Packers vs. 49ers: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco
The San Francisco 49ers flew past the Green Bay Packers 45-31, by and large thanks to the heroics of second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who blitzed poor Dom Capers' defense in a tour-de-force performance where he did just about everything but serve drinks to the folks in the club seats.
Kaepernick set numerous franchise and league postseason records with his legs and was plenty dangerous with his arm as well and the 49ers had 581 yards overall on offense and scored on virtually every drive after an early pick-six.
Frank Gore had 23 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground while Michael Crabtree had nine grabs for a 119 yards of his own and two more scores in a balanced attack that left the Packers bewildered.
Green Bay had a 14-7 lead after one quarter after DuJuan Harris' 18-yard touchdown run, but two straight turnovers, a muffed punt by Jeremy Ross and a Tarell Brown interception off Aaron Rodgers set up a pair of 49ers touchdowns and they went into the half up 24-21.
The Packers tied it up 24-24 early in the third quarter but a 56-yard burst down the right sideline by Kaepernick off a zone read play gave the 49ers the lead for good and they never looked back, tacking on two more touchdowns on their next two drives following Green Bay punts.
Rodgers finished with a respectable 257 yards passing and a couple of touchdowns, but it was definitely an underwhelming game for him and a surprising one, given how vocal he'd been about wanting to stick it to the 49ers for not drafting him first overall in the 2005 draft.
It would've taken a superhuman effort from Rodgers to match Kaepernick score for score, and he just couldn't produce it.
The 49ers will now wait to see who wins tomorrow's other divisional round game between Atlanta and Seattle and will either travel to Georgia or host their divisional rivals, looking for payback after the 42-13 drubbing they suffered at Seattle. Either way they'll be looking to break a dubious streak of not being able to win three consecutive games all season, as they've gone 0-4-1 in that scenario so far.
Colin Kaepernick: A+
All Colin Kaepernick managed in his first playoff start was to account for 446 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, set a franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game and a league record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game, and set a franchise record with 581 yards as an offense.
Aside from that, meh.
In his short two months as a starter Kaepernick has already compiled a pretty impressive pile of pelts, outdueling Drew Brees, Tom Brady and now Aaron Rodgers in a playoff game. He'll get the chance to add Matt Ryan or Russell Wilson's hides to his collection next week.
Kaepernick and his coaches saw that Joe Webb had a fair amount of success running the zone read against the Packers, and they built on that, with the added advantages of having a better offensive line than the Vikings and of course, in Kaepernick, the ability to actually throw the ball.
Credit to young QB for being able to diagnose, without much incident, whether the Packers were in man or zone on virtually every snap and always making the right decision. He didn't lock in on Michael Crabtree, he kept everyone involved, and he stayed aggressive downfield, which is vital to his game.
Kaepernick looked for big plays throughout and that's when he's at his best. Now we'll see if he can win a road playoff game in a dome or whether he'll get his second chance with the Seahawks.
Frank Gore: A
Got stronger as the night wore on, in part due to fatigue by the Packers' front seven and in part due to the increased concern they had to have for Kaepernick's sweeps.
Still, it's telling how respected Gore is throughout the league, even when he's been slumping of late, that defenses continue to pay so much attention to him and they kept falling for the fakes over and over again, and really, for all his yards (Gore had 167 in all from scrimmage) he was most effective as a decoy.
LaMichael James: B+
Just four touches for 30 yards in total and it was surprising he wasn't used more, especially in the fourth quarter. Maybe it's a wrinkle the coaches are saving for next week.
Bruce Miller: B+
Getting the hang of blocking out of the pistol formation and he had his best game in that respect against the worn down Packers. Didn't get much of an opportunity to ding the box score a la John Kuhn.
Anthony Dixon: Inc.
One carry, for a garbage time touchdown, right in Dixon's wheelhouse.
Michael Crabtree: A
Crabtree wanted redemption after his stinker of a performance in last year's NFC Championship Game (1 catch, 3 yards) and he more than got it in this one, with nine receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
He caught passes in zone, he caught them in man, he beat double teams, gained yards after the catch and no matter who the Packers put on him, it didn't matter. The numbers won't show it necessarily, but over the past couple of months Crabtree is starting to put himself on the map among the league's stud receivers, just a notch below that Calvin Johnson/A.J. Green/Brandon Marshall level, but right there with Atlanta's duo, Denver's duo and some others throughout the league.
Randy Moss: B
Had a couple of tough early grabs and was targeted for two more, but one was overthrown and one was too far out-of-bounds. Still, Moss more than got the job done by occupying the Packers safeties and it's not a coincidence Kaepernick had all that room to run with him out there.
Ted Ginn: C-
Caught one short pass, mostly stayed out of the way.
A.J. Jenkins: Inc.
Saw a little playing time, wasn't targeted. I can't imagine anyone trusts his hands at the moment.
Vernon Davis: B
Just caught one pass, as has been the norm with Kaepernick, but what a catch it was, for 44 yards to set up the Niners' dagger touchdown that made it 38-24 and all but put the game to bed. Davis was targeted five times, including the pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Green Bay's Sam Shields, but his blocking was resolute throughout and he drew plenty of coverage, even with Crabtree's heroics.
