Colin Kaepernick

For the second season in a row, the Green Bay Packers were eliminated from the playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers. This time falling 23-20 in a tightly contested game that resembled week 1 in San Francisco.

13:40 1st Quarter - The 49ers won the toss and elected to defer, which immediately paid off with a three and out by the Packers.

San Francisco sits in their nickel defense, which is no surprise and the defense they’ll be in most the game. Their nickel leaves just six guys in the box, but all their defensive backs are in off coverage and watching for the run.

The first play from scrimmage by the Packers is a handoff to Eddie Lacy that gets blown up when Aldon Smith pushes David Bakhtiari into Lacy’s path. Lacy does a 180 and ends up running 20 yards to pick up 1. On second and 9, Andrew Quarless leads Lacy straight ahead. Quarless and Evan Dietrich-Smith do a good job on Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, and Lacy gets 7 yards. On third and 2, the Packers surprise everyone except San Francisco by giving the ball to John Kuhn over right guard. T.J. Lang has a hard time with Ray McDonald at the point of attack, and Don Barclay allows Ahmad Brooks to get around him too quickly. Kuhn still has a chance to push for the first down, except he fumbles the ball and has to fall on it about two feet short of the first.

9:00 1st Q - The 49ers convert a third and a fourth down while driving for a field goal to open the scoring.

The Packers play their base defense for most this drive. The base has either Josh Boyd or Mike Daniels playing on the line with B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett while Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba anchor the ends.

On the second play of the drive, Morgan Burnett lets Michael Crabtree circle him and then head upfield. Sam Shields needs to assist on the tackle and gets hurt doing so. You may never see Shields in a Packers uniform again.

On third and 9 near midfield, the Packers switch to their nickel defense. The Packers play zone, and Crabtree runs an out in between the coverage of Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett. Hyde strips the ball from Crabtree. It conveniently bounces right to M.D. Jennings, but Jennings shovels it out of bounds because that’s what Packers safeties do.

On third and 2 from the 49ers’ 31, Frank Gore looks for the handoff on the wrong side of Colin Kaepernick. It is a busted play. Andy Mulumba comes flying in from one side while Hyde flies in from the other. It is a 4-yard loss. On fourth and 6, the 49ers go for it instead of trying to punt the Packers deep. Hyde pulls a Chris Conte on the play. Hyde has Crabtree in the slot. Hyde sits at the marker and lets Crabtree run right past him. If Crabtree runs a seam, he has a touchdown. He runs a corner instead and is down at the 4.

The Packers hold from there. On first down, Kaepernick rolls to his right and almost makes a huge mistake by trying for Vernon Davis. Tramon Williams has it covered and nearly intercepts the pass. On second down, the 49ers try to burn the Packers with a play fake. Williams has Anquan Boldin covered, and Nick Perry gets pressure on Kaepernick. Kaepernick throws it away. On third down, Kaepernick tries for Crabtree working against Davon House. House is all over Crabtree, and it is incomplete.

2:17 1st Q - After a second Packers’ three and out, the 49ers only have to drive 40 yards for another field goal to go up 6-0.

The Packers’ second possession is even more inept than the first. On first down, the Packers try Eddie Lacy out of the shotgun and around the left end. Aldon Smith throws Quarless to the ground and tackles Lacy for a 1-yard gain. On second down, Rodgers drops back to find everyone covered. Instead of dumping it to Quarless or Lacy, or just throwing it at their feet, Rodgers literally curls up against the back of Josh Sitton until Ray McDonald finally comes around to sack him. Huh. On third down and 16, the Packers actually look to pick it up, and Rodgers holds onto the ball before finally misfiring on the dump to Jarrett Boykin.

The unusually aggressive play haunts the Packers when Tim Masthay then comes on and only kicks it 29 yards. The 49ers get to start on the Packers’ side of the field.

The 49ers drive 40 yards on runs by Gore and short passes to Anquan Boldin. Finally on third and 6 from the 7, Kaepernick again wants Crabtree working against House. House is totally interfering with Crabtree, but still, there is no call. Phil Dawson comes on to kick a 25-yard field goal.

We would shortly discover that Mike Neal is now out of the game. That is two starters in two series lost from the Packers defense, and that leaves Andy Mulumba and Nick Perry as the only outside linebackers available for the Packers.

