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By The Numbers: The 49ers Shred the Pack

Sep 9, 2012 at 10:00 PM

As of 1:24 pm on Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers hadn't won a game at Lambeau Field since 1990. Four quarters later, things had changed. Big time. As the 49ers knelt on the ball to kill the game's final seconds, 22 years of frustration came to a screeching halt, and the table was set for what could end up being a hotly contested playoff rematch…maybe, anyway.

From start to finish, the 49ers outplayed the favored Packers, and they did so by sticking to their tried and true formula for success: smart clock management, jostling for field position, stout defense and intelligent offense.

Magic Number? 125.6
While the 49ers' victory at Lambeau was historic, there is something about it that some might overlook: for four quarters of regular season football, Alex Smith outplayed Aaron Rodgers. On the day, Smith was 20 of 26 (77%) for 211 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions.

To say that Smith was "efficient" would be a huge understatement. To call him a "game manager" would be a disservice. What Smith did today (in my eyes, anyway) was put to rest the question of whether or not he is a good quarterback. Smith is good. Very good. His 125.6 rating on the day is not a misprint…it is a testament to the job this coaching staff has done tailoring the offense to his strengths and to what a little consistency can do for a talented QB.

Chuck n' Duck? Yes…and No
With the acquisitions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and AJ Jenkins, may 49er fans had dreams of 85-yard TD passes dancing in their heads. But that just isn't the 49ers' style of play. Make no mistake, there will be deep looks this season…but at no point will the 49er offense resemble anything close to the attack employed by the Packers.

What was evident as the game unfolded is that the 49ers have little interest in challenging deep double coverage. Instead, the 49er coaching staff seems to be content using its new pieces to move the defense around, stretch zones and to create favorable mismatches with creative personnel groupings. Case in point: On the TD strike to Randy Moss, he found a seam, and the safety that was supposed to roll left to pick him up was frozen by a very well conceived clearing route.

With all of their new weapons, it is only logical to assume that the 49ers will throw the ball more. But their increased pass attempts will likely be solidly conceived, sometimes conservative, sometimes hyper-frustrating but always aimed at protecting the ball and taking advantage of mismatches (even when those mismatches are short passes…or passes not intended for Randy Moss).

Built to Grind
Once the 49ers had the lead, Coach Harbaugh did what he does best: he used jumbo looks, unbalanced offensive lines, and "bell cow" runner Frank Gore to grind the Packers into a pile of green and yellow goo.

On the day, the 49ers ran for 186 yards, 112 of which were accounted for by Frank Gore. Gore averaged 7 yards per carry, Hunter averaged 4.6 yards per carry and read-option stud Colin Kaepernick toted the rock for 17 yards on his lone carry.

Once they had the lead, the 49ers appeared to have just one goal: to chew up as much clock as possible, thus limiting Aaron Rodgers' opportunities to score. The strategy worked. When the game was over, the 49ers held the lead and the edge on time of possession, 33 minutes to 27.

Fantastic Finish
For a game that the 49ers largely dominated, the score was much closer than the first three quarters would indicate. After the worst call in the history of professional athletics (of course, I am referring to the blown block in the back call on Anthony Dixon), the Packers were right back in the game in the early fourth quarter…and curiously, most of my neighbors were wondering whether or not someone was being murdered in my living room.

Though the 49er defense had done a great job of containing reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodger for most of the day (constant pressure, multiple hits and the game's lone interception), in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, he caught fire.

With less than 2 minutes left, the Packers had the ball, and a chance to tie the game. The last play…arguably the best defensive play of the game…sealed the victory. On 4th and 10 from the 49er 45 yard line, Chris Culliver perfectly defended a long pass attempt to Jordy Nelson and just like that, the contest was over.

Coming into this game, the Packers were favored to win. The Niners were expected to fold. The unstoppable force was supposed to displace the immovable object. By the numbers, this game was supposed to illustrate that the Packers were the better team.

But as it turns out, the only numbers that mattered at the end of Sunday's game were 1 and 0. And the better team is headed back to San Francisco looking to run those numbers to 2 and 0 when they square off against the Detroit Lions next Sunday Night at Candlestick Park.
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.


