Packers’ long day followed by short week versus Bears
GREEN BAY – On this day the better team won.
San Francisco was sharper, faster and better-coached in a 30-22 season-opening victory over Green Bay at Lambeau Field. The 49ers snapped the Packers’ 13-game home winning streak and exposed the 5 ½-point favorites in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible.
It wasn’t shocking to see San Francisco’s massive offensive line maul the Packers’ front seven while running back Frank Gore racked up 112 yards on just 16 carries. It wasn’t surprising to see quarterback Alex Smith complete 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
It wasn’t even startling that the Packers lost to San Francisco. After all, the 49ers went 14-4 last year while coming up just short in their bid to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
What was shocking was how the 49ers’ head coach, Jim Harbaugh, had his team so much better prepared to outplay Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy’s squad.
McCarthy being out-coached, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers being outplayed, happens in Green Bay about as often as season-ticket holders fail to renew their seats.
Rodgers’ so-so performance – at least by his standards – was the result of several poor assumptions by the Packers’ coaching staff.
The Packers’ offensive game plan, near as I can tell, was to control the football and subdue the 49ers’ defense in three ways:
** First, Cedric Benson (nine carries for 18 yards) was going to get enough rushing attempts to keep the 49ers’ defense honest. That didn’t happen because Benson and the offensive line never got on track. Benson didn’t get more carries because he didn’t earn more carries.
** Second, Randall Cobb (nine catches for 77 yards) was going to move the chains and give the 49ers fits as a pass receiver out of the backfield. Cobb was effective in that role until the 49ers realized it and adjusted. San Francisco’s defense reduced Green Bay to a one-trick offense.
** Third, Rodgers was going to elude the 49ers’ pass rush with his feet, rather than having an extra back in to block on most passing downs. The problem was the 49ers’ defenders were too quick for the Packers. Rodgers was too busy avoiding sacks to square up and throw deep.
Whatever Green Bay had in weapons it lacked in deployment.
Where were the draws? Where were the screens?
Where were the shots deep? (And I don’t mean on third-and-1).
The offense had an identity crisis; the defense suffered from indecision.
Even when Green Bay’s defense seemed to have an inkling of the 49ers’ intentions it still had difficulty making plays. Packers’ safety Morgan Burnett took some poor angles in the run game, and the secondary seemed out-of-sorts and confused at times.
The 49ers rushed 32 times for 186 yards. They averaged a shade over 31 carries per game last season, and stayed true to themselves in the opener. When they weren’t running it, they were efficient throwing it.
On the sidelines, the 49ers looked and acted like the home team. Midway through the first quarter – poor calls by the replacement officials be damned – they seemed as comfortable as could be.
One longtime Packers’ nemesis, Randy Moss, coolly caught four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. Another longtime nemesis, ex-Eagles kicker David Akers, blasted an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal.
After a week spent reminding his players to play the game and ignore the replacement officials, the Packers’ receivers whined after almost every play. Then, to compound matters, McCarthy seemed to get sidetracked and fall prey to allowing the officials become a distraction.
Harbaugh and the 49ers, to their credit, got their whining out of the way early. Then they settled in to coach and play hardnosed football.
49ers’ linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who dominated the line of scrimmage on the Packers’ final, futile drive, sounded a confident tone afterward.
Brooks said the game could be an “eye opener” for Green Bay, not that he seemed too concerned.
“Maybe we’ll see them again in the NFC Championship,” he said.
The inference is that the 49ers will be there, but will the Packers?
Next up is the Chicago Bears on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Head coach Lovie Smith maximized his advantage in a 41-21 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts by resting starters in the fourth quarter. That was a luxury the Packers didn’t earn.
Last week’s prediction: Packers 34, 49ers 24 (49ers 30-22)
This week’s prediction: Packers 24, Bears 21
Chris Havel is a Packers News expert and national best-selling author. His latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ Player Autograph Parties the evening before home games.