2 scores it appeared the 49ers dominated Green Bay much in the same way it appeared Kansas City did the year before. When you become accustomed to a certain style of play and the seemingly ease of results it comes as a shock to the system. You begin to question yourself. You see things that aren’t really there at all. The Packers of week one are not the Packers of today nor were the Packers of week one the Packers of 2011.
Along the way McCarthy and the team, in particular the offense, have had to learn how to win again. I know that sounds counterintuitive considering their fair share of winning but there are different spokes in the wheel and the terrain they have faced this year is different. Player roles have expanded (i.e. Cobb, James Jones) and the way defenses approach the offense has changed (more 2 high shell vs. single high and blitz). It has taken the offense a while to change their approach but it appears to have changed. I see a great deal more patience.
I believe the defense is peaking at the right time. Capers has mixed in more man coverage and allowed the corners to play aggressive. It appears to me that he has simplified things. Other than the blown coverage in what could have been considered garbage time, there haven’t been any blown coverages where receivers were running free by 10 yards with no defender in sight. That happened quite extensively in the week one match up (Moss TD, Vernon Davis 20+ yard catch in middle of the defense).
Saturday Night Keys
So what’s it going to take for Green Bay to win? I think it is just like the players are saying. They have to worry about who they are and not what the 49ers are. They also have to be intelligent with the football and recognize down and distance. Rodgers and McCarthy can’t afford to call a waggle pass on 3rd and 1 and throw it for 45 yards as they did with 13:40 to go in the 3rd quarter in the week 1 matchup. Running the ball needs to be a priority for several reasons. First, it provides balance. 14 rushes with 10 coming from a running back will not cut it. Second, running the ball on 2nd down can keep 3rd down manageable. Fourth, play action can be utilized on 1st down, which in my opinion, can be a difference maker. The 49ers are a stop the run first team and play downhill. I believe Green Bay can make them pay for this aggressiveness but only if they believe Green Bay will commit to the run.
Defensively, the Packers need to challenge Kaepernick to throw the ball deep. With the significantly weakened receiving corp., I don’t believe Crabtree and Moss can beat single coverage by Shields, Hayward, or Williams. Davis will be the key receiver to shut down but I believe a combination of bracket coverage by the safeties and linebackers will suffice. Rush lane integrity and gap discipline will be the key to limiting the effectiveness of Gore and James and the running ability of Kaepernick.
The Packers have the personnel to win this game. Do they have to win it by double digits? Of course not. Aesthetics are not part of a scoreboard and this isn’t the 2011 season nor Week One Packers. The make-up of this team at this time is much more prepared for this game than they were over 4 months ago.