Packers Drive Rewind: Good-Bye Running Game?

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Mason Crosby Packers-49ers
Mason Crosby ties the game at 24-24 when the Green Bay Packers settle for a field goal on a third quarter drive.

Hopefully we’ve let enough time pass to take a look at this game again. The embarrassing effort by the defense shouldn’t overshadow some of the positive things that happened on offense. Though even they let mistakes get in their way at the most inopportune times…

The Situation

It’s the second half of the Divisional Round game, and both teams have started the third quarter with a three-and-out drive each. The Packers are trailing the 49ers by a field goal (21-24) and are looking to gain back the momentum they lost in the first half. They start their drive at their own 11-yard line after Randall Cobb fails to advance the punt.

The Result

Mike McCarthy calls his first drive of the game sans DuJuan Harris. Looking to get something going, he puts his five best receivers on the field for Aaron Rodgers to work with: Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley. They drive down the field in a no-huddle offense, gaining 76 yards and eating up only 3 minutes and 31 seconds on the clock. Their efforts stall in 49ers territory, however, and the Packers are forced to attempt a field goal. Crosby ties the game at 24-24.

Play 1: Rodgers to Jennings for 2 yards

Despite being on their own 11-yard line, the Packers show their hand immediately on this first play. McCarthy has Rodgers alone in the backfield with his five receivers taking off at the snap. They run some short-route concepts here with Cobb an option for a bubble screen. San Francisco is content to keep things in front of them, running (mostly) a zone scheme. Safety Dashon Goldson has his sights set on Cobb, though, forcing Rodgers to hit Jennings on the out route to his right.

If nothing else, this play gets the engine primed for the upcoming drive.

Play 2: Rodgers to Jennings for 30 yards

Give Rodgers a nice clean pocket with time to spare and he’ll make these plays just about every time. Cobb starts out in the backfield, but motions to the left slot. On the right side, Jennings runs a deep fly route to stretch the defense. With the corner playing inside leverage and the safety running deep, Rodgers is able to connect with Jennings on the back shoulder throw. The safety is in position to make the immediate tackle, but it’s not enough to stop a 30-yard gain that really gets the offense’s motor going.

You also have to admire Jenning’s play on the ball, turning at just the right time to keep the defenders away from the catch.

Play 3: Rodgers to Nelson for 8 yards

Clean pockets are great, but even when they breaks down, it doesn’t always stop Rodgers from making a play. Operating in no-huddle mode, the offense goes back to an empty backfield. Again, they run some short-route concepts, but the 49ers initially defend them well. It’s not until Rodgers rolls out of the pocket and extends the play that Nelson is able to work some cushion between him and the corner.

What you might really want to watch, though, is how Barclay and Sitton pick up the stunt on the right side of the line. (On the other side of the line, Aldon Smith slipping on his initial step certainly didn’t hurt, either.)

Play 4: Rodgers to Nelson for 8 yards

Cobb returns to the backfield, but this time he doesn’t motion out. (Though he still runs the short bubble screen on the left side.) Rodgers stays away from that side of the field, though, opting instead to hit Nelson on the out route. Given a large cushion like he was by the cornerback, there’s no reason not to take the easy first down.

Play 5: Cobb runs right for 19 yards

Even though DuJuan Harris has been absent from the drive, it doesn’t mean McCarthy has abandoned the run altogether. After letting Rodgers work the field with his receivers, McCarthy gives the nod to Cobb for his first offensive touch of the game. Cobb might look amazing on this run, but he has the offensive line to thank. They clear a nice big path for him to follow. Sitton, in particular, does a nice job of sealing off the linebacker to let Cobb get into the second level. Though not pretty, Finley also succeeds in sealing off the backside of the run to keep it clean.

Cobb adds the finishing touch by juking out the safety to gain an extra nine yards or so.