13:08 2nd Q - After the Packers go backwards again, the 49ers drive into Packers’ territory only to be turned away by a Tramon Williams’ interception.

Someone tell Aaron Rodgers that first down is not the time to take a coverage sack. He hangs onto the ball again before finally deciding to dump it to Lacy. He pump fakes to give Lacy a little more time to get away, gets hit by Ahmad Brooks and fumbles the football. Fortunately, T.J. Lang recovers. On the next play, Lacy appears to be going somewhere on a screen, but Rodgers doesn’t move his feet to give himself an angle to Lacy. He ends up throwing it away before Lacy can clear traffic. On third and 15, Rodgers hands it to Lacy for 3 yards, which is a smarter play than going for it on the last drive. Punt.

Kaepernick scrambled up the middle for 8 yards and found Boldin against House for 17 more, eventually moving the ball inside the Packers’ 30-yard line. However, on second and 7 from there, Kaepernick floats one for Vernon Davis on the corner route. Tramon Williams comes off his coverage of Boldin and picks the pass off by leaping in front of Davis. He crosses the field on the return, and seems headed out of bounds when he sees Kaepernick coming up to tackle him. Tramon forgets the sideline and gives Kaepernick a shot instead. Words are exchanged.

5:50 2nd Q - The interception seems to ignite the Packers offense, as they finally show up. They go 70 yards in 14 plays and finish it off with a touchdown for the 7-6 lead.

The key to the drive was throws for decent gains on first down. After a dump to Kuhn picked up a key third and 4 to start the drive, the Packers never faced third down again until the touchdown play. They passed for 7-9 yards on first down, and then they ran on every second down to pick up the first. This worked until third and goal from the 5. Rodgers does well to get out of the pocket to his right and then finds Jordy Nelson for a 5-yard touchdown.

After being thoroughly dominated in the first quarter, the Packers’ red zone conversion gives them a 7-6 lead.

2:48 2nd Q - Once again the Packers defense gives up an easy touchdown drive following a score by the offense. The 49ers’ touchdown makes it 13-7 49ers.

It is well-chronicled by now that the Packers defense has been miserable on drives following a score by the offense. Not only do they allow touchdowns too often, but they are typically easy scores. This exactly fits that mold. The 49ers start the possession with a decent return, and then three plays into the drive, Kaepernick takes off up the field for a 42-yard run.

On the play, the Packers blew coverage when neither House nor Brad Jones thought they had to cover Vernon Davis over the middle. On top of that, the entire defensive line slides to the left while Morgan Burnett holds the outside on the right. This leaves a huge gap for Kaepernick to run through. Fortunately for San Francisco, Gore looks to Kaepernick, sees him taking off, and then springs him by cutting Brad Jones to the ground. Kaepernick skipped out of a diving tackle attempt by House and then headed up the left sideline before Burnett, to his credit, chased him down from behind.

The 49ers score a couple plays later when Frank Gore takes a read-option run and scores from the 10-yard line. Andy Mulumba was optioned on the play and cheated to Kaepernick. M.D. Jennings was way too slow to run fill, and Gore easily handled him at the 2-yard line.

The Packers ended the half with their second best drive, getting a field goal to make the halftime score 13-10.

After a Rodgers’ scramble got 9 yards, Rodgers found Nelson over the middle. Nelson slid down, losing both safeties in the process, and got up to circle them and head upfield. If Patrick Willis isn’t closely pursuing the play, it goes for a touchdown. The play gets 19 yards, moving the ball to the 49ers’ 40-yard line.

There is one minute left and first and 10 from the San Fran 24 when Rodgers tries to call an audible and ends up burning the Packers’ second timeout when he runs out of time. Foolish. A couple plays later, the Packers appear to have first and goal from the 5 when Rodgers hits Nelson on an out, but the referees finally call a penalty — illegal hands to the face on David Bakhtiari. Aldon Smith went to Bakhtiari’s helmet first, and Bakhtiari only grabbed the side of Smith’s helmet. Weak call. Big call.

Instead of first and goal from the 5, the Packers are back to the 29 with only 27 seconds left and one timeout. The Packers waste the rest of the time on a comeback route to James Jones, down to the 17. They could have called timeout with 20 seconds left, but decided that two timeouts per half is enough and ended up not using it at all when the next play was an incomplete pass. Mason Crosby came in to make the field goal and end the half.

