49ers Rewind; Taking a look at what led to Sunday night’s loss

San Francisco 49ers’ Trey Sermon scores a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter of their game in Santa Clara on Sunday, September 26, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

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 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 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.

This article has 41 Comments

  1. Thanks Jack. Perfect Concise Informative.

    Question: There was a playoff game in which the 9ers had Keena Turner at critical times blast the Giants’ one excellent receiver at the line of scrimmage. Similarly the Niners should have blasted and held Adams at the line of scrimmage even with two guys. The five yard penalty wouldn’t hurt and even if Rodgers throws it away — that’s still 5-10 seconds off the clock. Last year wasn’t there a game in which every eligible receiver was held and practically tackled. Was that outlawed by a rule change?

  2. Uncle Sherman signing with the Bucks… It will be interesting to see Brady and Sherman’s 1st meeting as team mates. :)

    1. “You mad bro “- LOL. I actually heard interviews with both guys who said that they have become friends and they text back and forth after games discussing schemes , coverages etc.

  3. Good write up Jack. Since GB had no time outs would it not be better to squib kick or not kick into end zone to run off a few more seconds on the clock? Asking for a friend.

    1. Yes, it would have been better to have kicked a high floater landing inside the ten yard line. Death by a million tiny cuts.

    2. Yes, but more of a power kick. Think of it like hitting a line drive. Get the ball on a line over the front group and try to hit it around the 25. That way the returner needs to field the ball which will make the clock run.

  4. Really great stuff Jack. I love it when my biases are confirmed with actual video evidence. The coverage on the last drive is inexplicable. I really do believe DeMeco Ryans will get better with experience. However, he must improve or his tenure will be short. I have a feeling Shanahan is as direct and honest with his coaches as he is with his players. Hopefully, DeMeco got the message that his performance against the Packers wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t blame Demmo for bailing on his coverage of Adams. He should be coached to cover tightly because he has safety help.

    On the O-line problems I can point all the issues to one single day and one single decision. With the 48th pick in the 2021 Draft the San Francisco 49ers select Aaron Banks. 14 Picks later the Packers select Josh Myers. One pick later the Chiefs select Creed Humphries. 3 games in to the season:

    Alex Mack – Overall PFF Grade – 59.9
    Josh Myers – Overall PFF Grade – 66.3
    Creed Humphries – Overall PFF Grade – 70.4

    The plan to sign Mack and draft a Guard looks like a poor decision right now. Seems like the 49ers should have signed a FA Guard and drafted a Center.

    1. “The plan to sign Mack and draft a Guard looks like a poor decision right now. Seems like the 49ers should have signed a FA Guard and drafted a Center.”

      Perhaps this is easy to say in hindsight (and it is still early in the season) and you did say “right now”. But KS knows Mack and center is very important in his offense. So, I don’t fault him for this decision. Admittedly, I expected more from Mack since he is a seasoned pro and familiar with KS. But, too early, I think, for the team to bail on him (not that they have anyone else who can fill his position at this point).

      1. I’m just some commenter on a blog with an opinion. I do trust Shanahan and Lynch to know more about football than I’ll ever know but I’m growing more and more dissatisfied with their drafts and personnel decisions. I am a little butt hurt about Aaron Banks because I simply don’t think he’s very good. Hindsight is definitely 20/20 but I do recall multiple people saying Mack may be not very good any more. Plus there were several very talented Centers coming out in this draft. You could have had your 10 year anchor drafted this year to go along with Trey Lance so they could grow together. If you look at the 49er glory days under Bill Walsh you can trace his amazing success to his talent evaluation. I mean winning the SuperBowl with 3 rookie defensive backs. Finding Bill Ring who was an awesome special teams player at an open tryout. For my money the 49ers 1986 Draft was the greatest draft of all time. You had Joe Montana and then Steve Young and then Walsh recommended Jeff Garcia. I don’t see the same talent evaluation coming out of 49er headquarters right now. In my opinion, Kyle Shanahan is the best offensive coach in football. But if you keep drafting guys like Joe Williams, Dante Pettis, and Jalen Hurd eventually Xs and Os don’t matter because the talent level is inferior. Maybe pairing a rookie head coach with a GM with zero personnel experience just wasn’t a great idea.

  5. Really curious Jack about your thoughts on that last drive. I was thinking I might rush 5 or 6 and force Rodgers to throw quickly. 1 sack likely ends the game. Deep shell and come up to make tackles on shorter throws. Norman and Williams were already out of the game so you’re playing with rookies in the secondary. You’ve got 2 rookies on Devonte Adam’s side of the field. Why put them in a position to have to hold down the best QB/WR duo in football to save a game especially when you’ve barely been able to get any pressure all night? I really think you have to blitz on that last drive. The Packers went something like 40 yards on 2 throws and those plays took a total of 20 seconds out of the 37 seconds available. My thought was if you make the Packers run 4 plays and allow completions on shorter routes there’s no way they can get to the line and get reset and run enough plays to get in field goal range.

    My other thought on those plays was not one single o-lineman went to the ground. They were able to easily sprint from a standing position up to the line of scrimmage to down the ball to stop the clock. I’f I’m blocked I’m literally tackling an O-lineman during the play which is totally legal to make him take more time to get reset for the next play. If you look at your replay, Packers o-lineman had to sprint 25 yards downfield and spike the ball to stop the clock. They did that in less than 5 seconds on 2 different plays. Packers had no timeouts. Every second counted. Make an o-lineman go to the ground so it takes longer for the Packers to reset.

    1. I thought the execution showed poor situational awareness. That’s on the players and Ryans. Warner and the linebackers needed to get more depth on the first play. On the second completion Lenoir needs to play tight like you see Moseley doing on the bottom. There’s no reason in that situation and with help over the top to be playing soft like he did. And finally, Ryans needs to understand that a chip is coming to both DE’s and make an adjustment to get Bosa and Ford more inside.

      I get that it was Aaron Rodgers and the first throw was good, but the defense helped him out as well.

      1. Of course what you say is true. Any loss is on the players and coaches. But I say the end of game drive was 95% on DeMeco. On that final drive, DeMeco left 2 rookies, Lenoir and Hufanga, alone to guard Adams on the games deciding play. On the final drive, the Packers ran 3 pass plays and all went to Adams. Up to that point Adams had 11 receptions for about 120 yards and 1 TD. Everyone in the stadium knew the ball was going to Adams and both DEs would be chipped. No adjustment from DeMeco whatsoever. Why not adjust the rush strategy? Why not put Moseley on Adams? I really think that final drive was a total failure in adjusting strategy to fit the situation. That’s on DeMeco. The good news is that these issues can be fixed. I do think DeMeco will get better as he gains experience. The 49ers defense is too talented to be ranked in the bottom half of the league after 3 games.

  6. This was a great breakdown Jack. Much appreciated.
    I dislike simple griping without some film to backup what we are seeing.

    I think Ryans will be ok, but he will have a lot of growing pains this year similar to Saleh in year one. Unfortunately, in the NFL where the margins are so small it could easily sink this teams playoff hopes (not that I expect it to).

  7. When you think about it, the fact that SF was in this game at all is amazing.
    SF’s identity, has been their pass rush and running game… and GB dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball.
    Jimmy was hit on one quarter of his drop backs and he has the 6th least amount of time to throw. As he is getting rid of the ball in 2.54 seconds. This is not a pro Jimmy argument but rather a statement on how bad the pass pro has been.

    On Defense the Dline is giving up an average of 4.7 yards per carry 6th worst in the NFL. They are regularly getting blown off the ball and these LB’s are not thumpers, so they are not going to fill in gaps.

    Given that GB has the better QB, better WR’s, better RB and they outplayed SF in the trenches… how was SF in this game at all? I still can’t wrap my head around this.

  8. Very nice analysis, Jack.

    The O line play on Sunday was rather disappointing in its inconsistency. Hopefully, they will pick up the pace as they enter the stretch with divisional games.

  9. Extremely nice write up. It helps to make the picture clearer. Hopefully they will clean some things up this week so we can beat the hated Seahawks.

  10. Good stuff, Jack.

    I don’t understand the “miscommunication” between Mack and Williams that led to Jimmy getting hit. First off, Mack is quite removed from Williams and number 91. So shouldn’t Williams maybe anticipate that 91 might come after Jimmy rather than dropping back? Also I would have thought that Trent would have seen 91 rushing at Jimmy from his peripheral vision. No doubt Trent would have reacted late, but I would have expected some attempt by TW to take on 91. Instead he made absolutely no attempt as if he had no idea.

    What do you mean by miscommunication between Mack and Williams? Was Mack supposed to have communicated to TW that 91 might blitz? Isn’t Williams in a much better location to make that determination than Mack?

    1. The only other thing I can think of is that TW was expecting Juice to pick up 91. But that wouldn’t be Mack’s call, would it. That’s something Jimmy G should call?

    2. Thank you, Cubus. Shanahan was asked about this play during the conference call on Monday.

      > Green Bay Packers LB Preston Smith laid a pretty big hit on Jimmy. Was that on T Trent Williams or was that supposed to be a free rusher?

