What Can Aaron Rodgers Learn from Patriots' Week 15 Struggles vs. 49ers?
You can't really look at the last couple of games the 49ers played and get a sense of how to attack their defense.
San Francisco played against a terrible Arizona Cardinals team and a Seattle Seahawks team that doesn't run the vertical offense the Packers do and don't have an elite quarterback (as much as I love Russell Wilson).
It's also not particularly worth looking at the Week 1 game the Packers and Niners played, as both teams are very different then they were back then.
More useful is to look at what happened to another top quarterback in Week 15: how Tom Brady imploded for a half, and then recovered.
It was a game the 49ers won, though it nearly got away from them at the end, and it highlighted some tendencies that Rodgers can take advantage of—hopefully more quickly then Brady and the Patriots did.
Let's take a look at some of the notes Rodgers can take away from tape of that Week 15 game.
Watch the Rush, Get Rid of the Ball
Against the high-powered offense of the Patriots, San Francisco came after Brady early, often and heavily, which really seemed to throw the New England quarterback off.
The Packers have struggled again this year with protecting Rodgers, allowing the second-most sacks in the league this year with 51. So while the line plays well at times, it's still an issue.
Of course the Niners know this. If McCarthy wants to help, it's time once again for the short slants and extra blockers that some fans (and B/R writers *ahem*) clamor for.
Ultimately though, Rodgers needs to be ultra-aware of where the rush is coming from, who is holding up from the line and where the most pressure will be.
Brady allowed the Niners to get to him early, wasn't able to escape the pocket and then began rushing passes so he wouldn't be sacked.
Rodgers needs to make sure his internal clock is running, escape the pocket when he feels pressure and then get rid of the ball quickly.
When he's on the run, Rodgers is very dangerous, but sometimes he holds the ball too long, waiting for someone to get open—or more accurately, waiting for someone to get open long.
He does this in the pocket as well, at times. Rodgers loves to look for those vertical routes and when they aren't there, he loves to wait for them.
Brady did much the same thing in Week 15, at least early. He just couldn't or wouldn't get the ball out fast enough.
Protect the Ball
Eight interceptions isn't a big deal.
During the postseason, any single interception now could be.
Rodgers loves to send the ball into double coverage. Especially tight double coverage.
So does Brady. which led to two separate interceptions. While neither of those were soul-killers, they certainly killed the momentum not just for the two drives, but for the Patriots overall.
It took until the fourth quarter for the team to get its act together, and those two interceptions certainly helped that.
The 49ers secondary isn't perfect, and they're certainly not among the most talented individually. However, with the pressure from the likes of Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, they are very effective and as a unit, one of the best in the NFL.
They will make Rodgers pay if he dances along that edge too many times.
You're never going to stop a top quarterback from pushing the envelope in delivering the ball. I wouldn't want to completely stop Rodgers from trying to do what he does so well. There are few people who can make the razor-edge passes he does almost effortlessly.
He has to be careful and aware though, because if he does slip up, it could really hurt the Packers this weekend.
Rodgers needs to take a few less chances, and settle for a few more check-downs.
It took a long time for the Patriots to get it in gear. One thing Brady didn't do was lose his cool. He knew that with the weapons he had, the Patriots were never truly out of the game.
That they came back and almost won it just testifies to the truth of that.
The Packers are the exact same way. Even if Colin Kaepernick and friends build a sizable lead, there is no reason that the Packers can't come back. They have the best and deepest wide receiver corps in the league, a better-than-people-think run game, and Rodgers has himself.
There are few situations where the Packers won't be able to come back from a deficit if Rodgers remains patient and doesn't push too hard.
It goes hand in hand with "take care of the ball." This offense can go off at any time—there's no sense in taking chances earlier in the game, even if you fall behind.
Brady remained patient, and eventually his offense (and defense) got going, which allowed him to nearly pull off a win despite being way behind the Niners.
Short Passes, Hard Runs
Finally—and this comes up nearly every week —Rodgers (and McCarthy) need to mix in some short slants and off-tackle runs to help negate the fierce pass rush.
This is especially true when the offensive line is struggling.
Brady started getting his momentum going when he hit his receivers (especially the tight ends) on some shorter routes. The Niners had to respect those passes and couldn't sell out as hard to go after Brady.
That allowed him some time to throw some longer passes, as well as get the run game going a bit.
The Patriots had a severe fumbling problem in Week 15, especially the running backs. It was scat back Danny Woodhead who really started making headway, if just because he wasn't putting the ball on the carpet every carry.
But once you get those short passes going, it helps to open up lanes for the running backs, which is another way of keeping the Smiths, Bowman and the rest out of the backfield.
With DuJuan Harris playing very well right now, Ryan Grant holding his own and the potential return of James Starks, the Packers have the tools to move the ball on the ground and should make a concentrated effort to do so.
And while, again, it's not all that useful to look too far back for trends, an aggressive rushing attack was what the Minnesota Vikings used to help wear down the Niners' defense early in the season when people thought they might be unstoppable.
As has been said multiple times in this piece, Rodgers loves the long ball. He shouldn't abandon it, but he should definitely use slants and runs to set his receivers up for some longer passes.
They say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Football understands this—that's why teams use so much film study in their game-planning.
Brady ended up having a decent day, early disaster aside. If Rodgers can take the good and separate it from the bad, the packers can get off to a quicker start and have a good chance of upsetting the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick on Saturday.
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