Packers must focus on improving the run
SEP 10, 2012 5:00a ET
Handing out grades following the Packers' 30-22 loss:
Passing Offense: B-
Aaron Rodgers had an average game, but that's only because the NFL MVP set the bar so high with his performance last season and showed how good he can be. Considering that, completing 30 of 44 pass attempts for 303 yards with two touchdowns and one interception is not a great day for Rodgers.
Rodgers' favorite target was tight end Jermichael Finley, who he threw to 11 times with seven of them being caught. Finley did drop one critical third-down pass, however, and had another diving attempt on the next series that hit his hands and fell to the ground. Had Finley caught the second one, it would have been an impressive grab, but will still likely qualify as a drop.
Randall Cobb led the team in receptions with nine, while James Jones had the one big play of the game for the Packers' offense when he hauled in a 49-yard pass from Rodgers.
However, it was the interception that was most on Rodgers' mind after the game.
"I'm mad about the interception," Rodgers said. " Greg (Jennings) thought he was wide open, that jolted me, I made a snap decision, what I usually don't do. I'm disappointed."
Rushing Offense: D-
The Packers tried to run the ball early in the game, with recent free-agent acquisition Cedric Benson getting the start. However, the 49ers' talented front seven didn't let Benson go anywhere, holding him to 18 yards on nine carries (2.0 yards per carry average).
Backup running back Alex Green did not get the ball at all, nor did fullback John Kuhn.
Once the fourth quarter began, Green Bay abandoned the running game altogether.
Rodgers led the Packers with 27 rushing yards on five scrambles.
"We didn't run it very well," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You want to credit their run defense. We wanted to get into a run-play mix there early with the no-huddle offense. I thought Aaron did a good job with that. But, yes, the production definitely wasn't there. I mean, two (yards per carry)? That's not good enough. That's not what we're looking for."
Rushing Defense: D
Frank Gore ran all over the Packers defense. Gore, a three-time Pro Bowl running back, showed that, at age 29, he still apparently has a lot left. He finished with 112 yards on just 16 rushing attempts for an average of 7.0 yards per carry. He also had one touchdown, a 23-yard run that involved three Packers defenders missing tackles on the play.
When Gore was out, his backup, Kendall Hunter, also had success. Hunter had 41 rushing yards on nine attempts (4.6 average).
Green Bay was in its 3-4 base defense throughout the majority of the game, which is used specifically to stop an opposing team's running attack. Typically, the Packers would be in more nickel defense formations, but they were struggling to stop the run with three defensive linemen up front, so it would have been even more difficult with just two defensive linemen.
"For the most part, when they really needed it, they found a way to run the ball on us," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "Obviously any coach from any level will tell you to win a game, you need to stop the run first. We didn't get that done today."
Passing Defense: C
The good news for the Packers was that Clay Matthews had a monstrous game, picking up 2.5 sacks all by himself. Matthews had just 6.0 sacks last season after having 13.5 sacks in 2010. Matthews finished with four quarterback hits and was all over 49ers QB Alex Smith. If Matthews can continue this pace, Green Bay's defense will already be much improved from that aspect alone.
Charles Woodson also had 1.5 sacks and proved that he's still a terrific playmaker, even at age 35.
But the Packers' defense, which tied for the NFL lead last season in takeaways, did not force any turnovers.
Smith completed 20 of his 26 passes for 211 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His longest completion was 29 yards, and for the most part, settled for short completions. That was enough for a 125.6 passer rating -- which was a far better number than Rodgers' 93.3 passer rating -- and was just what the 49ers needed from their quarterback.
"I felt good about today," Woodson said. "I really felt good. Yeah, they made some plays on us, they put up 30 points, but I thought overall as a defense, we made strides from where we were last year. We flew around, we got sacks today, we got to the quarterback. I come away from this game feeling good about our team."
Special Teams: A
Randall Cobb was the game-changing playmaker that the Packers needed. With Green Bay down by 15 early in the fourth quarter, Cobb returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. A flag was thrown on the return, but when the referees huddled about the call, they decided it was not a penalty, and Cobb's TD counted.
"(49ers punter Andy) Lee is a big-leg kicker and he outkicks his coverage sometime, and he outkicked his coverage, I had room to work," Cobb said. "I got three good blocks up the sidelines and beat the kicker to the end zone."
Tim Masthay, coming off a solid preseason that included a contract extension, had a terrific game punting the ball. Masthay continues to get good hang time and distance, and only allowed San Francisco return man Kyle Williams one return opportunity. Four of Masthay's six punts were downed inside the 20 yard line, and he had a net average of 41.5 yards.
At home, the Packers lost to the 49ers. Yes, San Francisco is a very good team coming off a 13-3 season in which they were an overtime victory away from the Super Bowl. But Green Bay is a very good team as well, finishing last season at 15-1 with the NFL's highest-scoring offense.
The Packers' offense had its moments, but with no running game, they were unable to move the ball consistently against the 49ers and scored only twice in 10 offensive possessions.
With a short week of practice leading up to Green Bay hosting the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, the two biggest issues for the Packers to correct will be run defense and run offense. But if Matthews and Green Bay's pass rush can continue to cause problems like it did against San Francisco, at least one of the Packers' problems from last season will have been corrected.
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