Analysis: 10 Things We Can Learn from the Packers' Week 1 Loss to the 49ers
Besides the very obvious fact that the Packers will need to win all of their remaining games to equal last season's 15-1 record, what can we learn from Sunday's opening week 30-22 loss to San Francisco?
Here's a look at both the good and the bad points that will give some insight into what Green Bay did on the field in Week 1.
Remember, the Pack has a quick turnaround this week as they host division-rival Chicago on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. This now becomes a huge game as the Pack cannot afford to fall to 0-2.
10. Mike McCarthy Was Outcoached by Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh had a solid game plan in place and his team did a very good job of executing it.
The 49ers tried to establish balance on offense and to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field as much as possible. The result was 32 running plays and 26 passing plays. San Francisco ran for 186 yards and threw for 191. They also had a 33:00-27:00 advantage in time of possession.
Harbaugh also outsmarted McCarthy before halftime, inserting backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running a quarterback draw instead of throwing a Hail Mary down the field. The play gained 17 yards and set up a record-tying 63 yard field goal by David Akers which increased San Francisco's halftime lead to 16-7.
9. The Packers' Run Defense Was Poor
The 49ers were very effective at running the football and it hurt the Packers throughout the game.
Gore gained 112 yards on 16 carries including a game clinching 23 yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. His average per run was 7.0.
Change of pace back Kendall Hunter was also successful, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, gaining 41 yards on nine attempts.
This prevented the Packers from getting their offense back on the field and limited their opportunities to get back into the contest.
Once the Packers fell behind, they needed to stop the run to get back into the game. They failed badly in this area.
As a team, San Francisco averaged nearly six yards per carry. The Pack needs to cut this number down to under four.
8. The Packers Couldn't Run the Football Effectively
While the Niners were marching up and down the field, Green Bay's running game was stuck in neutral.
Green Bay's offense is designed for the running game to be used to keep opponents honest more than beat them and the fact that the Pack was behind most of the game prevented them from rushing the ball too much.
Coach Mike McCarthy did try running the ball but it just wasn't all that effective.
As a team, Green Bay gained only 45 yards in 14 carries, but five of those carries and 27 of those yards were gained by a scrambling Aaron Rodgers.
Benson gained only 18 yards on nine carries, a paltry 2.0 yard average per carry. No other Packer running back carried the ball.
Green Bay doesn't need a 100-yard rusher, but an average of at least 3.5 yards per carry would be a lot more acceptable to keep opposing defenses honest.
It's too early to condemn Benson and in his defense, there weren't many holes to run through and the Niners have one of the league's best rush defenses. Still, if the Packers are going to win games, this production must improve.
7. The Officiating Was Poor
This is by no means an excuse and both teams had to put up with the same poor officiating, but let's face it, the replacement referees were not up to snuff.
The Packers got away with a block in the back on Randall Cobb's punt return for a touchdown and the officials blew some obvious false start calls against San Francisco and some pass interference calls against both teams.
The officials did not cost the Packers the game by any means, but the longer these scab officials play, the more likely they will cost somebody a game by a wrong call they make or miss.
6. The Defense Did Not Make Enough Big Plays
The Packers defense did not make enough big plays Sunday.
At first glance, all seemed well with the Packers pass rush. They finished the game with four sacks—2.5 by Clay Matthews and 1.5 for Charles Woodson.
While statistically, that's a good start, the pressure was uneven. Matthews picked up a sack on the game's first series, then there was little pressure on quarterback Alex Smith until the fourth quarter.
The Packers were beaten by Smith, a "don't make mistakes" type of quarterback, in part because Smith had time to throw the football for most of the game and the Packers didn't force any turnovers.
Last year, turnovers were the key to the defense winning games even though they gave up yards in chunks.
Green Bay's defense has to get back to making more big plays against Chicago on Thursday.
5. The Packers Couldn't Throw Downfield
The lasting image of the Packers offense in 2011 was Aaron Rodgers going deep down the field to one of his wide receivers or hitting Jermichael Finley in the seam.
Rodgers averaged an NFL-best 9.25 yards per attempt, nearly .75 of a yard better than any other quarterback in the league.
In Week 1 against San Francisco, Rodgers was held to just 6.9 yards per attempt, which wasn't even as good as Alex Smith's 8.1.
Look at the average yards per catch of the Pack's top receivers and you can see that Rodgers just didn't have time to throw the ball down the field and when he did, the San Francisco secondary usually had good coverage.
Here are the averages:
Randall Cobb: 8.6 yards per catch
Jordy Nelson: 12.8
Jermichael Finaley: 6.7
Greg Jennings: 6.8
The Packers had only two catches of 20 yards or more: a 28-yarder to Nelson and a 49-yarder to James Jones which came late in the game. Other than that, the big play offense that dazzled the NFL last year was held in check.
4. Rookies on Defense Had a Mixed Grade
The Packers drafted six players on defense in an attempt to improve the league's 32nd-ranked unit and as can be expected, the results from rookies on opening day were mixed.
First-round pick Nick Perry did make six tackles and assisted on two others according to the unofficial statistics.
Perry got a little pressure on the passer when he was called on to rush but struggled at times when asked to cover receivers. That should not come as a shock since Perry played defensive end in college and was not usually asked to drop into coverage. The Pack hopes he improves as in this area as the season continues.
Second-round pick DE Jerel Worthy was a non-factor and did not figure in any tackles in the game.
3. Jermichael Finley Showed Improvement
The Packers were concerned with the high number of drops tight end Jermichael Finley had last season and the 6'5" Texas product vowed to improve this season.
Finley's concentration did appear to be better than it was last year and he grabbed seven catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Finley did have one key drop on a third-down pass in the fourth quarter that could have given the Packers a key first down.
Overall, Finley's performance wasn't perfect, but it was very encouraging.
Finley has a history of having big games against the Bears. Thursday night would be a great time to continue that tradition.
2. The Pack Unveiled New Roles for Randall Cobb
If the Packers had an offensive and special teams MVP in week 1, it was second-year receiver Randall Cobb.
The 5'10" speedster out of Kentucky was lined up in many formations and caught a career-best nine balls for 77 yards in addition to returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown that kept the Pack in the game in the fourth quarter.
The Packers lined up Cobb in the backfield, split him out wide and in the slot over the course of the game. Don't be surprised if at some point in the season, Cobb runs the football when he lines up in the backfield just to keep opponents honest.
It's clear that new Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements has plans to get Cobb more involved in the offense and so far that worked well.
1. It's Too Early to Panic
OK, the Packers lost a home game, but it's way too early to panic right now. Remember, the 49ers were a few plays away from the Super Bowl last year and if the Packers get back on track, they may very well see San Francisco again down the road.
This loss does make Thursday night's game at Lambeau against the Bears even more important, especially since the Bears, Lions and Vikings are all 1-0 and the Pack does not want to get off to an 0-2 start.
The defense really needs to improve and two keys will be how the Pack slows down WR Brandon Marshall and put regular pressure on QB Jay Cutler. The Bears' offensive line is their weak link and Clay Matthews and company need to take advantage of it.
Last year, the Packers bounced back after their only loss to Kansas City with a 35-21 win over the Bears. They need to respond in a similar fashion this Thursday and their season will be back on track.