      “No, yeah that was on Trent. He got confused with where the center was going and the center was going to that side. So, he ended up squeezing a play he shouldn’t of squeezed. Left 91 unblocked.”

      The point here was the 49ers dealt with a number of communication issues along the line last season. The constant shuffling at center played a role in that and the signing of Mack was mostly about eliminating this stuff.

      1. So, just to be clear, Jimmy G was expecting TW to pick up PS and there was no need for JG to call out 91.

        BTW: how does it work when you have both the center and QB setting the protections. It seems like the QB has the better view, so wouldn’t his calls take precedence over the center.

          1. I’ve seen a lot of QBs call out various players on the defensive front seven – typically linebackers. I have to say that I don’t recall seeing Jimmy do this too often. I’ll try to pay more attention during the Squawks game.

    3. cubus, the Center is the one making those line calls. You can’t have each OL making his own calls, because that would lead to chaos upfront.

      Alex Mack has been one of my major disappointments for the 49ers offense so far this season. I assumed he might show some of the physical regression we would expect from a 35 year old, but I figured his communication skills would make up for it, and through 3 games, the OL seems completely out of sync.

      But I need to be frank …. the problems I’m seeing right now, seem to be at least partially rooted in some of the poor personnel decisions that we saw this offseason. Rather than putting the final touches on a roster that most people believed had Super Bowl asperations when healthy, the 49ers tried to have their cake, and eat it too, this off-season. Unfortunately, the margins in the NFL are too thin to take this approach. If they really thought they were contenders THIS season, they should have had taken an entirely different team building (free agency AND the draft) strategy to shore up the 2021 roster, IMO.

      For example: Aaron Banks and Trey Sermon – both of these players were drafted to compliment Trey Lance, and the Trey Lance offense, NOT the offense they are currently using. If you want to see what Trey Sermon does best, go back and watch last year’s Big 10 Championship game! His rushing performance gave me goosebumps! Watching him and Justin Fields running Z/R and RPO concepts out of SHOTGUN formation, was poetry in motion! Guess what formation Trey Lance was in most of the time in 2019? SHOTGUN! What concepts was he running out of the gun? Mostly RPO heavy and Z/R concepts. And when he was under center, it was mostly play action passing with power rushing concepts – and isn’t it obvious that Aaron Banks is a much better fit for more of those those power rushing concepts?

      So what we are seeing is that the Niners’ top 4 picks (Ambry Thomas was drafted with the 102 pick, behind a number of big, physical, standout rookie CB’s who were all ranked much higher than Thomas, and are all off to impressive rookie seasons – Horn, Surtain II, Stokes, Samuel Jr, Adebo) are contributing very little to this team right now. It seems clear that all 3 of these offensive players drafted in the first 3 rounds, were drafted primarily for their fit along side QB Trey Lance.

      I am all for planning ahead, but all of the best teams in the league right now are teams that used the top half of the draft to bring in young, talented players who could make a difference for them this season. When you believ you are a contender, and you have as much invested at the QB position as the 49ers do this season, you have use the draft to find players whom you believe can contribute right away.

      For me, when I consider all of the things Kyle has said and done during this offseason, as well as all of the personnel decisions the team made, it seems clear to me that moving on from Garoppolo was the plan THIS SEASON, but somewhere along the line that plan changed, and unfortunately it changed well after free agency and the draft, which is why the 49ers appear to have made so many head-scratching personnel decisions during this critical off-season. And while I do believe that their investment in the Trey Lance era will pay off in the long run, the team is likely going to pay the price for looking past the season, in the short term. That bill is already due, and likely to continue to cost them dearly over this critical month ahead!

      1. And there is one more factor to consider:

        When you spend half of your training camp running plays for Lance, you can’t then completely abandon that scheme once the season starts, and go back to the same old scheme that you drafted Trey Lance to fix in the first place, and expect the offense to get off to a hot start! The 49ers basically have 2 current offensive schemes, and one of those schemes is mostly wasting away on the bench right now, even though the other scheme has been uninspired, and extremely ineffective! Kyle seems very frustrated with his offense right now, but he only has himself to blame! It’s very tough to expect good results when you take this kind of approach during training camp and the early portions of the regular season.

        They may able to smooth a lot of this stuff out, but by then they might be buried in this fantastic NFC West.

        1. And like I said … looking at this team’s long term plan, it’s hard not to get excited, however every season presents it’s own set of challenges. So with that it mind, when it comes to this season, it’s probably wise for us to temper our expectations!

          What I don’t want to see is the team spending a large portion of 2022, developing a young QB who has hardly played in 2 years. That would be a mistake, IMO!

