Hello Packer Nation,
Many fans are still steaming over the Packers lackluster performance in last week's NFC Championship game in San Francisco (technically Santa Clara). I think expectations were high among Packer fans, and rightfully so. This Packer team seemed destined to get to the Super Bowl. There are times when a team's road is meant to end, and for the Packers, it was meant to end in San Francisco.
Case in point. On the second drive in the first quarter, the 49ers were in a 3rd and 8 situation. The Packers showed a predominant blitz look and were keyed on stopping SF in their tracks with immense pressure from the left tackle/left guard area. The 49ers called a perfect "trap" play in between the LT/LG where a delayed handoff caused pressure to get upfield and Mostert slipped by with ease. The game of chess was on and SF outclassed GB the rest of the game. SF knew how to beat an overzealous defense.
I have watched the game in "coaches view" on my Play 22 three times. Nothing has convinced me this current Packer team was in the same class as SF. It was also painfully obvious the Packer defense was significantly undermanned against a formidable rushing attack that rolled up over 280 yards on the ground. It was painful to watch Pettine continuously march out 2 DL personnel and at times only 1 DL. SF scored three TD's when the defense had 2 DL or less on the field. Why Pettine would attempt to stop the run with extra safety and not a DL like Adams and/or Keke is beyond comprehension. I know he was limited with available DL but continuing to get your a** pounded into the ground was not the answer. The front seven of the Packers were weak and a good rushing attack was going to eat it up. It was inevitable, just a matter of when. It happened at the worst time.
How do the Packers prevent this scenario from happening in 2020 and beyond?
1. First, they need reinforcements on the defensive line. Kenny Clark cannot be counted on to be the sole playmaker on the DL. They need to be stout in the trenches. They need guys who can get off blocks and make plays. Montravious Adams proved again he is not the answer. Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster are rotational players, nothing more. Having those two guys play more than 50% of the snaps against SF is not a winning recipe.
2. ILB needs an infusion of talent and speed. Ideally, they need an a** kicking ILB who is a downhill thumper and equally adept against the pass. If Pettine refuses to play more base defense, start here. Martinez had his worst game of this career against SF and proved he is not the answer as their #1. I would like the Packers to use more 2 ILB fronts and stay away from using safeties as an extra ILB. Currently, they don't have the players to excel here. The draft only has two capable ILB's with first-round talent (Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray). Martinez would be a nice compliment guy next to either Queen or Murray but cannot be depended on to carry the linebackers.
3. The SF defense keyed on stopping Davante Adams and mostly had a safety "over the top" protecting the back end, essentially doubling him. The offense needs another weapon or two. Marquez Valdez-Scantling mysteriously disappeared after the Oakland game and only had six catches for the rest of the season and only played one snap against SF. Maybe having Equanimeous St.Brown back in 2020 will help but they need more.
4. The coaching staff needs to learn how to make adjustments on the fly. It was LaFleur's plan to rest the offense on Rodgers's shoulders when it should have rested on Aaron Jones. Jones had room to run and SF dared the Packers to beat them downfield. LaFleur continually tried to attack downfield and the SF defense was prepared for it. The Packer's defense was more concerned about the pass beating them than the run, even when SF was running the ball on almost every play. GB was outcoached in all facets.
5. The pass rush was one dimensional. This defense depends on working in 2nd and 3rd and long situations and allowing the Smith Brothers to work. They were rarely provided that opportunity because the run defense was porous. Pressure cannot only come from the edge. It needs to come up the middle as well. It will help them contain mobile QB's such as Russell Wilson. I would love to see the Packers sign free agent Chris Jones from Kansas City. He is a tall and active DL who would be a perfect addition. The downfall is he will likely command a contract that exceeds $16 million per season.
It won't help any fans to lament on this team's chances against SF in that game. The superior team won. "What if's" won't overcome reality. It should provide Packer management a blueprint on how to take the next step.
This season needs to be a learning experience for the young coaching staff and player personnel group. The team made tremendous improvements in the locker room. The Smith Brothers were worth every penny. Gutenkunst will need to improve the talent and LaFleur will need to take this team to the next level in big games. It was obvious this Packer team wasn't ready for this game in more ways than one. How they choose to respond will be important.
Go Pack Go!