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Packers vs. 49ers: A Failure In Playcalling

The postseason defines what a team is and how they will be remembered. On Saturday night the Packers defined who they were in 2012 by forgetting their identity and trying to be who they wanted to be instead of playing to their strengths.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t like it when fans go ballistic over the playcalling after a loss. Generally I find this type complaint about as lazy and useless as saying that the refs were biased. There are two reasons why I find this to be the case. First, there is so much that goes into a play call that we fans do not understand. It’s about preparation, adjustments, strategy, and who the coach feels is ready at that moment. It revolves around more than we see and know about in those three hours and often it’s something that takes months for the professionals to really understand. The second reason I don’t like the complaint (and most of the reason why I find it a lazy take) is that people tend to dislike the result more than the actual play call…meaning it’s often an execution issue more than a play call issue.

Tonight I break from this viewpoint. Tonight I have to call foul on the playcalling of the Packers….and no; it doesn’t have anything to do with Dom Capers or the defense. On Saturday night, Mike McCarthy, Tom Clements or Aaron Rodgers has failed the team.

In the first week of the year the Packers played the 49ers and the 49ers convincingly defeated the Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers were beaten down on both sides of the ball, but what was troubling was to watch what the Packers did on offense. The Packers had a blatant disregard for their running game and abandoned it quickly in the game trying to outpace the 49ers with a quick strike offense. It didn’t work. The offensive imbalance caused the Packers to fall behind in the time of possession and hang the defense out to dry. Eventually the Niners pulled so far ahead the defense could simply attack Aaron Rodgers relentlessly up front while sitting in two man zones. The offense failed.

Slowly throughout the season the Packers learned to develop a running game. They even ended the year strong with a 50/50 balance between pass and run. The team even got an interesting runner in DuJuan Harris who seemed to be able to hit the holes quickly and fight for that extra yard. It seemed the Packers were finally ready to face a team like the 49ers.

In the last week of the season the Packers did in fact travel to San Francisco to face those Niners again. In the first half the offense kept a pretty solid balance. DuJuan Harris was running the ball well, and even had an 18 yard touchdown run. They were able to keep pace with the Niners and matched them blow for blow. But in the second half someone thought it would be a good idea to forget the run again. Harris would run the ball two more times, both on the first drive of the half (for three yards each), and then no more. The Packers would run the ball only two more times after cutting Harris out of the game (both runs were with Cobb and fairly successful). By the end of the game Aaron Rodgers would have 39 pass attempts to 16 running attempts for the Green & Gold (keep in mind as well three of those 16 rushing attempts were scrambles by Rodgers himself).

This is an outright failure of a plan. This was a failure of the offense in general. This was unlearning every last hard lesson that this team learned throughout the hard fought year. I know many want to indict the defense and Dom Capers. I get that, I really do…but I think jumping down the defense’s throat misses the real culprit of this loss. It’s the offense. It’s their failure to stick with what worked. More importantly, it was the offense’s failure to sustain drives. The 49ers had the ball nearly twice as long as the Packers. The Packers roughly 55 plays. The 49ers ran roughly 74 plays. While the defense failed to get the Niners off the field many times, they were also on the field way too long because the offense could not get the job done. The drives they did sustain did not take up much time since they were up tempo most of the time. The saddest part is that these up tempo drives in the second half really weren’t very effective either netting only a field goal when the game was really in question.

Throughout this postseason I said that these games would define the Packers’ year, and it did. This is a year where the Packers forgot who they were. They forgot what brought them to the playoffs. They forgot the lessons slowly learned throughout the regular season. This Packers team was a scrappy team that fought for every yard and learned balance the hard way. Unfortunately when everything was on the line they tried to be something they are not….they tried to be the super high powered offense of 2011. The problem is that this is not 2011 and that team is no more. I don’t know who is responsible for this loss of identity. Was it the new offensive coordinator? Was it the star quarterback who gets more control of the offense each year? Was the playcalling head coach? I don’t know. What I do know is who has to hold the bag at the end of the day…Mike McCarthy. Hopefully he takes this long offseason to once again learn that hard lesson and take the running game much more seriously next year.

Until then….well, we’ll just have to wait for the draft and hope that Ted Thompson can make the right moves to keep the Super Bowl window open.