Football fans were treated to a playoff-like, epic game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Fortunately for the Packers, it WASN’T a playoff game.
1st Quarter – 15:00 – Thankfully, the kickoff is 8 yards deep and Jeremy Ross takes a knee. The Packers begin by doing something they did very well in 2012- start a game with a 3 and out.
The Packers start in their prime formation — the shotgun — with James Jones and Jordy Nelson on the outside and Randall Cobb in the slot. The 49ers are in their nickel, which looks the exact same as the Packers’ nickel. That brazenly leaves only six guys to defend the run. However, the 49ers partially offset that by playing press coverage on all three WRs, which puts nine guys within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
So, in other words, its a press underneath with two safeties deep, or the same damn coverage the Packers have seen since 2011.
The Packers start with a draw to Eddie Lacy. Even though DT Ray McDonald gets off T.J. Lang’s block too early, Lacy still probably bulls for 3 or 4 if he follows Don Barclay through the hole. Instead, Lacy panics when McDonald gets off the block, tries to go left, and runs into Justin Smith for nearly no gain.
On 2nd down, the Packers look to surprise the 49ers with a quick hitting shuffle pass up the middle to Lacy. Everyone does their job with the offensive line all cut blocking their guys to the outside, splitting the defense like the Red Sea. Lacy is going to be all alone with Patrick Willis and have a head of steam. EXCEPT… Lacy looks confused because Rodgers moved him to the other side of the formation before the snap, where catching a shuffle would be easier, and Lacy apparently believing some audible has been called chooses to block instead of running in front of Rodgers for the shuffle pass.
Now a sitting duck with all his offensive linemen on the ground, Rodgers tries to spin out of the pocket, gets grazed by Aldon Smith, and falls down to give Smith a nice gift to start his season.
Faced with third and 17, the Packers predictably throw a screen to Jermichael Finley who gets nine. Punt.
1Q – 13:20 – The Packers defense starts the way it did most games last season, by forcing a 3 and out.
The Packers play their base on first and second down before switching to the nickel for third. The base defense includes B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Johnny Jolly in the middle to stuff the run, with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry lined up outside the offensive tackles in clear contain mode.
To further help against the run, the Packers’ secondary is playing zone.
Likely anticipating this, the 49ers try to pass three times. The first pass was wisely thrown out of bounds with Tramon Williams streaking in front of the out. The second pass was nearly intercepted by Williams on the out to Vernon Davis. On 3rd and 10, Colin Kaepernick tries to scramble to his left and is stopped short by Williams, who comes off his coverage to close the gap and practically single-handedly stop the 49ers first series.
1Q – 12:42 – The Packers would get one first down on their second drive and yet manage to have, time-wise, their longest drive of the game at 2 minutes and 51 seconds. Lacy would lose 3 yards on the first play when neither Finley nor Lang would block the guy who lined up right in front of them. Both defenders would hit Lacy in the backfield and drop him. Rodgers would convert the following 3rd and 8 anyway by hitting Randall Cobb across the middle for 18 yards.
On the following second down and 9, Lacy could have had a big run to the left, with the line doing their job, except Patrick Willis ran right by Finley and held Lacy to a 2-yard gain. On 3rd and 3, Rodgers would feel pressure and overthrow Lacy, who was left uncovered after the 49ers blitzed the lone linebacker on the field.
1Q – 9:40 – The 49ers show it took them one series to figure out how to attack the Packers’ zone defense, as they take their second drive 83 yards in 14 plays, chewing up 7 minutes of game time.
The plan is simple, and not unlike the plan in Week 1 last season — spread the defense out and attack the middle of the field with the slot WR. Sticking to this plan, the 49ers methodically moved down the field, converting four 3rd downs on the way to the end zone.
On 3rd and 5 from their own 22, Kaepernick would convert with a bullet to Anquan Boldin, who ran an in from the bunch. Boldin is actually bracketed on this play, but Micah Hyde, the inside bracket, allowed Boldin to get inside of him to make the catch for a 9-yard gain.
Immediately after that conversion, Kaepernick would find rookie TE Victor McDonald over the middle for the longest gain of the drive — 25 yards. McDonald was wide open after he stopped in the middle of the field while Brad Jones kept going across.