Delanie Walker: C-
One catch for 17 yards, also targeted five times like Davis. Kaepernick did him no favors with passes low or wide, forcing Walker to make a number of acrobatic attempts he just couldn't quite pull in.
Garrett Celek: C
Played some late, didn't see any balls come his way, which for many of us is a good thing but maybe not him in this case.
Joe Staley: A-
Gave up an early sack to Clay Matthews that really wasn't his fault because Kaepernick basically walked right into Matthews' clutches, but was awesome the rest of the way, even with a bad arm.
Mike Iupati: A-
Was able to exert his will in the second half when the Niners ran more with Gore. Looked every bit the All-Pro against B.J. Raji.
Jonathan Goodwin: B+
Had one bad snap, after a miscommunication with Kaepernick but was in concert with his quarterback throughout and did a good job with fooling the Packers front with his misdirection blocks time and again.
Alex Boone: A
Terrific showing from Boone and was the team's most consistent lineman throughout. By the fourth quarter the Packers wanted no part of him and he was blowing people off the ball.
Anthony Davis: A-
Mirrored Staley's performance on the other end, albeit against far less quality pass rushers.
Justin Smith: B-
Didn't play every snap like usual, but he didn't have to. Finished with five tackles to lead the linemen and was effective in occupying the left side of Green Bay's line.
Isaac Sopoaga: Inc.
If he played at all, I missed it. The Niners were usually in nickel.
Ray McDonald: C
No pressure at all from him, but some hustle against the run.
Ricky Jean Francois: C
Saw some action at both nose and at defensive tackle and didn't stand out.
Patrick Willis: A-
Led the squad in tackles, blitzed a ton up the gut, had a sack and forced Rodgers into lots of throwaways.
NaVorro Bowman: B
Had a pair of passes defensed but was otherwise disappointing. Not a force in the run game early on.
Aldon Smith: C-
Forced a fumble chasing down Rodgers after a short scramble but the Niners couldn't come up with it. No sacks and really didn't come close to one. Didn't line up from the right much that I saw.
Ahmad Brooks: C-
Two tackles, one decent hit on Rodgers. Not exactly the play of a second-team All-Pro.
Carlos Rogers: B
A nice bounce-back game from him after some rough outings. Rodgers mostly looked to work the boundaries and not Rodgers in the slot.
Tarell Brown: B+
One fabulous interception to set up a go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter and nearly a second in the fourth quarter that was nullified by a bogus pass interference call. Physical and rangy.
Chris Culliver: C
Gave up a couple of balls to James Jones early, then was out for a while with an injury but came back and held up okay.
Tramaine Brock: C
Played ahead of Perrish Cox, surprisingly and wasn't abused by Rodgers much at all. Tackled well.
Donte Whitner: C+
Burned for two touchdowns (one meaningless late), but also had a couple of nice breakups and laid some hits in the second half.
Dashon Goldson: B
Another dumb penalty in the first half that led to a touchdown and some poor angles to balls early on, was very good in the second half and showed his range.
David Akers: B+
Made his only field goal (36 yards) and got consistent enough depth on his kickoffs to limit the Packers' returners.
Andy Lee: A-
A low net of 37.7, but two of his three punts were dumped inside the 20 and one led to a muff and the game-tying score in the second quarter.
Brian Jennings: A
Flawless as ever with his snaps for the longest-tenured 49er.
LaMichael James: B-
Returned the opening kick 23 yards and had to settle for a bunch of touchbacks after that.
Ted Ginn: C-
Two fair catches out of three opportunities and a nice return on another effort was wiped out by penalty. Da
God help the Packers if they ever have to face a healthy Robert Griffin III, they simply had no idea what to do against a quarterback who can run and throw.
It could've been just a matter of attrition. The Packers were ravaged by injuries all season and their front seven had to have been worn down. Charles Woodson hasn't been healthy all year and wasn't himself in the game.
But for the most part it just looked like the Packers weren't prepared for what the 49ers threw at them. Their ends couldn't read or contain the zone read play, the outside linebackers kept getting caught upfield and leaving wide gaps in their wake, and the secondary was helpless to react since they often had their backs to the play, chasing receivers down the field.
As usual the game plan was to come out throwing and get more conservative as the game goes on, and while the Niners did run more and more over the course of the game, the tweak was that many of those runs came from Kaepernick, on designed plays, than Frank Gore.
Kaepernick is a lot bigger guy than Griffin and the coaches seem to have no fear of exposing him to big hits, at least for the time being, and it sure appears that the defenders are one shaking out the cobwebs at the end of the quarterback's collisions, while Kaepernick chuckles to himself on the way back to the huddle. He's like a tank.
Defensively Vic Fangio kept it simple for the most part, but he did send Patrick Willis on blitzes up the gut fairly often and the Packers never seemed to get a handle on it. Willis had a sack and forced Rodgers into numerous throwaways.
Fangio had what every defensive coordinator dreams of, large chunks of time to strategize for the next series, the knowledge that his guys were all getting plenty of rest, that the run game for the opponent wouldn't be a concern, and the comfort of an ever-expanding lead. It was an easy night at the office for that side of the ball, despite the Packers 31 points by the end.