On the ground: the 49ers running the game falter against the Packers
The 49ers have grown into one of the top running teams in the NFL under coach Kyle Shanahan. They were the NFL’s second running team when they went to the Super Bowl in 2019, allowing them to play a complementary style by controlling the clock and strangling infractions with their fierce passing rush and sticky cover.
This year’s team is very different.
This was evident in Sunday night’s last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers, 30-28, as San Francisco welcomed fans inside Levi’s Stadium for the first time since the same two teams met. faced in the NFC Championship game in January 2020. Rahim mostert tallied 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a historic performance that sent the home team to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers this time only managed 67 rushing yards against a very different Packers defense. Of course, they were without Mostert and his best replacement, Elijah Mitchell, who entered the dubious weekend of playing with a shoulder injury.
But they couldn’t do much with it third round pick Trey Sermon, who the team traded against in the draft, which forced Jimmy Garoppolo to pitch 40 times for the fourth time in his career. Sermon finished with 31 yards on 10 carries and was minus 1 yard in three runs at halftime.
In reality, tight end George Kittle was San Francisco’s best halftime rusher. He had a carry for 9 yards. At the end of the first half, when the 49ers were trying to score deep into the Packers’ territory, they were doing so with a shotgun with no back in the game.
This spoke about their depth issues with the running back, but also a lack of confidence in Sermon. Substitutes Jacques Patrick, Kerryon Johnson and Trenton Cannon, who have all signed in the past two weeks, were in uniform but were not used in attack. It took a one-yard run from rookie quarterback Trey Lance to get on the board. Sermon scored a touchdown in the second half after finding some semblance of pace through halftime adjustments.
The 49ers offensive is fighting
Basically, the Packers loaded the edges and took away the 49ers’ calling card: the outer zone racing game.
“They were loading the box,” Kittle said. “They did everything they could to win our double teams. They put up defenses to allow us to have our double teams, but they put the advantage with two guys, so there’s not much we can do there.
The double teams mentioned by Kittle are essential for the success of the attack. When they’re working, Kittle will overtake team riders with tackles, or other tight ends, or fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Once the defender is blocked, Kittle, or a teammate, advances down the field to block a defender in the next layer of defense.
When done correctly, running backs have wide open racing lanes. And fast running backs, like Mostert and Mitchell, can get big chunks of yards at once. The success of the race sets up just about everything Shanahan enjoys doing. The defenses are often so spooked that the running game action becomes lethal and Shanahan’s offense can kick in.
But removing the racing game made the 49ers one-dimensional. San Francisco’s 67 yards rushing was their weakest since their miserable three-game losing streak last season against the Seahawks, Packers and Saints in the first three weeks of November. They are averaging 52 yards in these games.
“When you have three to five game discs, you can’t really get the ball rolling or anything like that,” Kittle said. “So you can’t really call the games, you can’t run the game you want to run and you end up having to take more hits than you want to. “
At Kittle’s point, the 49ers on Sunday night had five possessions with five games or less. They had 10 possessions in total. And when they started moving in the second half, they had a grueling turnover from Garoppolo that gave the Packers a field goal.
That, of course, was huge in the loss of two points.
Garoppolo didn’t seem to know the rule of the game. It happened on a sloppy screen and he tried to throw the ball away. But he was under pressure from a defender and ended up poking the ball backwards. A back pass is a fumble, by rule, not a failure.
“I just got caught between two shots,” Garoppolo said. “I was trying to throw it away. The guy hit my arm and miserably called the umpires over there for a fumble.
Garoppolo had bright spots. His final training was brilliant. He converted key third downs to Kittle and Deebo Samuel in the face of pressure. He walked through his progress and found Juszczyk on his last read as a check. The Pro Bowl full-back went through multiple defensemen and crossed the goal line for the go-ahead score, sending Levi’s Stadium into its first frenzy of the season.
But the 49ers gave Aaron Rodgers 37 seconds of playing time. The touchdown game came with 12 seconds remaining on the game clock while the game clock was running. The 49ers could have broken him later, but they were focused on the goal.
“You always worry when Aaron is on the other side,” Shanahan said afterward. “That’s why we didn’t use any time out. We were hoping to pull it off, but Juice put in a hell of a lot of effort getting in.
Adams stars for the Packers’ offense
Rodgers hit star receiver Davante Adams with 25 yards, just over the outstretched fingers of linebacker Fred Warner, who was playing below in zonal coverage.
“That one stings probably the most, knowing I was so close to – I could have sealed the game on that game alone,” Warner said. “I look at myself and I see how could I play better. There were a few games that I wanted to come back to in this game. It is certainly one of them.
Adams torched the San Francisco patchwork high school with 12 catches on 18 targets for 132 yards with one touchdown. No other Green Bay player has been targeted more than four times.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most of the defenses struggle to slow Rodgers and Adams down. The problem with the San Francisco defense was with the personnel. The 49ers started the year with the oft-injured Jason Verrett as top cornerback. When he was lost for the year with an ACL tear after Week 1, the team turned to Josh Norman, 33, who left the game on Sunday in the second quarter with an apparent chest injury. . Slot cornerback K’Waun Williams suffered a calf injury in the first quarter and did not return.
After finding Adams for 25 yards on the first play of final possession, he located Adams in a weak spot, again, for 17 yards. Rodgers spiked the ball and veteran Packers kicker Mason Crosby hit a 51-yard field goal downwind as time ticked to give the Packers a win.
“He’s a good character builder, this one,” Garoppolo said. “We have to take a long look at ourselves in the mirror like an attack, just what we can do best, how we can start faster. It was a mistake here, a mistake there guys starting with myself, if we only take out half of these it will lead to better football early on and we won’t have to play behind the eight like tonight.
The loss could be pinned on the defense, of course. But the San Francisco offense started the game with three punts and one interception in their first four series. It was another slow start, just like last week in Philadelphia. The 49ers reached halftime 17-7, despite the game feeling like a blowout, and made it a 3-point game with a touchdown to open the third quarter.
The 49ers outscored the Packers 21-13 in the second half – and lost by 2. They couldn’t contain Rodgers and Adams, but few teams can. If the offense had performed better early on, they would likely consider hosting the Seahawks next week with a perfect 3-0 record.
Instead, San Francisco finds itself at a respectable 2-1, watching the Cardinals and Rams undefeated in the NFL’s most competitive division.