The third quarter sees five punts and no points.

The 49ers go three and out to start the second half. After two incomplete passes, Kaepernick tries to scramble out of the pocket on third and 10, but Mike Daniels somehow sacks him with one hand. Punt.

The Packers reciprocate. After two Lacy runs get just 2 yards, Rodgers scrambles forward on 3rd and 8 and tries deep for James Jones. Jones is actually well behind the defense, but as we see happen to both quarterbacks on deep throws, the ball floats on Rodgers. There are two defenders back. Jones manages to split them and make a play on the ball. However, in order to split them, Jones had to cut sooner than he probably would have otherwise. In this weather, understandable that Jones wants a body catch rather than trying to catch it with his hands. Unfortunately, the ball is too high for a body catch and goes right off of Jones’ face shield. Tough to catch a ball off the face shield. Punt.

This time the 49ers get a 16-yard scramble by Kaepernick followed by a 22-yard pass to Crabtree, and move deep into Packers’ territory again. However, they are forced to punt when Kaepernick gets sacked by Nick Perry at the Green Bay 33.

On the punt, Micah Hyde shows the good that can happen when you let a punt bounce inside the 10. It bounces into the end zone, and the Packers get the ball at the 20.

After picking up a first down, Rodgers absorbs consecutive sacks. The second comes when Rodgers assumes Ahmad Brooks has run by and decides to take off from a pocket he never had to leave. Brooks never ran past Don Barclay and easily sacks Rodgers when he runs out from Barclay’s block. Punt shortcoming.

Though they start just short of midfield, the 49ers go nowhere and have to punt again. On 3rd and 9, Kaepernick finds Crabtree on the short cross, but Jarrett Bush comes up and tackles him short of the first down.

12:06 4th Q - The Packers finally go 80 yards in 12 plays, including a miraculous fourth down conversion, to take a 17-13 lead.

At this point in the game, the Packers are simply being more physical than the 49ers. They drive 80 yards in 12 plays — nine of which are runs by Lacy or Starks.

The Packers are running almost exclusively from the shotgun, but mixing it up as far as pitches around the end and leads up the middle. Quarless is consistently getting a hat on Navarro Bowman while Dietrich-Smith is consistently getting a piece of Patrick Willis, which is the key to the good runs in this drives. The rest is just hard running by two big backs.

The Packers face their first third down of the drive on third and 4 from the San Francisco 32. The call is a rather surprising and creative lead draw to Starks with Josh Sitton leading the way. The play is going to work except that Donte Whitner is somehow playing the run on third and 4. He is unaccounted for on the play, understandably, and run fills right at the line of scrimmage, dropping Starks for a 2-yard gain.

Undoubtably the Packers are going to go for it, which is why they had no problem running the ball on third and 4. The 49ers perhaps throw Rodgers off by blitzing five this time. Rodgers has some time before Ray McDonald pushes Dietrich-Smith far enough into the backfield to get a hand on him. Rodgers attempts to dump it to Kuhn while McDonald has a hold of him. McDonald sees the ball out there and momentarily lets go of Rodgers to grab at the ball. Dietrich-Smith immediately pulls McDonald off of Rodgers, and Rodgers springs free of the pocket. He then finds Randall Cobb downfield for the longest play of the game for the Packers — 26 yards, down to the 49ers’ 4-yard line.

After Lacy bruises his way down to the 1, and Bakhtiari gets kicked in the head for his troubles, Rodgers hands it to Kuhn, who simply follows Sitton into the end zone. Touchdown, and the Packers lead 17-13 with 12 minutes left. The Packers also led the 49ers with eight minutes left in the fourth in week 1. However, that lead quickly disappeared.

10:30 4th Q - It is deja vu all over again as the 49ers score in just 4 plays after a Packer touchdown to go back in the lead at 20 – 17.

Ironically, the only touchdowns the Packers defense gave up in the game were immediately following touchdowns by the Packers offense.

