Monday, January 6, 2014

The 53 - Packers Lose Home Playoff Game to 49ers

The Green Bay Packers hosted the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Playoffs in front of 77,525 spectators at Lambeau Field.  The inactives for the Packers against the 49ers were: Chris Harper (WR, healthy scratch), Clay Matthews (OLB, broken thumb), Nate Palmer (LB, healthy scratch), Jumal Rolle (CB, healthy scratch), Lane Taylor (G, healthy scratch), Scott Tolzien (QB, healthy scratch), and JC Tretter (G, healthy scratch).

As we all know by now, the Packers fell to the 49ers on a last second field goal to end their season.  Since it is the last game of the season for the Packers, I will give a more traditional game review and my final rankings to The 53 (table blow).  I will not talk too much about long-term prospects for specific players on The 53 like I've done in previous reviews because starting tomorrow I am going to have a seven-part series of very specific advice for how Packers general manager Ted Thompson should approach The 53 for 2014.

Once upon a time the Green Bay Packers were 13-0 at home in the playoffs until 2001 when the Michael Vick lead Atlanta Falcons pummeled the Packers at Lambeau Field.  Including the loss to the Falcons and their loss last night to the 49ers, the Packers have now gone 3-5 at Lambeau Field with current Packers head coach Mike McCarthy just 2-3 at home in the playoffs.

Much like their recent playoff record at Lambeau Field, the Packers had a first quarter to forget.  The offense looked horrible going three-and-out on their first three drives.  The defense looked slightly better since they were able to hold the 49ers to two field goals, which meant that the Packers were only down 6-0 when they could have been down 14-0.  As if being down 6-0 at home in the playoffs is not bad enough, the Packers lost starting cornerback Sam Shields and outside linebacker Mike Neal for the rest of the game due to injury.

For how bad things went in the first quarter, the second quarter started off well as Packers cornerback Tramon Williams picked off 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  The interception gave the Packers offense the kick in the butt that they needed as they put together a great drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to wide receiver Jordy Nelson to put the Packers up 7-6.  On the ensuing drive the 49ers marched down the field and scored easily on a 10-yard run by running back Frank Gore.  The biggest play on that drive was a 42-yard run by Kaepernick.  The Packers got the ball back with 2:38 to play in the half and despite horrible clock management, they were able to kick a field goal to go into halftime down 13-10.

The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2)
3. Randall Cobb (WR, LR 3)
4. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 4)
5. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 5)
6. Josh Sitton (G, LR 7)
7. Sam Shields (CB, LR 6)
8. T.J. Lang (G, LR 8)
9. James Jones (WR, LR 9)
10. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 10)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 11)
12. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 12)
13. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 13)
14. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 14)
15. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 15)
16. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 16)
17. Davon House (CB, LR 24)
18. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 17)
19. Don Barclay (T, LR 18)
20. Datone Jones (DL, LR 22)
21. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 23)
22. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 19)
23. James Starks (RB, LR 20)
24. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 21)
25. Tim Masthay (P, LR 25)
26. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 26)
27. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 29)
28. John Kuhn (FB, LR 28)
29. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 27)
30. Mason Crosby (K, LR 30)
31. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 31)
32. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 32)
33. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 33)
34. Derek Sherrod (T, LR 34)
35. Jerel Worthy (DE, LR 35)
36. Sean Richardson (S, LR 36)
37. Brett Goode (LS, LR 37)
38. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 38)
39. Matt Flynn (QB, LR 39)
40. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 40)
41. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 41)
42. J.C. Tretter (C, LR 42)
43. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 43)
44. Chris Banjo (S, LR 44)
45. Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 45)
46. Victor Aiyewa (LB, LR 46)
47. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 47)
48. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 48)
49. Lane Taylor (G, LR 49)
50. Chris Harper (WR, LR 50)
51. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 51)
52. Kahlil Bell (RB, LR 52)
The second half started with a whimper for both teams.  The 49ers received the ball but could not move it effectively so they were forced to punt.  The Packers returned the favor followed by the 49ers and Packers trading punts on three consecutive possessions.  With just over three minutes left in the 3rd quarter the Packers got the ball for the third time in the half.  As the drive spilled into the 4th quarter, thanks to an amazing escape by Rodgers, he was able to find wide receiver Randall Cobb for a 26-yard gain.  On the next play the Packers lost rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari to a concussion.  Despite having to put in the underwhelming Marshall Newhouse on the next play, Packers fullback John Kuhn scored on a one-yard run and attempted the worst Lambeau Leap in team history.  Even though Bakhtiari was going through the concussion protocol, he forced his way back on the field for the extra point to put the Packers up 17-13.