Play 6: Cobb runs up the middle for 4 yards

“Air” McCarthy certainly wouldn’t call two runs in a row, would he? Well, he does. Though it’s not as successful, it continues to show the versatility of Cobb. Defenses have to account for him doing just about anything. This time, Sitton pulls to “trap” block Justin Smith. Unfortunately, Newhouse fails to take care of business with Aldon Smith, who makes the play on Cobb.

Without that shoestring tackle, Cobb almost surely gets another first down.

Play 7: Rodgers throws it away

Here’s where the engine stalls. On the play-action fake to Cobb, Rodgers is immediately flushed out of the pocket when Barclay practically gets thrown to the ground and can’t keep his block. Newhouse also lets Aldon Smith get to the inside and force the issue. Rodgers is forced to throw it away and live to fight another down.

(Could he have hit Jennings in the middle with better protection? The safety might have been in position to make a play on such a throw.)

Play 8: Timeout, then false start penalty by Newhouse

This is where the frustration sets in. Not only do the Packers have to burn a timeout, but Newhouse’s mistake turns a manageable 3rd-and-6 into a much more challenging 3rd-and-11. It’s one thing to make a play in that situation from midfield, but from the 23-yard line, it gives the defense less field to cover.

For those people who are content with Newhouse at left tackle, just keep these last two plays in your memory banks. The pressure combined with the false start give support to the idea that the Packers need a better option at left tackle.

Play 9: Rodgers to Cobb for 8 yards

Did anyone else’s heart stop when Cobb tried to extend for the first down? He had absolutely no chance (though it would have been hard for him to tell in the moment), and the resulting fumble (?) would have been the third turnover by the Packers.

As for the play, the 49ers are once again content to keep everything in front of them. Though Cobb is wide open on the catch, it’s amazing how quickly the cornerback notices and reacts to the play. Without that heads up play by the defense, Cobb makes the marker.

(Oh, and did you watch Newhouse again this play? Was he getting tired?)

Play 10: Crosby makes a 31-yard field goal

As if Packers didn’t have enough to worry about, on comes Mason Crosby, whose season was filled with disappointment. How many fans actually kept their eyes open for this one? Those who did were still probably holding their breath as the football skirted the inside of the right upright. Thanks for that shot of confidence, Mason.

Two things I take away from this drive:

1) Mike McCarthy decided not to go for it on 4th-and-1 here, instead taking the field goal. While it’s not quite as atrocious as the decision to punt on the penultimate drive, you have to wonder whether it might have changed the game. In all honesty, though, I can’t fault the decision. Get some momentum going and tie up the game with most of the second half yet to play.

2) For all the talk of McCarthy abandoning the run, I don’t really get it on this drive. Yes, the defense needed could have used some rest, but this offense needed a shot of “juice.” They exploited the defense on most of those plays, and it wasn’t until the end that mistakes kept a touchdown out of reach. (They also still ran Cobb.) If you really want to blame McCarthy for abandoning the run, I would start with the drive that followed this one. He kept up with the passing attack and didn’t attempt a single run. It probably would have made more sense to change it up on the 49ers defense and keep them off-balance.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • http://www.aol.com mark

    I think if the defense hadn’t given up 579 yards of offense and allowed SF to possess the ball for 38 minutes we would have had a chance. Blaming the offense for anything at this point is minush.

    • http://www.greenbaypackers.com Paul

      The inability of the offense to move the ball is what last the game. after every score the opposing team get the ball. 3 and out too many times like the packers did and 49ers have lots of offensive time to score. and score they did against crummy defense.

  • Palmda

    It was eveident fron the first time Newhouse and Evin D. Smith entered the lineup that they should not be starters and would not be on any other team. Bulaga is the king of false starts, that needs to be looked at also. What ever happend to screens and draws? Didn’t see too many from the packers this year? I don’t expect much change next year as MM seems to be protecting the non performers he has coaching and playing.