First of all, once again the 49ers got a good kick return to start out their drive at their 37. The quick 63-yard drive that followed was mostly just two plays — a 24-yard run by Kaepernick, followed by a 28-yard touchdown pass to Davis. On the touchdown, Morgan Burnett is in two-deep coverage and therefore should have the play shut down. Seeing decent coverage to the inside by A.J. Hawk, Kaepernick even has the audacity to throw the ball to the outside, which is toward Burnett. But there is a reason why the Packers didn’t have an interception by a safety all season. Burnett is too busy helping on Anquan Boldin instead of reading the quarterback and is too slow to make the play. The ball goes right by his hands to be caught for the touchdown by Davis.

5:06 4th Q - The Packers offense drives 61 yards in 11 plays and has first and goal from the 9. However, they fail in the red zone for the final time this season, settling for a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 20-20.

On the second play of the drive, Rodgers finds Nelson on a simple out. Nelson eludes several defenders and picks up 11 yards and a first down.

Three plays later the Packers were faced with third and 5 from midfield. Once again, Rodgers found Kuhn for 8 yards and a first down. The check to the running back is a real good play against this 49ers defense because the linebackers like to help out in coverage a lot.

On the next play, Eddie Lacy runs through about four defenders, gaining 8 yards to the 49ers’ 34. Unfortunately, he immediately runs off the field, which is something he did quite a bit in this game. It would be his final run of the season.

On the very next play, Rodgers has his second best play of the game. He eludes a blitzing corner that Marshall Newhouse failed to pick up, escapes to his left, and fires a bullet to Cobb for 25 yards down to the 9. It at first appeared that Cobb would score on the play, but safety Eric Reid made a diving tackle on Cobb to stop him. Nice play.

The Packers originally lined up with Starks in the shotgun on first and goal. However, Rodgers wasn’t happy with the formation and ended up calling timeout. After the timeout, Randall Cobb was in the shotgun with Rodgers. He took the pitch and tried around the left end. It has a chance if Dietrich-Smith blocks Bowman as he comes around. Unfortunately, he blocks corner Terrell Brown and lets Bowman get a clean shot on Cobb. It is just a 1-yard gain. I like the call, just good defense and not good enough offense.

On second down, the Packers go with the five-wide set. Amazingly, the 49ers don’t choose to blitz against it. They send only four and drop seven. Those seven cover well, and Rodgers doesn’t have anyone to throw to. He rolls to his right, semi-chased by Aldon Smith, who would represent all of the 49ers pass rush in this game and finally throws it away.

The 49ers beautifully play something similar to a match-up zone, and the Packers probably would have been better off to throw it short of the end zone there and see if one of their receivers could punch it in. The only weakness to the defense is that there is no pass rush. Something may break down if Rodgers waits in the pocket for it to happen. Instead, he again flees a pocket that he could have stayed in and gets nothing.

On third down, the Packers bring in Kuhn to join Rodgers in the shotgun. The 49ers play the same coverage and it works just as well. Rodgers has a shot to Cobb in the right slot, but it was a tight window and Rodgers didn’t like it. Otherwise, the back shoulder to Boykin looks open. Rodgers doesn’t like any of it and scrambles up the middle. He gets only a couple yards, and the Packers have to kick the field goal to tie.

Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers convert on several huge plays to position themselves for an easy field goal while running out the remaining clock. Phil Dawson makes a 33-yarder to win the game for the 49ers.

On second and 10 from the 49ers’ 31, Kaepernick tries for Boldin running the out between the zones of Hyde and Burnett. It is the same route as they ran to Crabtree earlier in the game. Boldin doesn’t get good depth on his out, and Kaepernick doesn’t get proper loft on his pass.

Micah Hyde is in coverage, and the ball is high but hits him in the hands. If he comes down with it, it is Packers’ ball with four minutes left to play at the San Fran 40-yard line. He doesn’t come down with it. He falls backwards and the ball deflects harmlessly off his hands. Troy Aikman astutely notes: “That is the kind of play that wins and loses games like this.”

Still, it is third and 10. Get a stop and the 49ers are going to punt. The Packers choose to rush four and drop seven. Kaepernick splits Daniels and Mulumba and fires a strike to Crabtree, open against the Packers zone. He gets 17.

Two plays later, Kaepernick dumps it to Gore, and he gets an easy 11 yards working against Brad Jones.

Three plays later, the 49ers had third and 9. The Packers play aggressive this time, sending seven blitzers. When Bush jumps to the inside of Gore to get in Kaepernick’s face. Kaepernick pump fakes, gets Bush in the air and then takes off around the left end, which is now wide open. Andy Mulumba is too injured to be on the field and he takes a poor angle on the play. Kaepernick picks up the first down on an 11-yard run.

