Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Packers Fast Start - 4-0 For the First Time Since 2011

The Packers' Game Day Captains, Plus a Photo-Bomber
The Packers' first visit to the 49ers new stadium was a success, as they beat the 49ers 17-3 on Sunday, in the process beating Colin Kaepernick for the first time.

On the way into the stadium, we spent some time talking with an old-timer 49er fan.  He dated back to the days when the 49ers played in Kezar Stadium.  He was in a somber mood, apparently expecting the 49ers to lose to the Packers, but also lamenting the way that everything has changed since the move to the new stadium.  Ordinary fans were priced out of the market for season tickets, he said, this changed the demographics of the people who own season tickets, and to make matters worse, now that the team is on the down-slope, people will stop caring and jump off the bandwagon.  He told us that his $10,000 worth of PSLs are now only worth about $2,000 if he were to re-sell the rights to his season tickets (apparently you can sell the rights to 49ers season tickets, unlike the situation in Green Bay).

And sure enough, the atmosphere in the stadium was different.  You can't really compare the way the fans react to a team that is obviously losing its way, as the 49ers now are, to a team on the upswing, as the 49ers were the last couple of times the Packers played the 49ers at Candlestick Park.  But we certainly noticed the difference, from the empty seats scattered all over, to the exodus of the fans starting early in the 4th quarter, to the lack of enthusiasm shown for their adorable little stadium gimmicks, such as chanting "Aah-oo!, aah-oo!, aah-oo!" after a first down.  Want more proof?  The 49ers owner could not offer to give away some extra tickets to the Packers game without getting roasted by 49ers fans for having dismantled the team.  I mentioned last week that the 49ers seemed to be in serious disarray as a franchise, but I am not sure I realized how bad it really is.  Peter King tallied it up this past summer and came to the conclusion that of the 25 most important 49er players and coaches, 14 of them left this off-season.

The image to the left (taken at the stadium on Sunday) reflects a sort of inside joke in our family.  Starting with the great Joe Montana days, people started referring to the "49er Faithful."  We considered it a joke, because in 1980 you could walk in and buy season tickets; that is how "faithful" the fans were before the 49ers won their first Super Bowl.  Most of them seemed to think that NFL history started sometime around 1980.  Anyway, it looks like a new era for the "faithful" is now beginning, and for someone like me who lived with the insufferable 49ers fans and media for years, I welcome it.

Despite all of that, the 49ers played very well on defense, and kept the Packers' offense in check better than any other team this year so far.  Rodgers' accuracy may have been a bit off by comparison to other games, there were a couple of dropped passes, and Don Barclay continues to be less than ideal as a replacement for Bryan Bulaga, but I think most of the credit goes to the 49ers defense.

On the other side of the ball, though, the Packers' defense probably had its best game of the year.  They obviously set out to stop the run by playing safeties close to the line of scrimmage, in effect daring Colin Kaepernick to beat them with the passing game, or by scrambling.  They succeeded in stopping the conventional running game (Carlos Hyde gained only 20 yards), Kaepernick could not beat them with the passing game (he only had 160 passing yards and was sacked 6 times), and they did an admirable job of containing Kaepernick's scrambling, holding him to 57 rushing yards, with no rush longer than 12 yards.  I did not anticipate that the Packers' defense would play this well this soon, especially considering the injuries they have sustained.  But they are doing it and, I might add, playing with more creativity and aggression than they did at times last year.

The Packers now return home for a pair of home games, against the Rams and Chargers, both currently having a record of 2-2.  If the Packers can win both those games, a good likelihood given the Packers' record at home, they will be 6-0 heading into the bye week.  The Rams have a very strong front seven, and if Don Barclay continues to play in Bulaga's absence, they will get some pressure on Rodgers.  But, interestingly enough, despite the reputation of the Rams' front seven, at this point the Packers' defense is outperforming the Rams' defense in rushing defense, passing defense, and points allowed, while the Packers' offense is similarly outperforming the Rams' offense in all those categories.  I don't see any reason not to expect a Packers' victory this week.

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