Good offense beats good defense. When you’re facing Aaron Rodgers, you can be right and still be wrong. The 49ers were on the wrong end of several perfect throws from Rodgers that any defense gives up.
In the video breakdown below of the Niners defense this week, I highlight a couple of mistakes the 49ers made and why your margin for error is slim to none against a quarterback the caliber of Rodgers.
DeMeco Ryans had a great game plan that included curveballs and change-ups to keep Rodgers off balance. But, on the first big play of the game where Allen Lazard caught a slot fade over K’Waun Williams, that’s a play that isn’t sustainable.
If you’re going to go down swinging, let the Packers beat you with a receiver that came into this game with two receptions for 16 yards. You’ll see the versatility the 49ers have as both Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are playing man coverage in the slot with Talanoa Hufanga shaded toward Davante Adams.
Rodgers threw a money ball. But, as was the case on a few others, that throw is a throw that you tip your cap to.
Azeez Al-Shaair is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch, and you’ll see why in this video. Every time Al-Shaair hits somebody, they go in the opposite direction. He’s physical, intelligent, and plays fast. If I were Ryans, I’m leaving Al-Shaair on the field when Dre Greenlaw is healthy. This is an excellent problem to have.
The next curveball from Ryans came on the second drive when the 49ers ran a “Drop-8” coverage in an attempt to throw Rodgers’ timing off. Rodgers went 2-for-2 for 61 yards and two first downs.
The idea was good in theory. San Francisco has a Drop-8 coverage with both zone and man coverage principles. But, unfortunately, the Packers did a good job of messing with the 49ers' coverage rules on the first play.
They took advantage of an aggressive Jimmie Ward, which led to a receiver 1-on-1 with Jaquiski Tartt down the field (around the 2:52 mark):
On the following Drop-8 coverage, the 49ers switch from zone to man coverage. Again, everyone is covered, but Rodgers buys time and threads the needle to Adams for a gain of 14.
Rodgers showed why he’s a Hall of Famer and MVP candidate in this game. Time after time, it felt like the defense was correct—time after time, that didn’t matter.
Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Josh Norman, and Azeez Al-Shaair all had incredible effort plays in this game. Bosa had back-to-back plays where he made a stop at the line of scrimmage and then bullied the tight end into the ground, forcing Rodgers to go elsewhere. It was a tight end screen.
Warner had a couple of sideline-to-sideline plays that were jaw-dropping, while Norman’s “peanut punch” saved the defense from giving up points on the drive. Both players saved scores.
Al-Shaair had a few tackles that resulted in shorter gains, and one on Adams forced a Packers punt. No. 51 is the real deal.
The recurring theme in this game was seeing everyone fly to the ball and sell out as if it were the last game of their lives. So that’s why I’m not worried about the defense.
Rodgers threw two money ball back-shoulder throws on the same drive that was a cheat code. The ball was out of Rodgers’s hand in 1.5-1.6 seconds (around the 10:38 mark):
Arik Armstead beats his man so severely during the first throw that the offensive lineman’s helmet looks down at the ground. But since Rodgers threw the ball so fast, it didn’t matter.
Deommodore Lenoir loses the release to Adams, which was more than enough for Rodgers, who puts the ball only where Adams could make a play. Ideally, you’d like Lenoir to eliminate the space between him and Adams instead of running parallel with the receiver, but the throw was so good that I’m not sure it would have mattered.
Two plays later, the Packers go back to the well. This time, it’s against Dontae Johnson — who played the pass better than Lenoir. But, again, it didn’t matter. These throws are gut punches to a defense. You’re helpless against these throws.
Other plays covered
- Fred Warner’s pass interference call around the 15:50 mark
- Lenoir’s touchdown allowed in the fourth quarter and why he has to get depth at the 17:11 portion of the video
- The final two plays of the game
My thoughts about the 49ers' defense didn’t change this week. This can still be a top-10 group. But I’d say I was surprisingly encouraged.
The 49ers had a higher success rate on offense than the Packers did. They also had a higher percentage of first-down plays. The difference was a Hall of Fame quarterback playing at an MVP level. When Rodgers is on, there aren’t many defenses that can stop him.
This is just the beginning, with Russell Wilson on deck and Kyler Murray in the hole. We’ll see if the Niners' defense is up to the challenge. If they play the way they did Sunday, not even Wilson’s moon balls should make a difference. Time will tell.