Niners Squeeze Packers' Offense

Green Bay couldn't run the ball and Aaron Rodgers couldn't find anyone open down the field during Sunday's loss to the 49ers. In a 30-22 loss, the Packers' offense managed just two scores on 10 possessions.

Aaron Rodgers stared straight ahead, looking for perspective amid the frustration of the Green Bay Packers' 30-22 season-opening loss to San Francisco.

"It's one game," he said. "(San Francisco) is a team that was in the NFC Championship last year. It's a good team. Hopefully, we see them down the road in the playoffs."

To be sure, the 49ers' defense should be given its due. Through three quarters, it turned in a near-flawless performance that was punctuated by steady pressure, well-timed blitzes, textbook tackling and cling-wrap coverage in the secondary.

That said, Green Bay looked less like last year's offensive juggernaut and more like a group feeling its way through a fifth preseason game for much of Sunday. Six of their first seven possessions ended with a Tim Masthay punt. And in a game that stretched to 3 hours and 25 minutes, few things went right.

With Green Bay's running game a nonfactor, San Francisco safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson played deep and took the long ball away from Rodgers and his receivers. Aside from a 28-yard hookup with Jordy Nelson down the left sideline, there was little to be had down the field. With that bullet seemingly removed from their gun, Rodgers looked for plays underneath. Second-year sensation Randall Cobb led the team with nine catches for 77 yards and showed off a new offensive wrinkle, lining up in the backfield on 19 plays. But San Francisco rarely surrendered the all-important yards after the catch that Green Bay receivers have made a living on.

There were a couple drops from tight end Jermichael Finley – who despite that finished with seven catches for 47 yards and a score. On that second-quarter touchdown play, Finley lined up on the far right of a four-tight-end set and ran a slant in from the 1-yard line.

"I thought I played a good game," Finley said. "I think people will look at the drops. But, hey, seven catches? I think it was all right. I think it was average."

A replacement officiating crew hit the Packers with nine first-half penalties. Some were legitimate, others were head-scratchers along with some no-calls, but all of them were factors for an offense struggling to find its timing and rhythm. There was also the running game – or lack thereof – accounting for just 18 yards on nine carries from newly acquired back Cedric Benson.

"The game went a little differently than we would've liked it to," coach Mike McCarthy understated. "I'd like to have had more production in the run game. I thought the 49ers' defense played with favorable sticks more than we did, as far as the down and distance. But with that, I thought Aaron did a good job of handling the distortion, particularly in the first half."

But Rodgers, who finished with 303 yards and two touchdowns on 30-of-44 passing, would have a critical – and uncharacteristic – miscue in the final quarter. After a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Cobb put a spike in Green Bay's EKG, Rodgers failed to see 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman drop back on the next possession and put a pass intended for Greg Jennings right into his hands. San Francisco running back Frank Gore ripped around the right end for 23 yards to make it a 30-15 game with 8:50 remaining.

"I'm mad about the interception… Greg thought he was wide open," Rodgers said. "That jolted me and I made a snap decision, which I usually don't do."

Rodgers was able to find some success late – particularly with James Jones – who had consecutive grabs of nine, 49 and a 10 yards for a touchdown that pulled Green Bay to within eight. But on its final drive, Rodgers faced heavy pressure from the Niners, getting sacked near midfield by linebacker Ahmad Brooks for a 7-yard loss, and harassed into a deep incompletion on fourth-and-10 from the San Francisco 45-yard line on the team's final offensive play.

"They've got a great defense, you've got to give them credit," Rodgers reiterated. "They've got some of the top guys in the league at their position. They made some good plays, good adjustments, disguised some coverages. We didn't have the opportunity to take a lot of shots downfield, but when we did, they made some plays on it and we missed a couple third downs there we probably should've had to keep drives going."

After going 10-6 in 2010 and winning Super Bowl XLV and going 15-1 last year and losing to a 9-7 Giants team that would go on to win Super Bowl XLVI, Green Bay knows better than any team the value of regular season wins. But clearly there's work to be done. And a less-talented, but no-less-motivated, Chicago Bears defense will be staring them down in just four days.


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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