Tuesday, December 7, 2010

49er Game Review

Watching the 49er game, I was uncomfortable, as were others in my group of family and friends (judging from Facebook and text messages during the first half). It was another slow start, and the halftime score was only 14-13, Packers. Could this essential game slip away from us? But the Packers poured it on in the second half, and the final score was 34-16, Packers, so the concern was somewhat misplaced.

In hindsight, it is possible to see that the Packers were never in much real trouble. Both of the 49ers' first half field goals resulted, essentially, from a single long pass completion, after which the Packers' defense held. The 49ers' only touchdown resulted from a single, 66-yard touchdown pass, with a missed tackle playing a big part. Obviously, it would be better if these three long pass completions never took place, but you can't shut out every team every game.

I was far more interested to see if the Packers would be able to adjust things defensively at halftime, and to see how the Packers approached their own offensive game plan. I found things to be pleased with in both areas. On halftime adjustments, in the second half, the 49ers' longest pass completion for 20 yards, while they had three of 25 yards and over in the first half. In the first half, the 49ers completed 45% of their passes for 125 net yards. In the second half, they completed 36% of their passes, for 47 net yards passing.

The SF Bay Area media and sports talk radio were all over Coach Singletary yesterday, for not being able to make any halftime adjustments, unlike the Packers, and for being disconnected from the offensive and defensive game-calling, doing too much delegating and not having enough hands-on involvement. The 49er coaching staff was also criticized for having coached the playmaking ability out of QB Troy Smith, "turning him into Alex Smith." Left unspoken was the frequent refrain around here, that they could have had Aaron Rodgers, instead of Alex Smith. And speaking of Alex Smith, the 49ers announced today that they will start Alex Smith, not Troy Smith, this week against the Seahawks. (Singletary, at this writing, keeps his own job.)

I also saw good things in the Packers' offensive game plan. True, it was not as effective in the first half as in the second, but I still saw improvement. In the first place, the Packers seemed to finally recognize that their strength on offense is in the passing game. In the first few series, there was heavy emphasis on short passes, with runs being the exception, rather than the rule. Starting later in the first half and in the second half, the running game became more prominent, presumably because the 49ers were focussed so much on stopping the passing game. This is exactly what I have been looking for, using the passing game to open up the running game, rather than the other way around. Second, it looks like James Starks is going to be a big plus for the running game. He seems to have a better feel for the running game than does Brandon Jackson, although Jackson remains an excellent pass receiver.

The point is that the addition of Starks to the running back rotation opens up some additional options for the Packers, since the running game was not very successful before. While they only scored 14 points in the first half, this was because of a doinked field goal on the first drive, a disruptive sack on the second drive, and a sack and a pass bouncing off a defensive back's helmet on the third drive. The Packers were taking the right approach on offense, it just didn't pay off in those first three drives.

Between the improved offensive game plan and the halftime adjustments on defense, the result, as I heard it said on SF sports talk radio yesterday, was that the Packers administered a beating to the 49ers both ways, some on quick strike touchdowns and some on sustained drives.

The 1929 uniforms don't seem to have made a very good impression on anyone. One radio guy said maybe it is finally time to get rid of throwback uniforms, after seeing the Packers' uniforms this week. Here is Peter King's take on the 1929 uniforms:
Where'd you get those uniforms, Packers? Costco? And the helmets that looked like round FTD fall-bouquet vases? Without a question, those are the worst throwbacks I've seen, and there have been a lot of bad ones.
The Packers must have decided that they are never using these uniforms again, as they are selling off the game-worn uniforms at the Packer Pro Shop starting today.

With four games left, the pressure to win every game is intense. The only "easy" game is this week, at the Lions. It is very arguable that the Lions are much better than their 2-10 record, and indeed the Lions gave the Packers a hard time at Lambeau Field, and they came close to upsetting the Bears this week. None of that matters. With the Patriots, Giants and Bears coming up, there can be no excuse for not coming away with a victory at Detroit.

Steve Mariucci, on the NFL Network, predicted that the Packers and Bears will both be 10-5 going into the final week, when Chicago comes to Lambeau Field. He predicts that the Packers will win that game and the division. So let's look at the schedule. The Bears play the Patriots at home, then the Vikings in the dome, then the Jets at home, and then at the Packers. If the Bears are going to be 10-5, they need to lose 2 of the next 3 games. I don't know how the coach figured it, although I could see the Bears losing any or all of those games. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that they upset the Jets, but lose to the Patriots and Vikings. For the Packers to be 10-5, they need to win 2 of the next 3. At Lions, at Patriots, and the Giants at home. I assume that Mariucci thinks the Packers will lose to the Patriots, and win the other two. Everybody knows that the coach grew up as a Packer fan. So his predictions are almost as suspect as mine. But I think he is probably right on this. After watching the relentlessness of the Patriots last night against the Jets, the Patriots are certainly the remaining team I consider most likely to beat the Packers. If so, and if the Packers win the other two games, then that Bears at Packers game will be monumental. I assume the league will flex it so it ends up as the Sunday night game, the final game of the 2010 regular season, with the NFC North Division winner, and quite possibly a playoff bye, on the line.

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