Packers Drive Rewind: Good-Bye Running Game?
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…
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.
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.——————Follow @ChadToporski