The San Francisco 49ers suffered their first loss of the 2021 season on Sunday night as they were defeated 30-28 by the Green Bay Packers.
Let’s take a look back at a few plays which illustrate some of the issues facing the team.
1. Running game
San Francisco’s rushing offense has not been good during the first three weeks and is currently 25th in the NFL with an average of only 3.6 yards per attempt. Without Raheem Mostert the 49ers lack the explosiveness necessary to get to the outside on a regular basis. This is compounded by an offensive line which has not been able to generate any movement at the line of scrimmage.
This was on full display during the 49ers’ third offensive play against Green Bay. The 49ers are trying to get to the edge on a toss sweep by rookie Trey Sermon. At the snap, you can see center Alex Mack get blown backward by a Packers defensive lineman who is then able to track Sermon down the line of scrimmage and grab his ankle.
Until the 49ers offensive line can start to win at the point of attack getting the running game going will be a struggle San Francisco. This is a major problem for an offense which relies on the run to set up the play action pass.
2. Passing game
One of the main reasons the 49ers signed Alex Mack this offseason was to improve the communication issues that doomed the 49ers’ offense in 2020. This made sense considering the veteran had played under Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland and Atlanta.
On Sunday night there were at least two plays on which a miscommunication at the line of scrimmage resulted in a free runner coming at Jimmy Garoppolo resulting in a negative play.
The first instance shown came late in the third quarter with San Francisco facing third and three at their own 35-yard line. According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, a miscommunication between Mack and left tackle Trent Williams led to Williams stepping inside on the play instead of turning out to pick up the Green Bay outside linebacker. With nobody blocking him, the Packers defender hits Garoppolo as he tries to throw over the middle to Mohamed Sanu resulting in an incompletion.
The miscommunication issue comes up again early in the fourth quarter. On this play, the 49ers’ offensive line blocks left while tight end George Kittle blocks right. This leaves Green Bay defensive end Rashan Gary unblocked and he is able to get to Garoppolo just as the quarterback finishes his play fake and is beginning to set his feet to throw which ultimately leads to a sack.
Garoppolo was sacked four times and hit a total of 11 by a Green Bay defense that was missing its best pass rusher.
3. Offense is out of sync
The #49ers offense is so out of sync. This is supposed to be a screen pass to Sermon. Garoppolo needs to just hold it and take the sack, but instead throws it backwards as he's spinning around. pic.twitter.com/tEfxfFHV2v— Jack Hammer (@JackHammer_NFL) September 29, 2021
The 49ers’ offense is out of sync, and no play illustrates this better than the play that helped set up the 49er’s loss on Sunday night. The play was supposed to be a screen pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Sermon, but the offensive line mistimes it and the running back gets caught up behind left guard Laken Tomlinson who had released his man a little too quickly.
The timing issues upfront lead to Garoppolo having the Green Bay defensive tackle in his face as he turns around from his play fake and he ends up throwing the ball back which eventually is turned into three points for the Packers. Those three points are why Green Bay only needed a field goal at the end of the game to win.
This is a bang-bang play for Garoppolo but he needs to realize that taking a sack isn’t the worst thing that can happen on a play. While this was the first “what was he thinking” moment of 2021 for Garoppolo these types of plays have been a problem for him throughout his career.
4. Covering Grass
This brings us to the play that sets up Green Bay in position for the game-winning field goal.
Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby has a career-long field goal of 58 yards, so with the ball at midfield, Green Bay only needs to gain about 10 yards to get into his range.
49ers look like they are in 2 man on the last throw. CB has inside help if Adams runs a post. Rodgers and Adams really on the same page here 🎯 pic.twitter.com/MqN9Pk3ccp— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) September 28, 2021
49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans calls for the San Francisco secondary to be in 1-on-1 coverage with two safeties over the top to help and a straight rush from the defensive line with no twists or stunts.
At the snap of the ball, the inside Packers receivers both step down and deliver strong chip blocks to 49ers defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. These chips knock the pass rushers off balance, forcing them inside and providing Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers plenty of time in the pocket. This happened on the opening play of the possession as well and Ryans did nothing to help keep Bosa and Ford from being easy targets.
On the right side of the San Francisco defense rookie, Deommodore Lenoir is covering Packers wide receiver Davante Adams 1-on-1 with safety help inside from Talanoa Hufanaga, another rookie.
In this situation, the 49ers secondary needs to basically treat the 40-yard line as if it is the goal line. Knowing that he has help over the top, Lenoir needs to play tight coverage on Adams and try to be physical. This is something Lenoir had shown the ability to do throughout 1-on-1 drills against 49ers receivers in training camp.
Lenoir ends up playing the route so loosely that he’s basically just covering grass, and when Adams makes his cut it’s an easy completion with no San Francisco defender within five yards of him.
Bad play call. Bad execution. This was the case for San Francisco throughout the night and a fitting way for this game to end.