A Loss in Green Bay: Why the 49ers Didn't Beat the Packers

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer INovember 22, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 22: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers passes the football as he is hit by linebacker Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 22, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

Everyone involved in football—the players, coaches, management personnel, and owners—knows what the San Francisco 49ers want to be. They want to be a team that wins in the trenches.

According to head coach Mike Singletary, the 49ers win with a tough physical defense, and an offense that relies on a smash mouth running style of football.

If this is the case, then why are the 49ers second-to-last in the league in three-and-out possessions?

Why do they continuously lose the time of possession battle?

Why do they continue to put the ball in the hands of their mediocre quarterback, Alex Smith?

San Francisco's 30-24 loss at the hands of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday exemplifies all that is wrong with the 49ers.

The 49ers' offense fails time and time again to utilize its best assets. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree were held to just one catch each in the first half, as their quarterback completed just three passes for five total yards before halftime.

But that wasn't the worst part. The abandonment of the running game was absolutely inexcusable. 

In the first half, Frank Gore gained 56 yards but was given the ball just five times on the ground and only six total touches. He lost five yards on his lone reception because of a terrible screen setup and an equally horrendous decision from Smith, who should have thrown the ball away instead.

San Francisco's top three offensive threats made just eight plays during the first half, so it should come as no shock that they possessed the ball for a minuscule 7:20 compared to Green Bay's 22:19.

By running just 17 offensive plays, the 49ers left their supposedly "physical, hit you in the mouth" defense out to dry.

Without cornerback Nate Clements and linebacker Takeo Spikes, the 49ers' defense was short-handed coming into the game, and the 49ers's offense needed to keep them off the field, which it was never able to do.

Although the 49ers outscored Green Bay 21-7 in the second half, they ran just 29 offensive plays, only two of which were Frank Gore runs.

Coincidentally, the 49ers held onto the ball for just over 11 minutes in the last two quarters, compared to Green Bay's 19 minutes and 10 seconds.

Quarterback Alex Smith's lone interception came on a first-down play from his own one-yard line. He overthrew because of miscommunication with Davis, but it is offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye who needs a talking to.

Nine out of 10 times in that situation, an NFL team runs the football. Throwing down field in that situation was a horrid mistake.

At the time, the 49ers' defense had held up and given the ball back to their offense, trailing just 23-10 with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter.

As San Francisco fans have seen all year, teams—whether good or bad—can put up points in very short amount of time.

Down just two scores with over 13 minutes remaining and possession of the ball, there was no need to hurry.

But as it turns out, Raye put too much of the game in Smith's hands and didn't allow Gore to get the running game going in the second half.

At the very least, the 49ers needed to run the ball a couple of times to get out of their own end-zone, but instead the only play of the drive was an interception.

Gore would finish the game with only 10 touches. That's right, the 49ers' best weapon had his number called just 10 times out of their 46 offensive plays.

If that is not a sign of poor play calling, I don't know what is.

Remember, since Gore became the starter, the 49ers are 15-3 when he gets over 20 carries. When he doesn't, San Francisco's record drops to 7-28.

At this rate, the 49ers are going to have their eighth different offensive coordinator in eight seasons next year, because there is no way Jimmy Raye returns.

The game against Green Bay solidified his ineptitude as a play caller.

Though the 49er defense didn't fare any better, they were much less to blame for Sunday's loss. Granted, they failed to bring pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but the defense did everything they could to give their team a chance.

Without two vital starters and a defensive coordinator in Greg Manusky, who limited his unit's chance at success by neglecting to blitz, it's easy to understand why the Packers were able to move the ball up and down the field.

But despite the lack of blitzing, the players on defense executed to the best of their ability and, in the second half, held Green Bay to just seven points.

A Ryan Grant one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which replenished Green Bay's three-score lead, should be put on Alex Smith, whose interception gave the Packers a short field on that drive.

Other than that one score, the tired, beat-up, and worn-out defense kept San Francisco in the game by keeping Green Bay off the scoreboard.

If the offense had stuck to their run-first-and-run-often identity in the first half, perhaps the defense would have been fresh enough to execute better.

But with an incompetent coaching staff, highlighted by an awful offensive coordinator, the 49ers came into Sunday's game with the worst possible game-plan.

This team is suppose to play a smash mouth style on offense and a hard-hitting, punishing style of defense.

They are suppose to win games by keeping the opposing offense off the field. They cannot and will not win games when their opponent holds on to the ball for more than twice as long.

While watching the game on Sunday, it appeared as if the 49ers coaching staff thought throwing the football on offense and sending just four rushers on defense was their gameplan to beat the Packers.

But the 49ers played exactly opposite of the way they should have.

Since the 49ers typically don't blitz and don't have a strong pass rush with just their front four—21st in sacks heading into Sunday's game—the defensive gameplan should have called for bringing blitzers from multiple angles to try and throw off Rodgers.

Offensively, the plan should have been to pound the rock time and time again. Frank Gore had just seven carries in this game, despite breaking lose for a 42-yard gain in the first half.

The running game was working, and, yet, the 49ers abandoned it.

If the coaching staff doesn't start putting their players in the best situations to succeed, the 49ers will continue to disappoint.

This was another winnable game. But poor play calling and worse execution lost it for them.

The fact they are so close to success but yet so far is what makes the 49er faithful want pull their hair out.


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