Packers report card: Rodgers' brilliance not enough
Sep 9, 2013 at 9:36a ET
Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers' 34-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:
Passing Offense: A-
Aaron Rodgers apparently didn't need more than the five drives and 46 snaps he got in preseason, as the Packers quarterback performed at a high level in San Francisco. Rodgers completed 21 of 37 passes for 333 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 102.6. Rodgers' interception was hardly his fault as it came on a play in which tight end Jermichael Finley dropped a pass and then tipped it into the direction of 49ers safety Eric Reid.
When Rodgers was given the freedom to just keep throwing it, Green Bay's offense was at its best. The Packers' third offensive possession was six plays (all passes) for 80 yards in 1 minute, 47 seconds and resulted in a touchdown. Later in the first half, Green Bay's eight-play drive featured six passes and only two runs, it too concluding with a touchdown in quick time (1 minute, 16 seconds).
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were both fantastic. Like Rodgers, neither wide receiver was slowed down by their lack of preseason work. Nelson (knee) and Cobb (biceps) only played two preseason snaps, but both looked to be in midseason form. Nelson finished with seven receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown, while making one sideline catch that will be on the Packers' highlight reels all year. Cobb had seven catches for 108 yards and one touchdown. Cobb's extra effort and outstretched body near the goal line helped Green Bay tie the game at 7 early on.
Finley made up for the interception that his dropped pass led to by scoring a touchdown right before halftime. Finley showed tremendous work after the catch, gaining 11 yards after the one-yard toss from Rodgers and made his way into the end zone.
Surprisingly, James Jones really struggled after a very productive training camp and preseason. Jones was targeted twice but dropped one of them and finished with zero receptions.
Rushing Offense: C-
The Packers' first-half grade in the run game would have been, well, giving it a D-minus would have been very, very kind. In the opening two quarters, Green Bay gave up more yards on penalties in the run game (30) than the team gained in rushing yards (16). Add in an Eddie Lacy fumble that gave the 49ers short field position and an eventual touchdown, and that's about as poor a performance in 30 minutes of football as it can get.
Starting left guard Josh Sitton, who's usually the Packers' best offensive lineman, had a first half to forget. All three penalties on running plays were called on Sitton; two for holding and one for illegal use of hands.
The second half had some improvements in the rushing offense and gave Green Bay some positive moments to watch on film. Lacy, who had five carries for four yards in the first half and was benched for three series after his fumble, looked a lot more like the running back that the Packers saw at Alabama before they made him their second-round pick. Lacy had nine rushes for 37 yards (4.25 average) in the second half, including his first NFL touchdown.
Lacy had his best play of the game when he caught a short pass from Rodgers on second down and turned it into a 31-yard gain. It demonstrated that, when Lacy has room to work, he can be a difference maker. The problem for Green Bay is that, against the 49ers, Lacy rarely had any space in front of him.
Cobb ran it twice out of the backfield for six yards, fullback John Kuhn had one rush for three yards and Rodgers scrambled twice for 13 yards.
In total, the Packers could only muster 63 yards on 19 rushing attempts (3.3 average).
Rushing Defense: A
When the 49ers dismantled Green Bay earlier this year on Jan. 12 and knocked the Packers out of the playoffs, Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore combined to rush for 300 yards on 39 attempts (7.7 average). With Green Bay's defense focused on not letting Kaepernick scramble or effectively run the read-option, as well as getting tough inside to stop Gore, it was mission accomplished for defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Gore had only 44 yards on 21 carries (2.1 average) and was a non-factor. The majority of that credit goes to the Packers' defensive linemen. With B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly starting and playing in the base 3-4 defense, the three biggest linemen on the team all played very well.
Kaepernick was unable to work the read-option. All of Green Bay's offseason work paid off, as every Packers defender carried out their role and didn't let the mobile quarterback have a repeat performance. Kaepernick's seven rushing attempts resulted in 22 yards. With the exception of his 15-yard run, Kaepernick's rushing day looks even more held in check.
Passing Defense: D
For everything that went right for Green Bay's defense in stopping the run, just about everything went wrong in defending the pass.
Kaepernick tore the Packers apart through the air, completing 27 of 39 passes for 412 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. That was good for a passer rating of 129.4.
The problems with Green Bay's passing defense started with a lack of pass rush. The 49ers have one of the NFL's best offensive lines, but the Packers generated very little heat in the backfield on Kaepernick. Jolly and Clay Matthews both recorded sacks, but throughout the majority of the game, Green Bay's defense didn't disrupt Kaepernick.
The Packers' secondary had no answers downfield, allowing 32-year-old receiver Anquan Boldin to nearly have a career-best day in his 49ers debut. Boldin had 208 receiving yards on 13 catches (17 targets) with one touchdown. Boldin continued working the middle of the field, exploiting rookie nickel back Micah Hyde (who started in place of an injured Casey Hayward) and safeties Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings (both of whom saw more playing time with Morgan Burnett sidelined).
Tight end Vernon Davis dominated as well, finishing with six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Davis, like Boldin, really worked over McMillian, Jennings and Hyde.
With Michael Crabtree injured, this is a below average San Francisco receiving corp relative to the rest of the league. Yet, Green Bay couldn't stop the only two threats that Kaepernick had to throw to. Having Burnett and Hayward available would've been a big help for the Packers, but that can't be used as an excuse.
Special Teams: C+
Tim Masthay has officially become Green Bay's kicker on kickoffs, replacing Mason Crosby. Mathay's first two kickoffs weren't great, but his final three all sailed through the end zone for touchbacks. The strong leg that Masthay showed in training camp while the Packers tried out Giorgio Tavecchio has translated into the fourth-year punter adding a new role.
Crosby's only four appearances were all extra points. So, no field-goal attempts for Crosby yet this season.
Green Bay used both Jeremy Ross and Cobb in punt return. Ross was in for three of them, and Cobb for two. The one that Cobb didn't fair-catch was returned for a 16-yard gain.
Ross was used on all kick returns, and he made a couple costly decisions. He caught one of them two yards into the end zone and hesitated for several seconds before taking it out. The result was being tackled at the 8-yard line, made worse by a Mike Daniels illegal block penalty. Another was fielded by Ross four yards into the end zone and brought out only to the 9-yard line.
The pros and cons for the Packers in their regular-season opener were on such extreme sides of the spectrum. Rodgers was his normal great self and his receivers delivered, with the defensive line shutting down Gore and the 49ers' ground attack. But Green Bay was so ineffective in its offensive run game and in stopping Kaepernick through the air that the final result was a loss and a 0-1 record to begin the season.
If the expectations for the Packers are to make the Super Bowl, this performance wasn't good enough. For the third time in 12 months, San Francisco found a way to beat Green Bay. Though there's a lot of season to be played between now and January, it's likely that if these two teams meet again it would be a postseason game back in San Francisco. How realistic is it that the Packers have the pieces to defeat the 49ers if a rematch happens? Green Bay just seems overmatched in overall talent, especially now that Kaepernick has begun to prove that he's more than just a two-month wonder.
If the expectation is for the Packers to be good enough to win the NFC North for a third consecutive year and make it to the divisional round of the playoffs again, Green Bay showed in this game that it's probably capable of doing that. So, it's all about expectations. But, at the end of the season, if the Packers can't beat the 49ers, Green Bay won't be representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII.
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