The 49er came back down and scored a touchdown thanks to two huge plays by Kaepernick, one with his feet and one with his arm, to put the 49ers up 20-17.  That meant the Packers got the ball back with just over 10 minutes to play.  The Packers put together a nice drive and faced a first and goal from the 9-yard line thanks to a 26-yard pitch and catch between Rodgers and Cobb.  On that play 49ers rookie safety Eric Reid got just enough of Cobb to prevent him from scoring.  Those are the kind of plays that the 49ers routinely make on defense while the Packers seem to make just every now and again.  After three unsuccessful attempts, the Packers were not able to get into the end zone so they settled for a 24-yard field goal by placekicker Mason Crosby to tie the score at 20.

The 49ers got the ball back at their own 20-yard line with just over five minutes to play.  Rookie cornerback Micah Hyde barely missed a pick-six that would have put the Packers up 27-20 with less than four minutes to play.  Just like cornerback Casey Hayward in 2012, Hyde has been a very good slot cornerback this season.  Hopefully both will be healthy in 2014 to give the Packers two very promising up-and-coming defensive backs.

The most pivotal play of the game came on 3rd and 8 from the Packers 38-yard line with just over a minute to play.  Given the cold conditions the 49ers were still out of field goal range and the Packers still had two timeouts.  The Packers much maligned defensive coordinator Dom Capers brought defensive back Jarrett Bush as a part of a six-man blitz.  Unfortunately Bush did not set the edge and the 49ers picked up the blitz so Kaepernick was able to get around Bush to scamper 11 yards for a first down.  That play was essentially the game because the 49ers milked the clock and place kicker Phil Dawson made a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give the 49ers a 23-20 victory.  Packers cornerback Davon House almost blocked the game winning field goal but was offsides so the block wouldn't have counted anyway.

If you can stomach it, here are the Packers/49ers game highlights.  As those highlights show, the margin for error in the playoffs is razor thin.  I can think of at least five plays, including a few discussed above, that if they went slightly different would have resulted in a Packers win instead of a heart-breaking loss.  There were a couple of things that seemed to hang over the Packers this season that were exposed against the 49ers: feast-or-famine offense, red-zone inefficiency by the offense, and the inability to contain a rushing quarterback on defense.

Let's start with the offense.  The Packers had two long, methodical touchdown drives but they also had five drives that picked up less than 10 yards and ended with a punt.  In just his second game back after almost a two month layoff due to a broken collarbone, Rodgers was just 17 for 26 throwing for 177 yards and a touchdown.  Those are not horrible numbers but much less that we've come to expect from the former NFL MVP.  The biggest killer on offense was having a first and goal from the 9-yard line down three points with less than seven minutes to play but having to settle for a field goal.  The Packers have the quarterback (Rodgers), running back (Lacy), and wide receivers (Cobb, Nelson and Company).  Whether it be an athletic tight end (Finley or another healthy guy) or a taller receiver, the Packers need a bigger red-zone target in 2014.

Shifting to the defense.  Kaepernick's passing numbers were not all that impressive (16 for 30, 227 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception) but his rushing numbers (7 carries for 98 yards), including the 11-yard run that salted away the game, were what killed the Packers.  Sure the Packers were without their two best outside linebackers (Matthews and Neal) and cornerback (Shields) for most of the game but injuries are still no excuse for Kaepernick running all over the defense.  ESPN's stats & info broke down how Kaepernick's scrambling ability added the two highest amounts to a team's win probability in a playoff game since 2006.  When the Vikings had Randy Moss, the Packers were forced to add taller defensive backs to counter him.  Although the 49ers are not in the same division as the Packers, they've played each other four times in the last two seasons so despite drafting six consecutive players to start the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers will most likely have to re-load on defense again.

Every NFL season starts with 32 teams excited but ends with only one team ecstatic and the other 31 teams disappointed.  Unfortunately it has been quadruple disappointment for the Packers at the hands of the 49ers to start and finish the season the last two years.  Luckily the 49ers are not on the regular season slate for the Packers next season.  Although anything less than a Super Bowl victory is disappointing for the Packers, let's not forget that 2013 was an entertaining roller-coaster ride that included two of the five most entertaining regular season road games of my lifetime when Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15 and the Chicago Bears in Week 17.

In the past I've written one long post with advice for Packer general manager Ted Thompson.  This season I decided to spread that advice over the next week with a seven-part series starting tomorrow with how Thompson should handle the 8-man practice squad.  Make sure to check back regularly over the next week as I dispense my advice for how Thompson can improve The 53 for 2014 in hopes of winning Super Bowl XLIX.

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