  • Charles
    I enjoyed reading your column, and I agree w/ your evaluation of the Niners strategy. The game plan was executed almost perfectly by Harbough and Co. I was happy to see Alex play to the potential that I tought he always had..keep up the good work.
    Sep 15, 2012 at 7:15 PM
  • bret badura
    in harbaugh and Trent I trust! what an unbelievable job of coaching, scouting, and executing a brilliant gameplan! even when things got Chippy with the refs and players we remained solid and focused. I want to mention something in regards to alex Smith and our home fans. I want those home fans that booed alex Smith on the field the year before last to offer alex a sincere apology. I will never forget that image of you traitor fans booing your players. you should ofbewn booing singeltary and the horrific coaching. NOW what do you think of alex? what a great person, great story, and now he's finally rewarded with a hall of fame worthy coaching staff. niners for life
    Sep 14, 2012 at 9:05 AM
  • mikesf
    While the team continues to improve, the concern I still have it the poor 3rd down conversion rate. While it is still early, they need to work on this and the red zone. If they don't, the will keep the opposition in the game longer than they should just like the Packers. Nevertheless, the 49ers continue to prove that they are an elite team and can be in a league by themself if they can fit the two issues.
    Sep 11, 2012 at 4:29 PM
  • ddmur
    My gripe on Alex Smith is that he is too willing to take the sack rather than throw the ball away. At least two of his sacks (one of Staley's) was because he held the ball too long and didn't step up in the pocket. That said, if someone told me two years ago that Smith was going to play the kind of game that he did in Green Bay on Sunday, I would not have thought it possible. Given this team, there is no question that he could take the team to the superbowl.
    Sep 10, 2012 at 6:00 PM
  • 16280
    Interestingly enough P Manning & Alex had almost identical numbers for the day. Maybe JH & TB know what they are doing after
    Sep 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM
    Response: Couldn't have said it any better.
  • Mike
    Wow the team looked great! I'm still not on board with Alex smith though. He was staring down receivers and missing the alt reads. With that said I am AMAZED at the job J.H and company have done with him. When we get a real QB under center we will be unstoppable! And Akers is awesome!
    Sep 10, 2012 at 9:10 AM
    Response: The team did look good, Mike, but I suggest you takea closer look at Alex Smith's game. This was the best performance by a 49er QB in at least 9 seasons, and almost certainly one of the best performances by a 49er QB at Lambeau. The 49ers need to make some improvements (pass protection, better tackling in the opponent's backfield, and offensive 3rd down conversion rate) but QB play yesterday was very impressive.
  • Niner
    Great game! Staley was eaten alive or we would have scored even more. Aldon playing full time should get better, but we obviously must improve the pass rush. I think it's obvious teams will be focusing on passing to beat us, not running the ball.
    Sep 10, 2012 at 7:44 AM
    Response: Aldon looked just fine, Ahmad Brooks looked superhuman, Justin Smith looked as good as always, and Ray McDonald was very effective. All told, our pass rush did what it was supposed to: make Rodgers throw before he wanted to. As far as Staley goes, remember, he took a huge (and uncalled) shot in the face early in the game. He played the majority of the game with a broken nose.
  • hackphx
    The replacement ref thing is about money. Jerry Jones is lying. They are not just as good and he knows it. Like rookie players they can't keep up with the speed of the NFL. Someone is going to get hurt and the fans are getting ripped off. This isn't a labor negotiation it's fraud.
    Sep 10, 2012 at 5:35 AM
    Response: You're right on the money. The worst calls were the personal foul on Aldon Smith and the whiff when Anthony Dixon was blocked in the back. Sooner or later, these guys are going to screw up the outcome of a game...and when that happens, the fans will positively erupt.
  • Chris
    I think our style of play is going to majorly disrupt the prevailing NFL common 'wisdom' that teams that don't field 4 receivers, attempt 50 throws and don't score 35 points per game are going the way of dinosaurs. Glad to see rock solid defense, the strong ground game and some solid QBing still wins!
    Sep 10, 2012 at 3:54 AM
    Response: Jim Harbaugh is just taking the path of least resistance. Almost evey team is turning to "chuck n' duck" spread offense. As a result, defenses are building themselves to stop the pass. Hence, Harbaugh is building a big, athletic team that can really punish smaller, quicker defenses. Case in point: Frank's late game saunter into the end zone. This 49er offense is going to be giving opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
  • James
    Awesome article. Nobody gots it betta than us!
    Sep 9, 2012 at 11:57 PM
    Response: Thanks amigo! Go Niners!
  • Rawdel
    Alex Smith played well, as did the defense. Crabtree also looks to have a solid season this year. Cant wait for Detroit!
    Sep 9, 2012 at 10:44 PM
    Response: Next weeks game should be beyond entertaining. From the Harbaugh/Schwartz feud to who Ndamakong Suh will start ish with, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.
  • cutitoff
    One area i was bummed about was in the fourth quarter the Niners had the ball on two straight possessions and needed to run the clock down by getting a couple of first downs to either seal the victory or limit the Packers chances and they just couldn't quite do it, so it made it more of a nail biter to the end..great game
    Sep 9, 2012 at 10:39 PM
    Response: You're right. As soon as he's healthy, look for the 49ers to use Brandon Jacobs in those situations. He'll end up being the short yardage staple for the team as the season progresses.
  • ftgambit
    Alex Smith will be a top 5 QB this year I've been saying it since April and I knew Alex was a good QB with weapons and good system I've been saying that for 3 years
    Sep 9, 2012 at 10:04 PM
    Response: Feel free to point fingers at the doubters. Since Alex won't, someone has to.

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