A national audience tuned in as the San Franciso 49ers hosted the Green Bay Packers. Heading into Sunday night, the 49ers had heard about their weak schedule through the first 11 weeks of the season. The last time the national audience had seen these 49ers, San Francisco missed an overtime field goal and fell to a division rival. This time it was different. Today we take a look at an impressive performance and possibly the most complete offering from these 49ers.
Their Own Personal Alcatraz
The shock of the final score was built on the shock of how we got there. San Francisco’s defense absolutely smothered the Green Bay offense. The Packers had more yards on the ground than net passing on Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers completed 20 of 33 passes, throwing for 104 yards and a touchdown. However, Rodgers was brought down on five occasions for a total of 38 yards. In addition to the sacks, Rodgers was hurried another dozen or so times, often flushing out of the pocket to avoid a sack. Losing right tackle, Bryan Bulaga, in the first quarter did nothing to help the offense. Alex Light replaced the veteran tackle and dealt with a steady dose of Nick Bosa.
San Francisco primarily used four rushers to attack Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. This allowed for seven defenders to cover, at most, five receivers. The talented defensive line quickly forced the Packers into using a running back, tight end, or both, to help with pass protection. When Robert Saleh decided to blitz, he often sent Fred Warner from his linebacker spot. Saleh’s pass rush overwhelmed the Green Bay offensive line without the need to commit to blitzing. It was a recipe for success in keeping a future Hall of Fame quarterback in check through four quarters. In front of a national audience, the 49ers’ defense looked like every bit as advertised.
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The consistent pressure on Rodgers was compounded by excellent coverage by the San Francisco secondary. Davante Adams led the Packers in receiving with 43 yards on seven receptions. He scored the only Green Bay touchdown on a glorified handoff from two yards out. The next leading receiver was running back Jamaal Williams with 35 yards receiving on seven receptions. No other Green Bay receiver had more than nine receiving yards. It is an almost unbelievable statistic when you consider that Green Bay had 37 passing attempts. K’waun Williams had another superb showing on Sunday night. Williams took advantage of the national audience and solidified his claim as the league’s best slot cornerback.
Not one to be outdone, safety Jimmie Ward was all over the field on Sunday night. Ward made a pair of excellent pass breakups. The first came in the form of a diving deflection on a third down. Later in the first half, with the Packers looking to put a dent in the early deficit, Rodgers escaped pressure and lofted a high-arching pass down the Green Bay sideline. Tight end, Jimmy Graham, made a leaping attempt on the football. Ward had coverage on the play and tracked the football to Graham. Ward closed the distance on Graham and used his right hand to disrupt the hands of Graham. As both players went to the ground, the ball popped loose and the play was ruled incomplete. Both plays epitomized the high level of talent that Ward possesses.
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Sunday night brought the return of George Kittle. The talented tight end had missed the previous two games with injuries to his knee and ankle. Prior to kickoff, news quickly spread that Kittle’s injury involved a broken bone in his ankle. The injury was suffered early in the San Francisco victory against the Cardinals on Halloween night. It was the same game in which Kittle scored a touchdown, complete with a vicious stiff-arm and sheer determination. In front of a national audience, Kittle proved invaluable to the 49ers offense. Kittle’s blocking in the ground game can’t be understated. Without their tight end, the 49ers struggled to run the football, finishing with their two lowest outputs this season.
The threat of Kittle’s pass-catching ability forces linebackers and safeties to keep one eye on the tight end and one eye on the possible handoff. If out of position, Kittle has the route running ability and the speed, to blow past cornerbacks. This was on display on Kittle’s 61-yard touchdown reception in the second half. On a play-action to the right, Kittle released and sold a corner route. However, as Jimmy Garoppolo turned to throw, Kittle broke to the inside and toward the opposite hash. Garoppolo dropped a perfect pass into his tight end’s arms and Kittle raced for the score. For the 49ers and the faithful watching, it was a hell of a way to welcome back the best tight end in football.
The victory was the first game of a brutal stretch. Heading into Week 12, the 49ers’ next three opponents, held a win percentage of 80%. It is the toughest schedule, this late in the season, in NFL history. Sunday’s victory, in front of a national audience, goes a long way to solidifying a playoff spot. The next two games will be on the road as San Francisco travels to Baltimore and New Orleans. While the road ahead is dangerous, the 49ers have a dominating victory against the Packers to add to the momentum. On Sunday night, in front of a national audience, the 49ers announced their arrival among the game’s best.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada