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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

5 key takeaways from the 49ers’ stunning loss to the Packers

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 27, 2021 at 2:30 PM--

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Last night, the 49ers lost 30-28 to the Green Bay Packers in a thrilling matchup that came down to the wire, as Mason Crosby won the game for the Packers with a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

Jimmy Garoppolo led a potential game-winning drive, marching the 49ers down the field on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended in a 12-yard touchdown completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk with 37 seconds remaining in the game. At the time, the Packers had no timeouts, but rather the NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers, who delivered two major completions to Davante Adams, setting up the game-winning field goal.

With the loss, the 49ers drop to 2-1 on the season with a tough matchup with the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday at home, before heading to Arizona in Week 5 for another division matchup.

With that said, let's break down the five major takeaways of this game.

1. Green Bay dominates the trenches

The storyline heading into this weekend's matchup was Green Bay losing its Pro Bowl backup swing tackle Elgton Jenkins, forcing it to start third-stringer LT Yosh Nijman and RT Billy Turner.

In the first two weeks of the season, the 49ers dominated the line of scrimmage on the defensive side, with Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, and Dee Ford leading the charge, so taking care of a banged-up Green Bay offensive line would be no problem, right?

Well, it was the opposite.

The 49ers managed just one sack from Arik Armstead, and that play came early in the game. For almost the whole night, Aaron Rodgers was left untouched, allowing him to drop back and continuously throw the ball deep, leading to multiple costly defensive pass interference penalties.

In fact, all four of the 49ers were, on average, barely within distance of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night, according to tracking data, per the Athletic's David Lombardi.

With the weakened secondary and an MVP as the opposing quarterback, the 49ers had to dominate against the inferior Green Bay offensive line, and failed to do so.

Transitioning to the offensive side, the Packers constantly got pressure in key moments.

The 49ers offensive line mainly faltered along the interior, as San Francisco failed to develop its run game and allowed significant pressures, killing drives.

The most important play, perhaps, was Kenny Clark getting behind Laken Tomlinson instantly on a 49ers designed-screen play, altering Jimmy Garoppolo's throw and forcing the errant fumble with less than six minutes in the game with San Fransisco down three points.

Regardless, the Packers came into the game without their main pass-rusher in Zadarius Smith, and played against a fairly-strong offensive line in the 49ers, yet still dominated in the trenches, generating a whopping four sacks on Jimmy Garoppolo.

If these two teams play once again, it would be interesting to see how that shifts, if it does at all.

2. The Performance of Jimmy Garoppolo

I'll say it: Jimmy Garoppolo is the MOST polarizing quarterback in the league, and we have a guy who's thrown 30 interceptions and 5,000 yards in the same season (sorry Jameis).

A key for tonight's game was getting off to a good start so that the 49ers could control the game with pace, keeping the ball away from Aaron Rodgers.

The opposite happened. Like, exactly the opposite.

The 49ers had three punts and an interception on their first four drives of the game, finally scoring as the half expired.

On the 49ers' first drive, the lack of a running presence harmed the 49ers as the Packers had tight coverage on 3rd down, forcing an incompletion on a Jimmy Garoppolo attempt to Mohammed Sanu.

Garoppolo looked flustered in the pocket on the second drive while facing pressure, which was put on display on an inexcusable missed 2-yard throw to a wide open George Kittle on 3rd & 1, setting up yet another 49ers punt as the Packers led 10-0.

On his first interception of the season, Garoppolo threw a fairly decent ball that was a tad bit overthrown to George Kittle, but Jaire Alexander just made a great play on the ball to make the interception and give Green Bay favorable field position.

After another punt and a Green Bay touchdown, Jimmy Garoppolo orchestrated a quick 32-yard touchdown drive ending in a Trey Lance touchdown run to put the 49ers back in the game.

Going into halftime, Garoppolo looked unsettled in the pocket and was often stuck on his first read, but also wasn't helped by multiple drops, including a killer one by Trey Sermon early.

