GREEN BAY – It’s no secret the Packers are playing a lot of young players on defense, and with that comes some growing pains.
It was a rough Monday night defensively through three quarters against the 49ers, but Green Bay’s defense rose up to get back-to-back three-and-outs, followed by an interception, to fuel the fourth-quarter comeback.
One reason for the turnaround was some rookie mistakes earlier in the game the Packers cleaned up down the stretch to get the stops they needed. Here are some examples of the errors, followed by the corrections.
Play No. 1: First-and-10 from the San Francisco 18, third quarter, 3:20 left
Result: 13-yard run by RB Matt Breida
LB Blake Martinez (50) is the “nerve center” of the Packers’ defense, as coordinator Mike Pettine likes to call him, and on this play, he’s beckoning presnap for rookie outside LB Oren Burks (42) to shift further to the outside in run support. Burks doesn’t really heed the call, and as a result he gets turned inside by LT Joe Staley (74) while Breida bursts through the hole for a big gain. Just like that, the 49ers are out of the field-position hole and on their way to a field goal.
Play No. 2: First-and-10 from the San Francisco 4, fourth quarter, 7:46 left
Result: No gain for Breida
On the 49ers’ next possession, they’re backed up after stopping the Packers near the goal line, and again Martinez is motioning for Burks to widen his alignment. It’s a different gap assignment than the prior play, and this time, the third-round draft pick reacts soon enough to attack lead-blocking FB Kyle Juszczyk in the hole, rather than get sealed off, which allows DL Kenny Clark (97) and Martinez to take down Breida at the line of scrimmage.
Play No. 3: First-and-10 from the San Francisco 20, second quarter, 12:23 left
Result: 21-yard completion to Juszczyk; fumble recovered by Packers
Rewind again to earlier in the game, and getting fooled on a play-action fake turns out not to cost the Packers, but the lesson will pay dividends later. Here Burks gets caught flat-footed thinking Juszczyk is going to block him on a handoff to Breida, but on the play-action, Juszczyk runs right on by into open space for a reception and big gain. Fortunately, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knocks the ball out on the tackle, and CB Kevin King recovers for Green Bay.
Play No. 4: Second-and-11 from the San Francisco 22, fourth quarter, 4:01 left
Result: 1-yard scramble by QB C.J. Beathard
On another crucial fourth-quarter possession for the 49ers, watch how Burks does not bite on the play-action fake to Breida. He’s practically backing up into his zone coverage before the fake is even executed, and he effectively takes away Juszczyk’s route into the flat, forcing Beathard to scramble with no one to throw to.
Play No. 5: Third-and-9 from the Green Bay 45, second quarter, 3:06 left
Result: 11-yard scramble by Beathard
Back in the first half again, the Packers put seven defenders on the line of scrimmage for this third-and-long and ultimately rush five. Rookie CB Josh Jackson (37) blitzes from the slot, but when he finds too much traffic to get to the quarterback, he ill-advisedly leaves his feet, taking himself out of the play (anyone remember Jarrett Bush on the game-deciding third down vs. Colin Kaepernick in the 2013 playoffs?). As Martinez gets blocked in the same area as Jackson’s leap, a clear lane opens up for Beathard to pick up a big first down, eventually leading to a field goal as the first half expires.
Play No. 6: Third-and-10 from the San Francisco 23, fourth quarter, 3:52 left
Result: 12-yard sack by LB Clay Matthews
This is one snap after Play No. 4, an important fourth-quarter moment with the Packers still trailing by seven points. Like Play No. 5, it’s Jackson coming on a slot blitz, but this time when he runs into traffic, he holds his ground, helping to cut off any escape routes for Beathard, who is eventually taken down by Matthews for a big loss, and the 49ers punt the ball back to the Packers for what turns out to be the game-tying touchdown drive.