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NFL Playbook: The 49ers Capitalize on Packer Mistakes

by Photo of Taylor Armosino

San Francisco ran their offense to perfection on Sunday. The Packer defense… not so much.

NFL Playbook: The 49ers Capitalize on Packer Mistakes

In this article…

On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers marched into Lambeau Field and put a beat down on the favored Green Bay Packers 30-22. The score is not necessarily indicative of the direction of the game, as the 49ers led 23-7 in the 4th quarter. Jim Harbaugh's offense hit on all cylinders while Green Bay's defense made a plethora of mistakes. I want to breakdown two crucial mistakes by the Packers defense. One mental, one physical, both of which resulted in touchdowns for the 49ers. 

The first Packer mistake resulted in a 14 yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Randy Moss (Yes, that Randy Moss. He's still alive) in the 2nd quarter. Here is the play: 

To begin the play, the 49ers come out with two receivers, two tight ends and halfback Frank Gore in the backfield. San Francisco lines up with quarterback Alex Smith in the shotgun with receivers Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss split out to his left with tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker split out to his right. Davis lines up on the line of scrimmage on the right side of the ball with Walker split out in a receiver position, while Moss is lined up in the left slot and Crabtree to his left. The 49ers motion Walker (yellow) to the other side of the formation between Moss and Crabtree. Walker's motion brings linebacker DJ Smith (black) to the left side of the formation, causing Green Bay to check into another defense. That is where they make their mistake. 

When Walker motions to the left side of the formation, the 49ers create what is called a "trips" look with three receivers on one side of the formation.

Green Bay checks into what is called a "Cover 3" defense. "Cover 3" is a defense in which three defensive backs play deep while the other four linebackers/defensive backs play underneath. The problem is that on the play the Packers only get two defensive backs deep because second year safety M.D. Jennings makes a mental mistake. 

The players in red are the three defensive backs that are supposed to play deep. The middle of the field is supposed to be covered by Jennings, but he plays the right side of the field, as you'll see in the photo below. This leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the Packer defense and the 49ers take advantage.  This is what the Packers "Cover 3" look is supposed to look like:

Randy Moss is highlighted in blue, as he is the man who catches the touchdown. Jennings is circled in red, as he is the man who blows the coverage. The two 49er receivers that impact the play are Moss, who is running a post, and Delanie Walker, who is running an "in" route underneath Moss' post. Here is San Francisco's play versus the Packers defense: 

When Walker (yellow) runs his "in" route, he draws both the safety and the linebacker (black arrows) to him in the middle of the field. Because Jennings (red) blows his assignment, there is nobody left to pick up Randy Moss (blue) in the middle of the field, giving Alex Smith a wide open throw. Smith throws the touchdown and the 49ers take a 7-3 lead in the 2nd quarter. 

The second Packer mistake is not a mental error, but it is a showing poor discipline and execution by the Packers defense. Our second play came with 8:41 remaining in the 4th quarter with the 49ers leading 23-15. Poor discipline by the Packers defense resulted in a 23 yard touchdown run by 49ers running back Frank Gore. Here is the play: 

San Francisco comes out in a "Jumbo" formation, with no receivers on the play. The 49ers run the ball to Frank Gore (highlighted in black) on a "counter" motion, meaning he takes a step towards the left side of the formation to freeze the defense before running the ball to the right. Left guard Mike Iupati and fullback Bruce Miller (both highlighted in red) pull around the right side of the formation to lead Gore to the end zone. Center Jonathan Goodwin (blue) has a chip block, where he helps block down on the defender in front of him before moving to the second level to try and block the linebacker. On the right side of San Francisco's formation, backup left guard Leonard Davis lines up as the tight end. Behind him in an "H-back" type of position is backup center Daniel Kilgore. Both those players have crucial blocks as they have to block down the left side of the Green Bay defense. It is their job to seal off the left side of the Green Bay defense so there is room for Gore and the pulling blockers to get around the edge. Here is the 49er blocking scheme:

Davis and Kilgore do an excellent job of sealing off the edge of the Packer defense. Packers outside linebacker #53 Brad Jones takes too far of a step in towards the ball and is unable to recover. Kilgore seals him off, Davis seals his man and the 49ers are in good shape. 

The Packer who makes a mistake on this is #50, linebacker AJ Hawk. "Counter" running plays are designed to seal off the defense, allowing the halfback to get outside. Hawk's role is to keep his outside shoulder free and force the play back inside. That is not at all what Hawk does on this play. When the play starts, Hawk takes a terrible angle forward into the mess of blockers (highlighted in yellow), rather than sliding laterally to force the play inside. Hawk's partner middle backer, #51 DJ Smith (highlighted in blue), has the assignment of filling the gap that Hawk runs himself into.

Because Hawk takes such a poor angle, he is easily picked off by #77 Iupati coming around the edge. Miller takes out free safety #21 Charles Woodson and Gore does the rest. He scores the touchdown to put the 49ers up 30-15 and they go on to win the game.

So what can we learn from these two plays? Pretty much what we already knew. San Francisco is fundamentally sound and executes their offense with high percision. Green Bay's defense is not a strong one and continued to make mistakes, picking up from where they left off last season. M.D. Jennings' mental mistake and AJ Hawk's poor angle of pursuit directly cost the Packers 14 points and arguably the game. 

The Packer defense was not strong last year and got off to another bad start this year. If they're going to win the NFC North for the 2nd straight season, they've got to sure up the mistakes on defense. The Bears are stronger this year than they were last season and the Lions got their season off on the right foot with a win over St. Louis. For the 49ers, they're scary good. Great teams take advantage of their opponents mistakes and that is exactly what they did. They looked sharp, they looked focused and they executed their offense. This is a team with Super Bowl potential and they played like it on Sunday.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the San Francisco 49ers all season long.

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