After picking up a 3rd and 1 with a short dive by Frank Gore, the 49ers faced a 3rd and 2 from the Packers’ 25. Strangely, the Packers went with their pass rushing nickel with Datone Jones and Mike Neal on the inside. The 49ers ran a dive up the middle to Kendall Hunter. Jones and Neal were easily cleared out of the middle, and only a very good play by Perry from the edge held the run to just a 3-yard gain.
On the final 3rd and 8 from the Packers’ 20, the Packers dropped Perry into the flat, left Matthews as a spy, and blitzed Tramon off the corner. The 49ers blocked with seven, giving Kaepernick plenty of time to stare down his target and fire a 20-yard strike to Vernon Davis for the first TD of the game. In coverage, M.D. Jennings took a bad angle at the goal line, but I’m not sure he can make a play on the ball even if he is on Vernon Davis’s back. The ball was thrown where it had to be. 7-0 49ers.
1Q – 2:42 – Since the Packers media spent the entire offseason characterizing the playoff contest as a “blowout,” it may be easy to forget that the first half of that game was a back and forth fistfight.
This game begins to take on that same character as the Packers take a hard shot from the 49ers only to land a punch of their own. That punch would be a 6-play, 80-yard TD drive that only took a ridiculous 1:47.
The Packers are in the shotgun all series and playing up-tempo. After finding Cobb for 13 yards over the middle, Rodgers sprints to his right and hits Jordy Nelson up the sideline for 31 yards. Two plays later, Eddie Lacy takes a screen, finds some open field for once, and bounces off a couple tacklers on his way to the 5-yard line.
Two plays later Cobb beats Carlos Rodgers from the slot and makes a great effort to break the plane of the goal line. We are now tied at 7-7.
2Q – 11:55 – The 49ers get past midfield on their next drive thanks to a 22-yard pass to Boldin where the Packers flat out blew the coverage. However, on third and 7 from the Packers’ 45, the Packers unveil a new strategy by rushing three and letting Matthews spy. It works. Finding no one open, Kaepernick tries to run for it. In stark contrast to last season, Neal, Jones and Matthews close quickly. It is a 2-yard gain. Punt.
2Q – 11:15 – Once again a punt becomes a boon for the 49ers as Eddie Lacy fumbles to give them the ball at the Packers’ 14. Rodgers appeared to audible on the play. Andrew Quarless apparently didn’t get the memo because he goes out for a pass and leaves Aldon Smith unblocked. Lang gets pushed aside by McDonald, and both 49ers jump Lacy. While Smith and McDonald essentially hold Lacy up, two more 49ers join the fracas, and Navarro Bowman punches the ball free.
Just one thing has already been established in this game, and that one thing is that T.J. Lang cannot block Ray McDonald.
2Q – 8:57 – The 49ers travel the most eventful 14 yards in the game to make the score 14-7. The craziness that ensues includes not just the one over-publicized referee error, but TWO glaring referee errors.
It was third and one with the ball resting on the 5. Frank Gore carries over the right side and appears to be within inches of the 1st down. On the call of the play, Joe Buck says, “and Gore brought down… close… to the marker.”
The refs throw a flag for an illegal formation. However, they incorrectly anticipate Green Bay accepting the call and mark the ball at the 5, exactly where it was at the start of the play, and where the penalty would be enforced from if accepted, as the penalty makes it a dead play.
In doing so, they never even bother to correctly spot the ball where Gore advanced it to. Instead of taking the penalty right away, McCarthy asks upstairs what the distance would be if they declined the penalty, and apparently was told the correct information, that it should be 4th and inches.
There is no doubt that if McCarthy declines the penalty, then the unrepentantly anal Jim Harbaugh demands that the ball be properly spotted. With 4th and a foot, they go for it and likely get it.
Instead McCarthy accepts the penalty, which the refs have already prepared for, and in doing so, causes further chaos to erupt.
On 3rd and 6, the Packers rush four and drop seven, and get the same result as last series. Kaepernick finds no one open, scrambles, and is stopped short of the end zone by three converging Packers.
EXCEPT… Clay Matthews is not going to take out-of-bounds for an answer and goes Jimmy Superfly Snuka off the top rope on Kaepernick. A flag flies. Joe Staley runs across the field to get in Matthew’s face. Matthews has something for Staley too. The battle is momentarily isolated between the two until Boldin gets blasted from behind by Sam Shields, at which point, the fur REALLY begins to fly.