        1. cubus, the Center makes a lot of those calls out loud, and is communicating with the entire line, not just the QB, which is one reason playing on the road, in a loud stadium, is extra tough on an offensive line.

      2. My theory is that Kyle was originally planning on drafting Mac Jones, because Kyle was done with Jimmy after another injury riddled season, and he felt like Mac was the one rookie QB who could come in and run his offense effectively as a rookie. They traded up to #3, knowing that the Patriots would probably jump ahead of them at some point, to take Mac, and there are credible reports out there that do back this theory up.

        But what happened was, Kyle began to understand that drafting Mac at #3, was going to be wildly unpopular with the fan base (in fact, I told Scooter exactly that, pre-draft) for a couple reasons. One reason being that Mc Jones wasn’t really much of an upgrade over Garoppolo. In fact, Mac would have likely been a short term downgrade, based simply on being a rookie QB. On top of that, it was just too cost prohibitive to trade away 3 firsts and a third, to draft a guy who probably the 20th ranked overall draft prospect in his class, at best! Mac Jones simply doesn’t have enough physical talent to rate much higher, even though he just came off of an extremely impressive, national championship season.

        So the backup plan was Trey Lance. The problem with that plan, in Kyle’s eyes at least, was that he wasn’t sure he wanted to depend on such an inexperienced young QB, even if his overall skillset suggested he had a very high pro ceiling. But I think the hope was that Trey could come in, and Kyle could mold a scheme around the young duel threat QB, and he could keep this team competitive, even with a rookie QB. After all, Kyle already has a history of doing just that, with a less talented rookie duel threat QB, in RG3. But at some point, either before, or during training camp, for whatever reason, Kyle changed course. Now he is about to have a full blown QB controversy on his hands, and he should have seen this coming, considering Jimmy’s history.

        1. And, BTW, this is why it’s so important for the leader to communicate with the fan base, as well as the team. That’s what the best leaders do. It’s important to set expectations appropriately.

          Whether it’s fair or not, the fan base was either all-in on Jimmy, or are ready to move on to Lance. The fan base was pretty evenly split on this question heading into training camp. And when you are winning, everything tends to work itself out. But, if you go out and lay an egg offensively, over the course of a couple early games, and in fact, barely show up for the first half of a nationally televised game, well ………..

          And when you tease a 2-QB system prior to the season, but then pull that rug out almost completely, like you’re trolling the fan base, even though your offense is struggling, well ………….

          1. Oh, I almost forgot.

            You tease a 2-QB system during the preseason, and then you act all put-out when the press, and the fan base, dare to start asking why Lance is barely playing, despite the offensive struggles…….

            It really comes down to leadership, or lack thereof!

              1. I have been a Faithful 49ERS fan dating back to the glory days of the 1980’s (I graduated from high school in 1984), and my father and I had season tickets dating back to 1982. When you help support a football team for going on 40 years, you get be critical when you they lose. I’m not saying that makes me an expert, but between watching Montana & Young, I feel like I know elite QB play when I see it. It’s a QB driven league, and it’s hard to win it all these days if you don’t have a really good one. I love Jimmy G – the person, but I simply can’t accept his deficiencies any longer. So it only goes to reason that I’m frustrated after watching him continue to use the same poor mechanics, season after season, but frankly, it’s no longer about Jimmy, IMO, it’s about the organizational decision making now.

  11. This is interesting news from Maiocco but it really is not very helpful to release it during the season.

    New book: Brady told Welker he wanted to end career with 49ers

    A new book claims Tom Brady called Wes Welker shortly after the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss and told him he would finish his career with San Francisco, if the Niners wanted to sign him

    1. His (Tom Brady) contract demand was considered reasonable: Two years, $50 million. Brady informed Welker that if the 49ers wanted him, there would be “no free-agency tour, no bidding war, full stop; he would end his career where his love of football began, in scarlet and gold, allowing his parents to drive to (his) games for the first time since the 1990s,” according to the book. Brady grew up in San Mateo as a fan of the 49ers, and his parents still live on the peninsula.

      A source confirms to NBC Sports Bay Area that the 49ers were made aware of Brady’s preference and, as is reported in the book, the organization was initially skeptical. But Shanahan asked each of his offensive assistant coaches to watch all of Brady’s pass attempts from the 2019 season and provide their evaluations, Wickersham reports. Shanahan did the same while on vacation with his family in Cabo San Lucas. According to the book, the 49ers coaches (including Kyle) merely liked Brady’s film and concluded that Brady was only marginally better than Garoppolo at that stage of both men’s careers.

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