The 49ers just run Gore after this. His longest run is only 5 yards, but it is enough to move the ball into relatively easy field goal range. The 49ers run the clock down and kick the winning field goal with no time remaining.

San Francisco only had 13 points in this game until the 10 minute mark in the fourth quarter. The defense showed good gap control and were surprisingly good against the run. That was partially because they brought their safeties in against the run more frequently. Tramon Williams played well in this game, just as he did in week 1 against San Francisco. In that game, it took until the final fourth down play for the Packers to put Williams on Boldin. In this game, the Packers apparently never considered putting Williams on Crabtree and allowing the more physical Davon House to cover Anquan Boldin.

The myth that the 49ers are a bad match up against the Packers due to their physicality is just that — a myth. The Packers got 26 carries for 110 yards from their two big backs while the 49ers got 22 carries for 70 yards from Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. The Packers were clearly leaning on the 49ers at the end of the game and had scoring drives on both of their last two drives of the game.

The difference in the teams remains Colin Kaepernick. The Packers can’t contain him because they don’t have the speed on defense to do so. With Clay Matthews on the field, on obvious passing downs the Packers like to leave Matthews in the middle of the field to spy on Kaepernick. With Matthews unavailable, there is literally no one else on the defense who is agile enough to do that role. This left blitzing Kaepernick as the only way to contain him, but when he broke containment during a blitz, big plays followed.

Aaron Rodgers got into rhythm a couple times in the game and had the two great plays to Cobb. However, he had a pitiful slow start. The best illustration of how befuddled he was by the coverage tendencies of the 49ers was the play where he got the 49ers to jump offsides. On the free play, Rodgers threw it over the middle and right into the hands of Eric Reid for an easy interception. There wasn’t even a receiver in the area.

During the fateful first and goal situation near the end of the game, I would have liked to see Rodgers give one of his receivers a chance to make a play. Just find someone with a one-on-one and give them a chance. The receivers have been the strongest part of this team all year. You have to give someone a chance to make a play. Instead, Rodgers played it safe and didn’t even try to complete a pass to a receiver. Rodgers was disappointed after the game and so am I. A $20 million a year quarterback can’t be kicking field goals and relying on his defense to win the game. That is inevitably not going to end well.

I was impressed with the 49ers safeties all game. They fill unbelievably fast in the run game and never seem out of place in the passing game. When they hit someone, they are usually down, immediately — not counting the one joyous time that Lacy dump-trucked Whitner. The Packers had the chance to draft Eric Reid. He was the guy I wanted, actually. Watching this tape, I believe that if you took Reid from the 49ers and put him on the Packers, that is likely the difference in the game. Of course, in that scenario, Reid would be coached by Darren Perry, so maybe I’m wrong.

There is inevitably going to be a lot of turnover on the Packers this offseason. The 2o14 Packers could be a very different team. I actually don’t see a lot of holes. The offense is pretty well set. Even if you lose James Jones and Dietrich-Smith, there are backups who can step in.

Though lots could change with the defense, the only obvious holes I see are at safety and in the middle of the defensive line. The Packers kept 10 linebackers on their roster this season and nine of the 10 got injured and missed time — with only A.J. Hawk once again the last man standing, playing all 16 games. The inside linebackers played well when they were healthy and the defensive line were actually doing their jobs. I don’t see that position as a need, though speed and length would be appreciated if you could find it.

The Packers need to acquire a safety who can make plays on the ball, and they need someone who can anchor the middle of their line. Ryan Pickett played well against San Francisco, but he can’t be counted on as anything but a rotational player starting next season. Could B.J. Raji regain some of his swag if he played the nose tackle position? I don’t know. People seem to have forgotten that he played well the first two months of the season. His disappearance during the second half is perhaps the biggest mystery of the season. Perhaps he was injured and we didn’t know about it. Perhaps his contract situation was on his mind. I don’t know.

Regardless, I have to think he cost himself some serious money. The market will determine his value now.

Absolutely, crazy, inexplicable season for the Packers in 2013. Injuries are no doubt the biggest story of the season. It would be nice to have a season where they are only a footnote. One can only hope.

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