As the game developed, Garoppolo put together two strong touchdown drives, spanning over 12 minutes combined to keep the 49ers within three and in control of their pace.

The fumble was certainly a boneheaded play that cost the 49ers down the stretch, but Kenny Clark reached the backfield untouched, which shouldn't have happened in the first place.

Then, Garoppolo finished the game with what he does best: game-winning/tying drives, as he came up with a quick two-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive to give San Francisco the lead.

Overall, Garoppolo needs to remain more confident in the pocket, rather than being flustered, as it will allow him to prolong plays, rather than succumbing early and staying focused on one read.

In addition, Garoppolo remained fixated on one side of the field at times, often looking for Deebo Samuel, rather than working through his progressions and finding the open man on short passes towards the other side of the field. This happened on the last drive, where Garoppolo eyed Deebo Samuel on his out-route and forced the pass despite the presence of Jaire Alexander, rather than progressing through his reads to the left side of the field, where Brandon Aiyuk was wide open on the checkdown.

However, Garoppolo continues to excel at reading defenses at the line of scrimmage and calling the playbook to favor the 49ers depending on the scheme shown, displaying his knowledge of the offense and showing the presence of a veteran quarterback.

This game is NOT on the quarterback. There were multiple factors that led to the demise of the 49ers in this one, such as late-game defense, assertiveness, and winning the trenches. Did Garoppolo make mistakes? Yes. But, he made up for them with his poise and control of the game over the second half, and had his team in a position to win with 37 seconds left in the game. That counts for something.

3. The Packers game-winning drive

Right as Kyle Juszczyk crossed the plane to reach the endzone and give the 49ers the lead with 37 seconds remaining, my initial reaction was, "is that too much time for Aaron Rodgers?"

Well, it turned out to be, as Aaron Rodgers needed just two completions to Davante Adams over the middle to get into field goal range for Mason Crosby.

On the first play of the drive, the 49ers rushed four, meaning seven players were in coverage. The first play call was well-placed as there should've been at least one defender on all five of the Green Bay receivers. On the far side, Deommodore Lenoir had Allen Lazard covered well with Jaquiski Tartt helping as the deep safety. In the flat, Azeez Al-Shair was in coverage on Robert Tonyan, mitigating any gain should Rodgers have chosen to throw there. Then, on the other side, Dontae Johnson had the short coverage in his zone, while Emmanuel Moseley covered the boundary, with Jimmie Ward helping as the deep safety on the inside.

So, if players were almost all in position, why did the play result in a catch?

Well, Fred Warner's responsibility was the middle of the field, and he should've ran with Randall Cobb on his streak, then settled across the middle of the field deeper down where Davante Adams ended up catching the football. Had Warner done that, Rodgers would've had to force a throw in, or take a short-yardage play with the clock rolling. Instead, since Warner wasn't deep enough, Adams found a soft spot in between the linebackers and the safeties for a huge 25 yard gain.

Then, on the second play of the drive, excluding a spike, Rodgers threw a wobbly incompletion, intended for Adams once more, which was the best outcome, since Adams was still in bounds.

On the second completion to Davante Adams, the 49ers should've called timeout, as Jimmie Ward wasn't in place yet, compromising a player in a crucial situation when the time wasn't ticking.

On this play, however, the play call was a poor one, as the 49ers showed a soft coverage front, yet again, in a short field when the Packers needed just 15 yards for a field goal attempt. The safeties, Talanoa Hufanga and Jaquiski Tartt, both were set at the 35-yard line and backed up to the 25-yard line, which is inexcusable in a situation where the Packers needed yardage in the 15-yard range.

On top of that, Deommodore Lenoir, the cornerback in coverage of Davante Adams, was almost ten yards away when the ball was snapped, giving the All-Pro receiver ample space to operate and run the proper route. It was also inexcusable that Fred Warner was set up almost at the line of scrimmage, rather than in a coverage standpoint, which was amplified with Jimmie Ward not being in place.

While the 49ers wanted to give the blitz look towards Green Bay, the defensive scheme left the middle of the field wide open, even though there was enough time for one play before spiking the football.

