GREEN BAY – Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner wasn't the only reason the Packers struggled offensively against the 49ers last season in two meetings, but he was a big one.
The No. 7 overall draft pick in 2016 and a second-team All-Pro selection last year, Buckner came over to the Colts in a major offseason trade, so the Packers saw him again Sunday in Indianapolis. Only this time, Green Bay effectively handled him with a variety of players and approaches.
Playing 55 of the Colts' 60 defensive snaps, Buckner was credited with just two tackles, and he never got a QB hit on Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately for the Packers, Buckner was in the right place at the right time to recover Marquez Valdes-Scantling's fumble in overtime, the only high-impact play he made all game.
Here's how the Packers neutralized a nemesis, from early in the game through late in the fourth quarter.
Quick hint: Buckner is easy to find on the Colts' defense because he's the lineman wearing the full white sleeves. It's much easier to spot those than his No. 99, which is often crinkled and hard to read.
Play No. 1: Third-and-1 from the Indy 42, first quarter, 11:06 left
Result: 4-yard run by Rodgers
An interior lineman, Buckner doesn't see LT David Bakhtiari 69) much, but he does on this play-action bootleg. Bakhtiari promptly knocks him over as Rodgers play-actions his way to plenty of running space to pick up the first down. This was just the sixth offensive snap of the game for the Packers, and an early sign they were going to be aware of Buckner all day.
Play No. 2: First-and-goal from the Indy 2, second quarter, 9:59 left
Result: 2-yard TD run by RB Aaron Jones
Rookie Jon Runyan Jr. (76) came off the bench in the first half to take over at LG, with Elgton Jenkins (74) moving to C to replace the injured Corey Linsley. Here on the goal line, Buckner is all Runyan's responsibility, and the rookie wins decisively with a powerful first strike that almost lifts Buckner off the ground. Credit Jones of course for powering through S Khari Willis (37) to score, but he gets that one-on-one opportunity because Runyan flat-out displaces Buckner.
Play No. 3: Second-and-2 from the Indy 21, second quarter, 9:11 left
Result: 4-yard run by RB Jamaal Williams
A short-yardage run here goes right at Buckner and works, mostly thanks to the tough work of RG Lucas Patrick (62). At the snap, Patrick and RT Billy Turner (77) initially double-team Buckner, but then Turner releases and Patrick takes over to finish the job. The Packers also pull the other guard, Runyan, to lead the way in the hole, but he doesn't actually have to block anybody because the Packers win at the point of attack.
Play No. 4: Third-and-1 from the Green Bay 45, second quarter, :27 left
Result: 51-yard pass interference penalty on CB Rock Ya-Sin
Straight-up one-on-one pass protection here, and Jenkins – getting an extended run at C for the first time in his career – doesn't let Buckner anywhere near Rodgers, leaving plenty of space for Rodgers to step into the deep ball. The DPI flag sets up the Packers' fourth touchdown of the first half.
Play No. 5: Second-and-10 from the Green Bay 33, fourth quarter, 6:41 left
Result: 14-yard completion to Jones
This is the type of play that frustrates a star interior defensive lineman. First, he thinks he's got a one-on-one pass rush vs. the rookie Runyan, but as soon as he makes an inside move, Jenkins is there to stymie him. Then as Rodgers steps up, Buckner spins away looking for the hit, only to have Rodgers fire the ball to Jones along the sideline to move the chains.
Play No. 6: Third-and-8 from the Indy 41, fourth quarter, 3:17 left
Result: 7-yard pass to TE Robert Tonyan
A handful of snaps later, Buckner is still getting nowhere. He takes a strong bull rush at Jenkins, resulting in a stalemate, and then because Runyan has a free moment, the rookie provides his own hit. Unfortunately, this is a pass Rodgers regretted after the game, saying he needed to put it on Tonyan's upfield shoulder, allowing him to get the first down. Instead it's more toward his back shoulder, coming up a yard short of the first down, and the Packers fail on the ensuing fourth-and-1.
Play No. 7: Second-and-10 from the Indy 33, fourth quarter, :57 left
Result: 18-yard completion to WR Davante Adams
One more showing how the Packers handled Buckner start to finish, this time with Patrick passing him off to Jenkins, who steers him away from the middle as he runs a stunt with DT/DE Tyquan Lewis (94). This conveniently creates a clear throwing lane for Rodgers to hit Adams in the red zone, setting up the game-tying field goal.
Bonus play: Third-and-10 from the Green Bay 6, fourth quarter, 1:17 left
Result: 47-yard completion to Valdes-Scantling
This doesn't deal with Buckner specifically, and it's out of order chronologically. But it's worth showing to see what Rodgers meant in his postgame media Zoom call about holding the safety with his eyes in order for Valdes-Scantling to have enough room to haul in the deep ball. The camera is too far away to see exactly where Rodgers is looking, but by watching S Julian Blackmon (32) on the play, it's clear that Rodgers' eyes – as well as possibly his footwork/stance in the pocket – make Blackmon think a throw outside the numbers to WR Allen Lazard (13) is just as likely as the bomb down the middle. Staying on Lazard an extra fraction of a second is all it takes for Blackmon to be just a tick late arriving to try to knock the ball away from Valdes-Scantling. Rodgers made sure Blackmon didn't know where the ball was going until it was well out of his hand.