    • SchenySchen

      I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of play of EDS at center. He seems better there than at guard in my opinion. As center, he seems to be able to “help” the guards rather than have to take his man by himself. If he can make the calls, I have no issue with them giving him a shot next year. — I would rather see an early draft pick go to ILB than Center. GoPack!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Hate to tell you this Palmda, Newhouse played a great game against a couple of the best DL in the NFL.

  • SchenySchen

    Actually, if Cobb had simply turned upfield on that 3rd and 11 field and taken the cut toward the middle, his momentum would have gotten the first down. He tried a silly spin move toward the second defender to the outside which was ill-advised, cost him the first down and almost lead to a turnover. If you don’t believe me, watch that play on the endzone cam again and you’ll see what I mean. If he cuts left and skips the spin, he makes it. GoPack!

    • Chad Toporski

      For me, I see his momentum pretty much calling the shots at that point. It’s hard to judge, but I think it would have been difficult for him to make that hard of a cut the way he was flying across the field.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Scheny, I though the same thing watching the game on TV. But watching it now multiple times from the All-22, I agree with what Chad is saying.

  • SchenySchen

    Clearly Chad, I am a better armchair athelte than you. :) I understand what you are saying but he takes multiple steps and then drags his route across the defenders body before doing the spin on his right foot. If he plants his right foot in the first place, he cuts upfield. None of it really matters now anyway, but it was a play that even live I was surprised he made/didn’t make. GoPack!

    • Chad Toporski

      Hey now, I play football in my backyard! That counts for something, right??? ;-)

      • SchenySchen

        Chad, now that I know that I am confident that #18 Toporski would have cut left and gotten the first down! GoPack!

      • Rob

        Away games in someone else’s backyard in the snow? THEN you’re more than qualified!

  • SchenySchen

    sorry, meant “athelete”. GoPack!

  • GBPDAN

    I miss Clifton and Taucher when they were in there prime. Arod would look good taking snaps behind that Oline that helped A Green rush for 1800 yards. Clifton had seasons were he only gave up a sack or two and would dominate his man, and shut him completely down, in pass protection most games . Quality bookend tackles are so important to have in the nfl.

  • GBPDAN

    And speaking of first downs, do you remember how A Green converted 90% of his 3rd and shorts a few years in a row? We could use that production now. The pack had to many problems with 3rd and short this year.

  • http://butlerrf@msn.com old time packer fan

    The pack are between a rock & a hard place.they play well enough to get in the playoffs (except 2 years ago when they won it all)but not good enough to get to the final dance. then they wind up drafting in the high 20’s where the “Can’t miss” players are gone. They probably need to visit the free agent market for a couple key players

  • Shavager

    It’s a FACT that Packers are better team when McCarthy get run/pass balance, NOT passing the ball 70% or more. They need a better blocking O-line with some misdirection schemes that other teams run-getting O-line dictating flow of direction while RB cuts back against the flow. Not sure if there’s any player on current defensive roster that can help Matthews, despite Capers using stunts from different LB’s, just not getting enough pressure against better teams like Niners or Giants. Picking as far down in draft, not sure if GB can get that ONE player they need for D-line, LB position to get pressure or physical play needed.

  • Jeff

    They need better O line. Rogers doesn’t get near the time Brady, Manning,Kappernick,or Brees get. It was frustrating watching him get sacked so much this year. Yet he still had a great season. Everything starts up front.

  • SchenySchen

    Everyone calling for bookend tackles remembers that Tauscher was a 6th round pick, right? Also,we have used 2 of our last 3 first round picks on tackles. If Sherrod can get healthy and Bulaga returns to form, we will be solid upfront. GoPack!

  • Larry

    That’s the assumption-get healthy and be better. Sherrod, Worthy, Perry and Bishop all missing. I’m not sure any or all are game changers though.

  • http://charter Larry

    I believe the Packers should draft a Top RB and then work on the offensive line. We need to protect Rogers along with a good running game. Having fill ins for RB is not making it.