By: Matt Bove
It was another tough loss to the 49ers for the Packers yesterday in Candlestick Park. This was the best that the Packers have played San Francisco over the last two years, but it was still not enough. Here are my thoughts on the game:
- There were a lot of good things you can take from this game. The sky is certainly not falling and this effort would have been good enough to beat the vast majority of NFL teams. However, it is certainly a frustrating game that was winnable and makes next week a much bigger game.
- Mike McCarthy called a great game on offense. He protected Bakhtiari and Barclay very wll with his play calling that featured a lot of roll outs and quick passes for Rodgers. The plays for Finley in the flats were there all day and they took advantage. There were a lot less of the deep vertical routes yesterday that gets Rodgers sacked. Also, there were very little formations, if any, with four wide receivers on the field.
- The offensive pass blocking did not kill the offense, but was helped out by McCarthy. There were not a lot of sacks, but Rodgers did a lot of great things with pressure in his face. It does not get much easier next week with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan coming to town.
- Speaking of Rodgers, how great is he? He sliced and diced the best defense in the NFL with no running game and a lot of pressure in his face. He made it look really easy too. Just imagine what he could do with some great protection. Hopefully we are not wasting his best years with these horrid defensive performances, but more on that later.
- Despite the slow start, which wasn't his fault, I was impressed with Eddie Lacy. When defenders weren't in his grill when he got the ball, he did a good of finding seams and is a load once he gets going. He is a perfect one cut runner for this system. McCarthy should try to get him the ball more in space more in the passing game as well because he is excellent out there.
- It was an outstanding game for the skill position players, outside of the invisible James Jones. Greg Jennings will certainly not be missed if everybody stays healthy. Jordy Nelson was outstanding and showed that his knee is 100%. Some of the catches that he made were just amazing. Randall Cobb also showed that he was 100% and showed how tough he is by standing in there against some big shots from the 49ers over the middle. Jermichael Finley also played a great game after dropping a ball that led to an interception. Finley did not pout and Rodgers showed confidence in him by going back to him. It was great to see.
- 28 points against the best defense is really a good day for the offense. The fumble by Lacy was what really killed them, but you have to give the defense credit on the strip. Lacy was not holding the ball loosely and Justin Smith did a great job of holding Lacy up while the ball got stripped.
Now onto what everybody is talking about........ the defense.
- A couple of issues that I complained about in the offseason came to fruition yesterday.
- I was one of many who advocated firing Dom Capers after last season after another complete and utter defensive embarrassment in the postseason. He did nothing to change my mind yesterday.
- I actually think Capers' initial game plan was sound. They completely stifled the read option, their whole running game and kept Kaepernick in the pocket. Great. However, by paying so much attention to Kaepernick- and by playing so much zone- the middle of the defense was open all day long. This became evident early and often but no adjustments were made. None. This has been a weakness forever with Capers and it happened again.
- Anquan Boldin is a tough and very good receiver, but there is no way he should dominate a defense like that. Boldin has very little speed and even last year in the playoffs most of his catches came with a defender near him. Yesterday, that was not the case, as he was running wide open a lot of times. As a savvy and smart veteran, Boldin found holes in Capers' zones all day long. Boldin is not a threat to run by you deep, so they should have played man more and even put some bracket coverage on him, even if it meant less eyes on the quarterback. Kaepernick seemed gun shy to taking big hits all day, so he might have been less inclined to run once he got in a passing rhythm. This is a simple adjustment that was never made. There were issues with the players in the middle of the defense(more on that next), but Capers does not get the benefit of the doubt anymore.
- However, this was not all on Capers, as the personnel at inside linebacker and safety just was not good enough this game. Morgan Burnett was a devastating loss and he could have had a huge impact on this game. Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings were flat out dreadful. McMillian missed key tackles, was out of position several times and was trailing in coverage a bunch. Jennings was in position to make some plays a few times, but was late reacting. Any time Jennings was matched up with Vernon Davis it was a huge mismatch, as he just does not have near the athleticism it takes to cover him.
- A huge part of the difference between the Packers and 49ers is the huge talent disparity at ILB. I said last offseason that an upgrade needed to be made at the position and instead the same two starters returned. The middle of the field has been wide open for years against the Packers and nothing changed yesterday. Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk just are not huge impact players.
- The Packers' last two first round picks Nick Perry and Datone Jones were largely invisible. Now, I understand that the job of the defense was not to full out rush Kaepernick, so I will give them a pass this game for not getting a great pass rush. Perry did do a very good job in containment on his side of the field. However, the bottom line is that with the Packers draft and develop system they cannot miss on these guys and they need to make a big impact. Obviously, it is only one game and I still believe that they will be good players, but they have to show it.
- However, I did see quite a few good signs on defense. I thought Tramon Williams and Sam Shields played very well on the outside at corner. The Packers do really need Casey Heyward back in the slot though.
- The defensive line was excellent against the physical San Francisco offensive line. Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett were huge against the run. With those two and B.J. Raji, it will be very hard to run on the Packers all season.
- Clay Matthews is an absolute animal, but you already knew that. He is a coaches dream with his talent combined with his energy and effort (the dumb penalty aside).
- The defense did not play soft. They brought it and were very physical.
- I still think this has the makings of what could be a very good defense with Hayward and Burnett back in the mix. They should be great against the run, have strong corners, an elite pass rusher, and some good supplementary pass rushers. However, I still have concerns about the coaching, which is so huge in the NFL.
There were some good things that you can take away from this game. The Packers played toe to toe with perhaps the best team in the NFL on the road. They took many punches and refused to quit, but there are no moral victories. Now, it's time to forget about it and move onto Washington. There is still a lot of hope for the rest of the season with this team.