My favorite part of the replay of the fight is that B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly got into the middle of it even though they weren’t even on the field during the play. Hahaha….
At this point, as everyone knows by now, the referees blew it again by calling offsetting dead ball fouls and then replaying the down as if both fouls happened during the play. No matter. The NFL would assure us the following day that the refs did nothing wrong and that basically the Packers got what they deserved.
On 3rd and 6 redux, Kaepernick finds Boldin, who shrugs off a pathetic attempt to tackle by Jerron McMillian and scores.
2Q – 4:18 – After the teams trade punts, the Packers are driving into 49ers territory when Finley bounces a ball off his knee and into the waiting arms of Eric Reid. Finley had Willis beat, a common occurrence in this game, and was headed for the 49ers’ 40 when the debacle happened.
To my outrage, the refs blow a rather obvious down-by-contact on the interception and allow the play to continue. Because of this, Aaron Rodgers has to risk injury by making the tackle on the sideline.
The 49ers fail to capitalize on the turnover when they miss a 48-yard FG.
2Q – 1:32 – The Packers’ offense finishes the first half on a high note by driving 68 yards in about a minute. The drive is mostly thanks to Nelson and Finley, who the 49ers are having a miserable time trying to tackle.
A couple plays after Nelson broke a Nmandi Asomugha tackle to convert a 3rd and 15, Finley broke a Perrish Cox tackle, got up the sideline and leaped into the end zone. After ALL that, it is 14-14 at half.
3Q – 9:45 – The 49ers land another big body blow by going 80 yards in 12 plays to take a 21-14 lead.
The 49ers were in trouble right away with 3rd and 9 from their 21. Even though Kaepernick has time, he throws a wing-and-a-prayer up for Boldin, who is double-covered with Shields underneath and McMillian over the top. If McMillian goes for the ball, it is right to him. He plays the man instead and Boldin out-wrestles him and Shields for the ball and a 22-yard gain.
A couple plays later, Boldin gets 30 on an out-and-up when Shields ignores him. This advances the ball to the Packers’ 17.
The 49ers score on 1st and goal from the 2 when Brad Jones ignores Vernon Davis, who is wide open.
3Q – 3:40 – The Packers start the 2nd half the same way they started the first — with a 3 and out. Fortunately, the 49ers followed with one of their own. Given a second shot at it, the Packers go 54 yards in 7 plays to tie the game at 21-21.
This drive featured a little balance as the 49ers’ defense appears to start falling back on its heels.
Two runs by Lacy finally netted 9 yards. On 3rd and 1, Rodgers keeps it and gains 6. An unseen unsportsmanlike conduct on San Francisco added another 15 yards, putting the ball at the 49ers’ 39. From there, two passes over the middle to Cobb got it down to the 8-yard line. On 1st and goal from the 8, Nelson catches a dart on the slant, and we are tied once again.
4Q – 14:15 – As both defenses appear to be wilting in the heat, the 49ers go 76 yards in 11 plays to kick a field goal and go back in front, 24-21. The Packers are still in zone to guard against the run, and they are still making mistakes. Keenan Williams gets 16 on the first play when McMillian leaves his zone.
Shortly after, the 49ers get 37 when Vernon Davis runs through M.D. Jennings’ zone and makes the catch over the middle. Kaepernick follows that with his best scramble of the game for 15 yards, down to the 10.
Matthews would drop Kaepernick for a 7-yard loss shortly thereafter, and the 49ers would get no closer.
4Q – 8:30 – Following punts from both teams, the Packers would drive for a TD and have the lead at 28-24 with eight and a half minutes to play.
Eddie Lacy appears to be getting stronger as the game gets longer. He spear-heads the 8-play, 76-yard drive that gives the Packers the lead, running five times for 26 yards, including a 2-yard leap into the end zone.
After two runs by Lacy gained 13 yards, Rodgers found Finley on a short out that he turned into another 13 yards. This has to be the best run-after-the-catch game that I’ve ever seen from Finley. The 49ers just can’t tackle the guy.
A few plays later, Rodgers would roll to his left and fire out of bounds where Jordy Nelson would make a sick 37-yard catch, going horizontal to keep his toes in bounds. Lacy would handle the final 13 yards, including the glorious leap into the end zone from the 2.
