The Niners ran numerous pulling-guard tosses to both right and left, and they just obliterated Packers on those plays. D.J. Smith did a good job slipping blockers on several of the screens, but nobody else seemed to have much of a handle on them. Nick Perry in particular didn’t seem to know what to do on screens to his side; he sort of stayed home and didn’t move much, which allowed people to just sweep around him. It’s his first game, though, so it’s hardly the end of the world.
I have rarely been more impressed with Clay Matthews then I was on his first sack of the day, on the Niners’ third play from scrimmage. Here are my notes: Never known for his power [rushes], Matthews comes off the ball hard and just bull-rushes [Niners tackle Joe Staley] back to the QB, then gets off the block by going over Staley’s right shoulder and grabs at Alex Smith. It was a brilliant get-off, almost at the same time as the snap, and a brilliant bull-rush; Matthews just got his hands on Staley’s pads and worked him backwards, eventually tackling Smith around the knees. This wasn’t a coverage sack, this was a blow-‘em-up sack.
At least four times, particularly in the first half, I saw Niners receivers (particularly Michael Crabtree) matched up against linebackers—two against A.J. Hawk, two against Perry—when the Niners went to a five-wide set. A few times, the Packers were still in what appeared to be their base defense, forcing a linebacker to get on a wideout, a total mismatch no matter who the ‘backer is. You’d obviously like it if Perry or Hawk could prevent the catches, but what chance do they have against a Michael Crabtree? That’s getting outcoached, not getting outplayed.
The signature Aaron Rodgers throw is the deep comeback—receiver runs upfield 15 yards on the sideline and then comes back for the ball—but I only saw him throw one or two of those all game. It’s hard to see what the Niners were up to from the TV camera angles, but there was just nothing doing downfield all game long. All of Rodgers’ throws to Greg Jennings were of the short catch-and-run variety, ditto those of Randall Cobb. That’s Cobb’s role, but it’s not Jennings’ normal role. Maybe that’s why he never really got it going. Have to tip my hat to the Niners’ corners and safeties, they played a hellacious game.
I thought T.J. Lang had a fairly poor game early on; he was late picking up a couple of stunts and frequently allowed penetration in the running game, although he did allow it to the incomparable Justin Smith. What’s more surprising is that Josh Sitton also got beat disturbingly often. This is the first training camp in years that the Packers haven’t had some sort of hole to fill on the offensive line, and I was expecting them to be more solid. Then again, Marshall Newhouse was a very pleasant surprise against two great pass-rushers, and this is the best front seven in football. (Show me a better. I dare you.)
These are the encouraging things about Perry. A play after getting beaten by Crabtree and four plays after giving up a ten-yard run, Perry stays with Kendall Hunter on a toss play in the flat, one-on-one in the open field, and brings him down for a short gain. He almost missed him, but he didn’t, and that’s what matters.
I just don’t get Jermichael Finley. He makes the most ridiculously difficult catches, like boxing out a Niner on third and 12 and withstanding a big hit for the first down, and drops the easiest ones. He used to be totally dependable. Remember the Ravens game in ’09 when he was just ridiculous? Remember when he put up absurd numbers against the Cardinals in the ’09 postseason? Where’s that Finley today?
It’s just so rare to see A.J. Hawk make a big hit. You watch him on film. Even when he makes a good play—diagnosing a run, slipping through a gap—he just has no idea how to make a big hit or wrap up a tackler adequately. On a third and 1, he shot through the gap unblocked and just bounced off the ballcarrier. By the grace of Charles Woodson, the guy went down anyway, but what’s it take for Hawk to actually be a good linebacker?
Pick plays are supposed to be illegal, but the Niners ran several of them anyway. One flagrant one occurred on their second TD, where Clay Matthews was on Vernon Davis (what is it with the Niners and their stars having the same names? Alex Smith, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, Anthony Davis. Does their front office have a quota?) but got rubbed off by a crossing receiver. If they’re not illegal, fine, but it looked that way to me.
Going back to the toss plays, teams did this in 2010 when the Packers were fielding B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Howard Green on the line. They knew they couldn’t run against the base defense inside, so they just swept around the edge time after time and forced the linebackers to make the tackle. That’s what the Niners did in this game, and with Perry being ineffective and Matthews usually drawing a double-team, the Packers didn’t have much of an answer for the outside runs.
I loved James Jones in this game. He was the only WR who was consistently making people miss, except maybe Cobb; he was running great, precise routes and he showed excellent hands.
The tackle by Sam Shields on Frank Gore, short of the first down by maybe six inches, was the best play I’ve ever seen him make in the running game. Six months ago, I was wondering if Shields would ever become more physical and start learning to tackle. The answer, apparently, was yes.
A play after essentially dropping Kendall Hunter when the running back fell into his hands, Hawk finally delivered a major blow, knocking the fullback out of bounds on a sideline catch. Why can’t he do that more often? The fullback was basically a stationary target standing on the sideline, which probably helped.
On the desperation, game-ending fourth-and-10 deep ball to Jordy Nelson… you can fault Rodgers for winging it deep and not trying a safer throw, but the ball was right in Nelson’s hands. Rodgers laid it in absolutely perfectly. Yes, the cornerback was in tight coverage and made a beautiful play knocking it away, but the opportunity was there. It might not be fair, but probably ‘tis true: catching that ball is the kind of play that great receivers make. Nelson is very good, but I don’t know if he’s there yet. There’s still a need for Jennings on this team, is all I’m saying.