Looking back at the Wildcard game two things became rather apparent: the first was that the Vikings gave up by around the second quarter which lead to the Packers giving up (or “protecting an outrageous lead”) around the 3rd and the second was that the Vikings did not know how to handle quarterback Joe Webb (Football Outsiders mentioned that it appeared if Webb’s progressions were actually more complicated than Ponders, which is probably not what you should be asking your backup quarterback who hadn’t thrown a pass all season to be doing).
Either way, outside of the the Packers’ mistake that costed them the Vikings only touchdown (which I reviewed and can’t decide who’s at fault) there really wasn’t a play that really stood out to me; the Vikings were atrocious beginning to end and the Packers did nothing entirely special when there were trying (which apparently was enough to win the game in the first 30 minutes) and then proceeded to sit on the ball for the 2nd half. So instead, I’ve decided to look forward to the 49ers game (which I didn’t analyse since I started this series in week 2)
When you look at the 49ers defense, you don’t see a lot of flaws; for them it starts with their front 7 starring Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Simply put they don’t need help defending the run (while the Packers are a considerably better running team than what the 49ers saw on opening day, I still don’t think the Packers running game has much of a chance) and to make matters worse, they really don’t need help rushing the passer, as Aaron Rodgers was running for his life the entire game last time they met. So with the deep passing game a risky proposition and the running game likely not to be much of a factor, what are the Packers going to do on offense?
The answer is probably going to be the short passing game.
The Situation: It’s opening week for the NFL and the Packers are starting the season at home against the San Francisco 49ers. There’s 10 minutes left in the 2nd quarter and the Packers are trailing 10 to nothing, which isn’t a insurmountable hole with so much time left. The Packers just ran a Randall Cobb RB/WR trick play on 1st down and netted 6 yards, which gives the Packers options on 2nd and 4.
Pre-Snap: The Packers come out in a 3-1-1 formation (3WR-1TE-1RB) with WR Jordy Nelson (87) aligned out wide left, WR Greg Jennings (85) aligned in the slot right and WR James Jones (89) aligned out wide right. TE Jermichael Finley (88) is inline to the left tackle while WR/RB Randall Cobb is lined up directly to the left of QB Aaron Rodgers (12). The 49ers respond in their 3-4 nickel Package (2DL-4LB-5DB) with an extra cornerback to account for the fact that the Packers realistically have 4 WRs and no RBs (even though WR Cobb is aligned as a running back to start off)
Motion: WR/RB Cobb motions from the backfield to the slot right about 2 yards away from the core of the formation. As a response, OLB Ahmad Brooks puts his hand in the dirt, which typically converts him to a defensive end. ILB Bowman also moves to mirror WR Cobb’s motion.
The Snap: Rodgers receives the ball and immediately turns and fires off a pass to WR Cobb. Interestingly, notice that TE Finley is in fact probably the better option at this point, not only does he have wider cushion (WR Cobb and ILB Bowman are heading towards each other while TE Finley is actually running a out pattern with ILB Willis still in his backpedal) but TE Finley is already across the 1st down marker while WR Cobb still has avoid a couple defenders.
The Block: Both WR Jennings and WR Jones immediately come out of their routes and block both corner and the safety on the right side. Also interesting to note is that neither wide receiver is even looking for the ball, this is a designed play to WR Cobb and no one else.
The Tackle: This is a pretty good play by CB Carlos Rogers (22), who manages to get enough outside leverage that it forces WR Cobb to bounce back inside where ILB Bowman is closing fast. The end result is the Packers get the first down, but the 49ers save the big play.
Conclusion: It’s been pretty apparent that the 2012 Packers are not the 2011 Packers who just about dominated everyone solely with the passing game. Not only have other teams “figured” out how to stop them, but injuries to the offensive line and wide receivers has made it impossible to reproduce the passing game that last year’s team possessed. However, just as other teams have figured out how to defend the Packers passing attack, the Packers have finally figured out how to break that defense.
If you look at the Wild Card game, you’ll actually notice that outside of the 2 minute warning to close out the 1st half, the Packers took very few shots down the field. Instead, seeing your standard cover-2 with super deep safeties, Rodgers dumped off a lot of passes in the vacated middle (or as Bill Johnson likes to say “the soft underbelly of the defense”) and let his receivers gain extra yardage. Some people were wondering why Rodgers was playing scared and why the Packers offense has regressed. I see it as taking advantage of what the defense wants to do and getting your players in the best position to score.
The 49ers aren’t likely to come up with a new defense to stop the Packers, they are going to use what every other defense has used successfully this season, i.e cover-2 with deep safeties while generating pressure with your front 7. Luckily, Aaron Rodgers delivery is so fast, he can beat any pass rush as long as he doesn’t have to go through too long of a progression. If the Packers can establish a steady short passing game mixed in with some running plays and the opportune strike down the field, I think they will win this game.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.