Offense’s big plays turn game into rout : Packers Insider

Offense’s big plays turn game into rout

December 6, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From the great Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Those were the sounds on Sunday for the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field when what began as a promising afternoon turned to hopeless helplessness after the big guns of the Green Bay Packers got through with them.

Four long pass plays begot four touchdowns, turning a dicey start into a routine finish. Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Co. can add another notch on their belt.

Can't fault this coverage: "We're still not where we want to be," Jennings said. "But we have a new kid on the block who's trying to step up and give us that power back."

The Packers showed last Sunday in Atlanta that the lack of a running game can beat them. Against the 49ers, they demonstrated that big passes can beat anyone.

Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t lost as a touchdown-or-more favorite since Tampa Bay last season, and he certainly couldn’t afford a misstep in the suddenly torrid race for the NFC North championship and two wild-card berths.

The 34-16 pasting of San Francisco (4-8) enabled the Packers (8-4) to stay one game behind Chicago (9-3) in the division. At this point, New Orleans (9-3) is in possession of one wild-card slot and the other would go to the New York Giants (8-4) over Green Bay on the basis of better NFC record, 6-2 to 6-3.

Philadelphia (8-4) owns the tie-breaking edge on the Giants in the NFC East because of its victory in their lone head-to-head meeting.

All of the above will be settled on the field in December and January, months when the Packers are 13-6 in the regular season under McCarthy.

“This is December football, and we’re playing good football now,” said McCarthy, praising his team for improving its turnover differential to plus-9 in the last five games. “But good isn’t good enough, as we know. We want to be playing our best football.”

Certainly, the Packers’ bombs-away passing game could hardly be more lethal.

The quarterback, Rodgers, was on fire again, pushing his marks in the last four games to 73.9% marksmanship (96 of 130), average per pass of 9.48 yards and an other-worldly passer rating of 131.3.

In the eight games before that, Rodgers was eminently human at 61.3%, 7.48 and 85.3.

“He would not allow them to lose,” said Takeo Spikes, the 49ers’ 13-year inside linebacker. “He was calm, cool and collected.”

His ace receiver, Jennings, has been equally as dominant over the last three games with 18 receptions for 393 yards (21.8) and five touchdowns. After a slow start, Jennings has 43 receptions, 761 yards and eight touchdowns in Weeks 6-12.

“When Aaron gets protection, our receivers are so good at getting open, and Aaron can just pick people apart,” tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “When you get that, big plays happen.”

One of the Packers’ worst deficiencies early was the scarcity of big plays. From Weeks 1-6, they had just four gains of 35 yards or more, and through nine games, they still had only six.

Green Bay then popped the Vikings for three long ones at the Metrodome in Week 10 and picked up one in Atlanta before assaulting the 49ers with four totaling 203 yards. The fifth, a 54-yard sideline streak to James Jones, was curiously whistled dead by referee Bill Leavy after 49ers linebacker Travis LaBoy was flagged for being in the neutral zone.

Joe Philbin, the offensive coordinator, preferred to downplay the display of offensive might.

“Half the time we had guys lining up in the wrong spot,” said Philbin. “We had to use two timeouts. I wouldn’t call us deadly.”

Besides blowing the timeouts, Rodgers also overthrew Donald Driver in the end-zone corner and was guilty of an intentional-grounding penalty. That first possession ended when Mason Crosby’s hooked a 29-yard attempt off the left upright, the first miss of his career inside the 30 after 38 makes.

“Our protection wasn’t good,” special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “We were poor in the B gap, and Mason pulled the ball as a result.”

Early in the second quarter, Jarrett Bush was charged with the special teams’ first holding penalty of the season. Rodgers was sacked for the second time on the next play of another three and out as bad was turning to worse.

Ever-resourceful, Rodgers then used something as simple as the snap count to his advantage. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin jumped offside, helping set up a third and 1.

Again Rodgers came with a hard count and linebacker Ahmad Brooks moved into the neutral zone, the third of five times the 49ers jumped. This time, play continued, and the well-drilled team of Rodgers and Jennings took full advantage of the “free” play for a 57-yard touchdown behind cornerback Shawntae Spencer.

“We knew coming in they had problems with jumping,” guard Josh Sitton said. “We exploited them with that.”

It was still just a 7-6 game with 2 minutes left in the half when the Packers’ longest screen pass of the season resulted in a 37-yard gain by Brandon Jackson to the 1. John Kuhn powered over on the next play.

A 66-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, by 18 yards the longest against Green Bay in 2010, kept the 49ers within a point until early in the third quarter. Then two more killer plays finished them off.

The first, a 61-yard touchdown to Driver, was called “clearly the biggest play in the game” by McCarthy. The 49ers pressured with five men, safety Dashon Goldson short-circuited in coverage and Driver made him pay with a spinning, tackle-breaking dash of 38 yards after the catch.

“I thought it ignited our football team,” said McCarthy. “We needed that.”

The second, a 48-yard take-off route to Jennings, set up Jennings’ 1-yard touchdown. The play came off bootleg action, which McCarthy has been unable to use more partially because his run game largely has been impotent.

On the previous play, James Starks bulled 5 yards on first down. That was exactly the type of play that the Packers were so desperately seeking, and the rookie provided several more in an eye-opening 18-carry, 73-yard debut.

“He wasn’t jumping and dancing, reversing field,” said Philbin. “He was relatively decisive. He dragged a guy here and there. Looked like he fell forward a couple times.”

The high point was a 17-play, 74-yard, fourth-quarter drive in which the running backs slammed 12 times for 45 yards and drained all but the final 3 minutes.

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