I was lucky enough to watch the 49ers conquer the Packers and the elements yesterday at Lambeau. Sadly I didn't make it to the tail gate as I was watching the game with three Green Bay fans who tolerated my allegiances only so far. However I did have pretty decent seats that afforded me a view of the action live, and that gives a significantly different perspective than the TV. The point of this post is to express that purely subjective angle. I don't suggest this to be definitive and I'm intentionally avoiding statistical analysis in this post so that I can focus on the things that I might not have seen if I weren't there.
First of all, it was cold. Very cold. Not quite as cold as predicted, not historically cold, but definitely cold enough that exposed skin was painful. I understand that the field itself is heated so that the tundra is not literally frozen. It's also not pretty. As one writer observed, it was a rather unpleasant brownish green. However, I imagine that the artificially thawed tundra saved players from what would have been potentially bone breaking experiences with the ground. Inexplicably Packers players were folding up left and right while our guys played a nearly injury free game. Most players (wisely) wore sleeves. The notable exceptions included Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Colin Kaepernick. If there was a stat for seeking the shelter of red shoulder to feet capes, Frank Gore would have been the leader. He kept the cape on as long as possible during every stoppage in play. Stoppages seem more common and lengthier in person. The offensive linemen sought shelter the least.
Colin Kaepernick struggled mightily with accuracy. To my eyes Greg Roman called in many plays that exploited favorable down field mismatches. Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin frequently came open for big gains and Colin repeatedly missed them. He often missed them badly despite enjoying a mostly clean pocket. Was this apparent on the broadcast view? The interception (and near interception at the end) looked very bad from my seat. I'm in the stands so my angle was different than his but before Colin launched the pass to Davis I had identified the safety coming over. He also bounced an easy pass to Michael Crabtree. The point is, for all of the offensive miscues it's hard to blame Roman. Green Bay had obvious weaknesses on defense, Roman called plays to exploit them, and you can't blame him when Anquan Boldin watches the ball fly harmlessly over his head as he's running free twenty yards down field.
On the other hand, Colin seemed unflappable in the face of the bad passes and terrible clock management. My impression was that most of his worst plays came on 1st or 2nd down and as often as not Colin would bail himself out on third and long with a timely scramble or accurate pass. Was Colin bothered by the cold? Did his exposed arms cause him to spray the ball all over northern Wisconsin? I don't know but I don't remember him missing so many down field passes in previous games. I will say that he did find the open receivers on almost every play and simply failed to deliver accurately, at least by my eyes. He moved through his progressions on several occasions, hitting secondary and tertiary targets. Confidence in himself and his guys is not one of Colin's problems. He was decisive in his passing and running.
And the running was amazing. Live, Colin covers ground at a startling pace and the Packers (admittedly gimpy) defense couldn't catch him. They also failed to maintain gap discipline and played a lot of man to man on the back end. For those of us who remember last years divisional victory in San Francisco, this was their problem last year as much as the read option.
Frank Gore wasn't as short as I thought he might appear. He iced the last two minutes or so of the clock and this required some tough running. He never had huge holes available. Green Bay crowded the line and only stayed in the game because Colin missed opportunities to complete many long passes. I know I'm harping on this a bit but to me the two stories of the game were CK's inaccurate passing and his fantastic scrambling.
Crabtree is less than 8 months from an Achilles tear? Really? He juked a hapless Packer out of his jock at one point. I can say there wasn't much juking going on in that weather but Crabtree was making moves. The guy is amazing.
Aaron Rodgers was fantastic. Despite their shaky offensive line Rodgers still managed to keep it a game. We played back away from the line and let Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and Glenn Dorsey handle the trenches for the most part, bringing in a healthy dose of Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith on obvious passing plays. It's the typical 49er defensive scheme: give up the small stuff and force multiple 3rd down conversions. For the most part it worked, particularly early in the game. However, Lacy got on track somewhere in the 2nd quarter and they strung together running plays into lengthy dives. Our guys looked gassed at times.
Aldon is a visibly emotional player. His body language betrays his state of mind, before during and after plays. He can seem shockingly nonchalant even when lined up. Then the ball is snapped and he's a man on fire, arms engaging in furious kung fu and legs propelling him by or through the tackle, who seemed a larger man. But on the occasion when Aldon was stifled (or held) he could just surrender or look towards the back judge imploring a flag.
Ray McDonald had his name called a lot, and while it was hard for me to get a clear view of runs that got stuffed, Ray was usually involved. Isn't this guy injured as well?
Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis appear to be two androids, designed for the sole purpose of tackling. If they changed jerseys I'm not sure anyone would notice. Bowman made a beautiful tackle on a run by Cobb during the 4th qtr goal line stand. He also was knocked down well after the end of an earlier play and plead his case with one of the officials. This caused several of the Packers fans to rain down insults, saying many things I doubt they would repeat to Bo's face.
Overall the defense played okay. The tackling was mostly clean, the pass rush was active and the corners cleaned up several deep balls- most of the action was underneath with the exception of broken plays. The biggest was the 4th down conversion. There was no tight replay shown at Lambeau so I had no idea that Ray was "choked out". From my seat it seemed a miracle that Rodgers escaped the sack and the Packer backers were more than eager for the miracle to be an act of Rodgers rather than a mysteriously missed hold. We would do the same in our house, I'm sure.