Having had some time to sleep on and digest the Packers’ loss to the 49ers, there are 10 things about this game I feel the need to address in a little more detail. Here goes:
Packers coaching philosophy: In the NFL, it’s all about success. There are no style points, no points for technical brilliance. Find what is working and stick with it. If something’s not working, make adjustments. If something is killing you, throw out the caution book and try anything you can. This last aspect becomes especially true when you’re in a one & done situation like the playoffs. Did the Packers coaching staff do any of this in the 49ers game? No they did not.
DuJuan Harris: Harris had nine carries for 47 yards in the first half – that’s a 5.2 ypc average and three more yards than Frank Gore had. Nine carries in only 8 minutes of possession for the Packers offense is actually pretty impressive. This was the balanced attack McCarthy had been touting as being so important to their success. Harris was given 2 carries on the first plays of the second half (ironically when the Packer’s OL was in mild disarray with Sitton having a problem with his shoe). He didn’t have another carry the rest of the game. Zero. Zilch. Nada. How did that work out for the offense, Mike? An adjustment that wasn’t needed.
Jeremy Ross: This isn’t second guessing, but it needs to be addressed with what happened. I thought, said and wrote last week that McCarthy did the right thing in the Vikings game by keeping Cobb on punt returns and using Ross just on kickoff returns. I even praised McCarthy for being so smart about it. Punt and kickoff returns are two completely different animals. On punt returns, ball security trumps everything else. I assumed he would stay with this winning combination so I was shocked when I saw Ross back there to receive the punt. Why? I asked of my TV screen. Unfortunately, we got a perfect example of why not to do it. Another adjustment that wasn’t needed.
Colin Kaepernick: I’m sure Jim Harbaugh is still trying to figure out why the Packers made no adjustments to what they were doing. To his credit, he made no unneeded adjustments (see above), he just kept doing what they were doing until the Packers did something to stop it. As we know, there was nothing forthcoming. The Packers came out in the second half and did nothing different. They laid down the red carpet for Kaepernick to run on and he did so. No adjustment where one was desperately needed.
Bye Week: There were plenty of attempts to explain what happened (excuses) by Packers players after the game. A lot of comments alluded to lack of adjustments, which is right on, but many were also using the bye week for SF as an excuse. Here’s one example from Dezman Moses, “They schemed us. They had two weeks off and that gives a team a long time to break you down in every phase.” I call Bullshit. The Packers had a bye week last year, didn’t they? Did they come out with the perfect game plan against the Giants because of it? No they didn’t. What Moses was really saying was, “we got our asses out-coached.” Which is a fact. Bye week had little to do with it.
Jim Harbough: Speaking of out-coaching, I have to give this guy and the 49ers offensive coaching staff due respect. In game one this year, I felt they had had designed a perfect game plan for Alex Smith to execute, which he did with precision. They maximized their strengths, identified where the weakness in the Packers’ defense was on every play, and they attacked it. It was a much different game plan this time around, necessitated by their change of quarterback mid-season. Yet, the approach was the same. Take their strengths (Kaepernick’s legs and Crabtree’s hands) and attack the Packers weaknesses (holding outside gap control and soft coverage from Tramon Williams). Then once the Packers offense made the Packers defense stay out there WAY too long, the 49ers turned to Frank Gore for the kill. Textbook. A reluctant “well done” to the more annoying of the coaching brothers.
Tramon Williams: Where have you gone?
First half defense was actually very good: …except for accounting for Colin Kaepernick. At the half, Kaepernick was 11 for 23 passing. Frank Gore had 44 yds rushing. Michael Crabtree had 5 catches and 2TDs (see Tramon Williams above), but he doesn’t get those TD chances if Kaepernick doesn’t break the defense’s back by extending drives when they had the 49ers stopped. All the Packers had to do was find a solution for Kaepernick’s running and they would have won the game. I am totally convinced of that. It’s how I felt at halftime and it’s how I feel right now. The game was tied halfway through the third when they let Kaepernick run for a 56 yard TD. See no adjustments above. That’s when I knew the game was over.
I Spy: Lots of talk on twitter last night about spying Kaepernick, much of it coming from me. The Packers did actually spy Kaepernick on a few plays, but always when they were in zone and Kaepernick wasn’t going to run in those situations. When they were in man and all receivers were downfield, Kaepernick took full advantage of the empty space behind the line of scrimmage and took off. Had there been a Packer there in those situations, it could have been a different story. It certainly couldn’t have been worse. I suppose what I am proposing would be like a “box and one” in basketball. One man as a spy, rest in zone. But one more thing on spying; when the Packers did do it, they used linebackers. One thing we found out very quickly last night was that Kaepernick was just too fast to leave that job to a LB. I would have liked to have seen them use a DB in those situations – why not Jarett Bush?. Or perhaps a faster linebacker like Jamari Lattimore or Terrell Manning, who have both run 40s in the 4.6-4.7 range. Again, it couldn’t have hurt.
Third downs: This has been the bane of the Packers’ existence in big games. Whether it’s the 3-man rush soft zone we’ve seen too much in the past or straight man coverage with a deadly running quarterback, Dom Capers seems to have a mental block on third downs. Sadly, it seems to manifest itself the most in playoff games. The Packers defense has ended the Packers playoff hopes three times in the last four years with a tidal wave of points allowed and yards surrendered. I hope to have time to examine this in more detail in a separate post.
As for McCarthy (or Rodgers, but I lay responsibility on the coach) and his propensity for throwing deep on third downs, my question is why always on third downs? I understand the need to stretch the defense, especially when you are a pass-heavy offense. But why run such a low percentage play on third downs, which mostly results in giving the ball back to the other team? Packers threw three deep balls yesterday, all on third down. One was an INT, one was incomplete and the third was the circus catch by James Jones. I just don’t like the odds of success on a down where failing means you give up the ball.
I’m sure I could keep going, but this seems like a good place to stop. I really look forward to hearing your comments, so fire away!
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.