Deommodore Lenoir played his role for the most part on this play, despite the playcall, as he covered the boundary, forcing Adams to the inside. However, the safety covering the inside, Talanoa Hufanga, was almost ten yards behind Adams as the throw was released, leaving him wide open to make the catch.

That coverage cannot happen under any circumstances with the game on the line, and will be an aspect that needs to improve in future games.

4. CB Depth

Before this game, quality cornerback depth was already a problem for the 49ers, as Josh Norman had been dealing with an ankle injury earlier in the week, Emmanuel Moseley was still nursing his knee injury, and Jason Verrett, the team's top corner, was already out for the season.

Major injuries happened in this game as Norman, who started opposite Moseley, was ruled out with a chest injury, and K'Waun Williams suffered a calf injury early, causing the 49ers to have just three active cornerbacks for a significant portion of the game: Moseley, rookie Deommodore Lenoir, and Dontae Johnson.

This was a killer aspect for the 49ers, as Rodgers constantly looked to punish the 49er defensive backs in one-on-one opportunities, leading to several defensive pass interference penalties.

The depth is more of a concern for next week, since it is unclear that Norman will play after having lung issues and being transported to the hospital from the game.

The quality of cornerbacks seemed to be the one factor holding this team back from Super Bowl contention, and that may continue to be the case if injuries keep coming.

With Norman's uncertainty, it would be interesting if the 49ers gave Richard Sherman another call as a quality depth piece and leader for the defensive back room.

5. Questionable Coaching

I was hesitant to write this column because of the creativity of Kyle Shanahan's mind, but I was not a fan of certain calls during this game that ultimately hurt the team's chances to compete.

I already aired my opinions on DeMeco Ryans's coaching over the last drive, so I won't repeat that, but I thought that was an area where better coaching would've put the team in a spot to win this game.

The most questionable call, in my opinion, was the choice to punt on 4th & 1 at the GB 49 on the first offensive drive where the ball was actually moving. Yes, the run game wasn't functioning and Jimmy Garoppolo looked flustered, but was there really not an opportunity there for a Garoppolo sneak or even a Trey Lance package to get that yard? I find it hard to believe.

Punting at that spot down 10-0 already gave the 49ers just 36 yards of field position, which Aaron Rodgers easily made up on his ensuing touchdown drive, making the score 17-0. With the momentum shifting towards the 49ers at that moment on their positive drive, moving forward could've allowed for San Francisco to control the pace of the game before the half and get the ball back to start the third quarter.

Also, on the 49ers' next drive, which ended in a touchdown, I found it somewhat questionable that Trey Lance wasn't brought in at 1st & Goal from the GB 1, even though there were just 19 seconds remaining with no timeouts.

With absolutely no rushing attack happening, keeping Jimmy Garoppolo gave away the scheme of a pass and burned the clock all the way down, giving the 49ers a desperation shot to score with Lance on 4th & Goal, which he converted.

Speaking of rushing, I thought that Shanahan overused the end-arounds and screen plays to counteract the Green Bay defense, as they came somewhat predictable as time passed, leading to plays of little to no gain and setting up long situations.

On the defensive side, I thought that DeMeco Ryans should've dialed more pressure in certain situations with linebacker blitzes, because Aaron Rodgers wasn't interested in utilizing that area of the field, instead often opting to throw the ball deep over the middle, or to the sidelines. More pressure could've helped take away that deep ball on some throws and gotten Rodgers more off balance with his comfortability, as it did in 2019 when these teams faced each other.

In addition, when he did bring pressure, Rodgers wasn't really affected, and that left defensive backs vulnerable to 1-on-1 situations, which extended drives for Green Bay.

The game really seemed out of hand for the most part, as the 49ers failed to capitalize on opportunities where they could've taken the lead, allowing Green Bay to hold the lead for a major portion of the game.

With the Seahawks coming to Levi's next week, the 49ers need to improve from this game and make adjustments to have an advantage over their division rivals.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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