There is plenty of blame to go around after the 49ers’ 30-28 loss on Sunday night to Green Bay. Now that some time has passed since the game concluded and emotions have cooled a bit, let’s take a look at how the 49ers lost and why it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
The philosophy of the San Francisco front office has been to build the defense from the front back. The belief is that a strong pass rush will make the coverage easier for the secondary and linebackers because the quarterback won’t have much time to let receivers get open. On Sunday night the 49ers’ defensive line was unable to generate any type of pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, recording only two hits on 34 dropbacks. That’s unacceptable.
Green Bay did a good job of taking away the 49ers pass rush by having Rodgers get rid of the ball quickly, roughly half of his throws left his hand within 2.5 seconds, and using a tight end or running back to slow down Nick Bosa. The 49ers defensive end was facing the Packers third string left tackle, and the constant chips took away his speed while also no allowing him to rush around the edge.
San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had few answers throughout the game to this. While there were a few change-ups, when the game was on the line Ryans played Green Bay straight up and Rodgers made the 49ers pay. On both completions from Rodgers to Davante Adams to set up the game-winning Mason Crosby field goal, Bosa would get knocked off his track by a chip pretty much eliminating him from the pass rush. This, along with soft zone coverage allowed Rodgers to pick up the necessary yardage.
Sunday night wasn’t the first time this season that the 49ers’ defense has been carved up late in a game. In week one against Detroit, Jared Goff diced up the San Francisco defense for two fourth quarter touchdowns and was down to the 49ers’ 24-yard line on the final possession.
San Francisco’s defensive struggles weren’t limited to only the end of the game. The secondary gave up 261 yards passing and another 81 yards through the air on defensive pass interference penalties which brought the total to 342 yards. In addition, the 49ers’ defense allowed touchdown drives of 80, 87, and 86 yards during the first three quarters. The 49ers’ defense has played bend but doesn’t break defense this season, and Sunday night they broke.
The offensive side of the ball has its own issues. The first half against Green Bay played out nearly the same way it did the previous week in Philadelphia. Here are the similarities. First three possessions, the San Francisco offense ran a total of nine offensive plays. On the fourth offensive possession, the 49ers finally crossed midfield but were forced to punt. Then as the first half came to a close the offense scored a touchdown. The similarities between the two weeks were uncanny.
During the first half against Philadelphia and Green Bay, everything has looked like a struggle for the 49er’s offense. Like is often the case with football, it’s not just one thing that is causing this. The run game has struggled, pass protection has been an issue, and Jimmy Garoppolo struggles to get the ball down the field.
Kyle Shanahan is widely considered to be one of the best run game coordinators in the NFL, it’s how the 49ers have been constructed. San Francisco’s rushing offense has not been good either of the last two weeks and is currently 25th in the NFL with an average of only 3.6 yards per attempt. That still doesn’t represent how poorly the 49ers have run the ball this season. After gaining 65 yards on their first six attempts, which included 20 yards for Raheem Mostert on the first two carries of the season and a 38-yard touchdown by Elijah Mitchell, the 49ers have gained only 250 yards on their last 81 rushing attempts.
Forget what the subscription services try to feed you, the 49ers offensive line has been struggling with pass protection. Last week against Philadelphia, Jimmy Garoppolo avoided sacks and contact a number of times with his movement in the pocket. On Sunday night against a Green Bay defense playing without its best pass rusher the Packers were able to hit Garoppolo 11 times. That total is in spite of Garoppolo getting the ball out in 2.63 seconds on average, ninth quickest in the league in week three with the Monday night game still to be played.
That leaves us with the lack of a downfield passing attack. Jimmy Garoppolo has never been considered a good downfield thrower. In 2019 during his one full season as a starting quarterback Garoppolo averaged only 6.5 air yards per attempt, third lowest in the NFL. This has continued to be the case as Garoppolo’s 5.8 air yards per attempt through the first three weeks of the season is once again the third lowest in the league.
While the loss on Sunday night shed a light on a number of difficulties it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that the 49ers are 2-1, and are tied for the sixth most offensive touchdowns.
If San Francisco can figure out how to get the offense going earlier in games it will go a long way toward helping out a defense that through three weeks has proven to be up and down. With tough division games coming up with Seattle and Arizona the 49ers need to get things together quickly.