Monday, January 14, 2013

Why I was so wrong about the 49ers

In my last blog post, I predicted that the Green Bay Packers would beat the San Francisco 49ers 35-17. As things played out, I was very, very wrong:

With a strong arm that allowed him to pick the Packers apart from the pocket and speedy legs that helped him break free for big gains, Colin Kaepernick did a little bit of everything in a record-setting, sensational playoff debut - and Aaron Rodgers just couldn't keep up.
Kaepernick passed for 263 yards and ran the San Francisco 49ers right back to the NFC championship game with a 45-31 win over Green Bay in an NFC divisional game Saturday night. Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw two scoring passes to Michael Crabtree.

The four reasons I thought Green Bay would win were 1) Justin Smith, 2) Aaron Rodgers, 3) Frank Gore and 4) Offensive coaching. All four reasons were essentially wrong.

Justin Smith, who was playing with a partially torn ligament in his triceps, was more than adequate. I had expected him to be ineffective and, as a result, the 49ers defense would not be able to stop the Packers. Green Bay did score 31 points, only 4 less than I had predicted, but that was not because San Francisco's defense was hampered by a poor showing from Justin Smith. Also, it should be noted that 7 of the 31 points Green Bay tallied were scored by their defense, following an interception return for a touchdown.

Aaron Rodgers was not bad in this game. He threw for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. His passer rating (91.5) was slightly better than Colin Kaepernick's. But Rodgers was far short of brilliant. I expected him to torch the 49ers for 4 or 5 touchdowns, not 2. I expected he would pass for more than 400 yards, and he did not come close to 300.

On the other side of the quarterback equation, I did not expect Kaepernick to be as good as he was. Although his passer rating (91.2) was similar to Rodgers's, Kaepernick was the far better quarterback in the game. He had a much better QBR (94.7 vs. 68.6), which suggests that when it counted, you could count on Kaepernick more than you could Rodgers. Additionally, Colin ran for a record 181 yards. Combined with his 263 yards passing, he accounted for 444 yards of total offense. That was Kaepernick's best game as a pro.

My prediction that Frank Gore would have trouble was also wrong. Gore had his best game since Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith. He ran for 119 yards on 23 carries. Although Gore's game seems to have been hurt by the changed offensive scheme with a spread-option quarterback, it helped the 49ers' running back that he was facing a team which has trouble defending the run. The 49ers ran for an impressive 186 yards against Green Bay in week 1 when Alex Smith was at QB. They increased that to an amazing 323 yards in the playoff game, the difference largely due to Kaepernick.

When it comes to offensive coaching--my argument was that the 49ers coordinator, Greg Roman, is not very creative--the proof that I was wrong is in the numbers: San Francisco had 579 yards; Green Bay 352 yards. On Saturday night it felt like Coach Roman opened up the playbook in a way he had not done for the last two seasons. It worked.

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