In the aftermath of the Packers’ loss to the 49ers, there were fingers pointing in every direction. If you were a Packer, there was no escape from the scrutiny, whether it was deserved or not.
Players, coaches, GMs, scouts, everyone except the owners were raked over the coals (we never do anything wrong, right?).
But in reality, and despite the final score, this was a game that midway through the third quarter was still tied. This despite the offense hardly being on the field in the first half.
This also despite the Packers’ gift of two turnovers which resulted in 14 points for the 49ers. You could easily make the case that those were the “two things” I alluded to in the title. But it’s not.
There are, in fact, two reasons the Packers are not travelling to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game. They both happen to be attached to be attached to Colin Kaeprnick’s body: They are his legs.
There is little doubt in my mind that if Alex Smith were quarterbacking the 49ers on Saturday night, we would not be listening to season-ending press conferences this week. We would not be hearing chants of “Fire Capers,” and “Our defense still sucks.”
You hear the term “favorable down and distance” a lot. Mike McCarthy uses it a lot. Any NFL coach will tell you that maintaining favorable down and distance improves your chances of winning dramatically. Especially on third down.
The Packers defense (the one that improved greatly this season but seemingly everyone now thinks is so awful), were able to put the 49ers into unfavorble down and distance on third down a total of eight times in the first half. EIGHT TIMES the 49ers were looking at third down distances of 8 to 12 yards.
Think about that a bit. Does that sound like a “horrible” defense? Any defense would take that performance in a heartbeat, knowing that they would probably get off the field at least six times out of those eight.
Instead, five times Colin Kaepernick’s legs kept the ball in the 49ers hands and kept the Packers’ offense off the field.
Whether you think the Packers failed to make the right adjustments or they were simply unable to keep up with the speedy Kaepernick, I believe you have to tip your hat to Jim Harbaugh (I know it’s painful) for his gameplan and Kaepernick for his individual performance, rather than degrade the Packers’ defenders.
At the half, Frank Gore had 44 rushing yards, three less than DuJuan Harris. Colin Kaepernick’s completion percentage was just under 50%. The Packers’ secondary was playing fantastic in coverage, contesting every catch, save for their supposed best defensive back, Tramon Williams. I maintain it was a good enough job by the defense. But alas, they had no answer for Kaepernick’s legs. I’m not giving them a full pass, but at the same time, I’m not condemning them either.
Kaepernick’s extending of drives on third and long kept the defense on the field for most of the first half. Each time he did so, another pound of flesh was extracted from the Packers’ defense. If the offense couldn’t put together some extended drives in the second half, you knew this would end with a beaten-down defense getting run over by Frank Gore and the Niners’ powerful offensive line. And it did.
Colin Kaepernick made some fantastic individual plays when they could most hurt the Packers. Praise him. Don’t kill the defense.
For those of you who would like to review those five third down plays I am referring to, here they are from the All-22 coaches film:
Q1, 11:28, 3rd and 10: (while this is a pass play, I’m sure we’ll agree Kaeprnick’s legs make this play happen and he probably could have kept the ball and easily made the first down).
Q1, 9:09, 3rd and 8: (note Brad Jones out wide on Delaney Walker) Although Walker hardly runs a route, Jones never even looks over and never sees CK taking off until it’s way too late)
Q2, 6:25, 3rd and 9: (both Erik Walden and Brad Jones seem to be spying Kaepernick, but both vacate the middle when Frank Gore releases. Jones stays with Gore but Walden realizes too late he should have held his position and CK speeds by him.)
Q2, 3rd and 10, 1:48: (Packers bring six rushers, doing a nice job of disguising a blitz by Charles Woodson and working a stunt with Brad Jones and Clay Matthews. The stunt was designed to create an open lane for CMIII and it worked, but LaMichael James smartly reads the stunt and comes over from the opposite side to cut Matthews. )
Q2, 0:35, 3rd and 10: (a well designed play by the 49ers. With no defensive linemen on the Packers’ left side, they let Clay Matthews take himself wide which leaves a huge hole for Kaepernick to run through behind a pulling Joe Staley.)
Those two things hanging down from Colin Kaepernick’s legs? Yeah, that’s what beat the Packers…——————
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.