4Q – 5:47 – With all Packers Nation praying for a stop of any kind, the Packers defense would have its worst series of the game. Perhaps worn out by the fact that the Packers offense amazingly never had the ball for even 3 minutes at a time at any point in the game. Perhaps sapped by the heat after a training camp that resembled a trip to a spa. Or perhaps simply outplayed. After giving a resilient performance for most of the game, the Packers defense offers no resistance, as the 49ers rather easily go 80 yards in 5 plays to take the lead for good at 31-28.
After Kaepernick scrambled for 6 around Neal’s side, the Packers clearly expect a run on 2nd and 4 and line up in their base. The 49ers respond once again by going empty backfield and five wide. This forces both Matthews and Perry to play the slot. Boldin is in the slot across from Perry. Amazingly, the Packers are fine with allowing the 49ers to continually set up this mismatch instead of matching corners to receivers and linebackers to fullbacks or tight ends.
Perry doesn’t even cover Boldin anyway, instead running out to the flat. This leaves Boldin, already with 11 catches at this point, wide open running down the seam. Shields is in deep thirds and closes, but it is too much ground for him to stop the catch. He could make a tackle, but he makes a business decision and dives at Boldin’s feet instead, whiffing.
McMillian is the next joker to attempt a tackle, if you want to call it that. McMillian played so poorly in this game that Maine should bench him. Boldin runs all the way to the far sideline where Williams, alone at times in the secondary, chases him out. It is a 43-yard gain down to the Packers’ 32.
If they had any left, that play seemed to take the heart out of the defense. Strong against the run all game, the Packers allow three straight runs to cover the final 32 yards.
4Q – 4:50 – Yes, the Packers defense collapsed after they were given the lead, but let’s not forget that the offense had the ball with five minutes left to play and only needing a field goal to tie.
They would respond with their fifth and final 3 and out of the game.
On first down, Rodgers tries a quick screen to Cobb, but it is batted down by Ahmad Brooks. On second down, Rodgers escapes a collapsing pocket and puts his body and the season on the line by running up the middle and refusing to slide. He gains 7 to at least give a manageable third and 3. But on third and 3, Rodgers rolls to his right and fires down field for Nelson instead of just trying to get the 3. Nelson can’t bring it in, and the Packers are back to needing a stop from their defense.
4Q – 0:26 – The 49ers convert one third down with a 15-yard out to Davis. They then come to fourth and 2 from the Packers’ 36. Harbaugh elects to go for it, either showing faith in his offense or lack of faith in his defense.
On fourth and 2, with the game in the balance, the Packers’ defense does everything right. The 49ers call is to fake the run to Gore and throw the quick out to Boldin for the first down. The Packers don’t bite on the fake, and with the game on the line, they FINALLY put Williams straight up on Boldin. Williams has the out covered, and Kaepernick has to hold onto the ball. He extends the play by scrambling to his right. The Packers have the edge, and Neal and Jolly are closing on him.
Kaepernick waits, and then he sees it. Boldin and Williams are both rolling right with Kaepernick. Boldin puts his hand on Williams back and extends his arm. Williams keeps going towards the sideline, and Boldin stops. Kaepernick immediately sees the two yards of separation that result and throws Boldin the ball. Boldin gets 15 yards before a very incensed Williams chases him down. A fight breaks out. Williams would remain enraged about the play and the lack of a flag long after the game, and he is right. The only reason Boldin got open was because of the shove. You HAVE to call that.
But we all know by now that at the end of a game, it is completely legal to interfere with a Packers defensive back. Enough said. The 49ers would not get another 1st down, but they wouldn’t need to. They run the clock down to 26 seconds and kick a field goal to go up 34-28.
Rodgers hits Cobb up the sideline for 32 yards and for a brief moment the Packers have a chance for a miracle, but then, Cobb gets tackled in bounds. That leaves only a hail mary. Barclay and Lang apparently think the play doesn’t require them to block, and John Kuhn goes out for a mysterious short pass. The result is Rodgers can’t even get a hail mary pass off. The end.
Considering the length of the game analysis, I am not going to take a lot of time with overview when frankly one could go on and on about the many nuances of this game.
It was a great game in which the Packers played well but came up short versus a very good opponent. It’s the NEXT game against San Francisco that really matters. The Packers need to improve before then.
Get a win this week and the season is back on track.