Although the San Francisco 49ers’ offense was clearly devastated by injuries on Thursday evening, it was more than gratifying for Green Bay Packers fans as their team cruised to a 34-17 victory. By no means was this matchup the type of barometer game envisioned when the schedule was first released, but a short-week win on the West Coast is never taken for granted. And neither are turnovers.
The Packers’ defense created two takeaways last night after very few to open the season. A little bit of extra pressure helped force both and could be a positive development looking ahead to the second half of the season. Today’s musings, on an atypical post-game Friday, touch on that topic, while also examining a blooming run defender and a standout offensive play in last night’s win.
Matt LaFleur draws up some new red zone creativity
One of my more consistent frustrations with the Packers’ offense in recent years has been short-yardage struggles, particularly with one yard to go. Oftentimes, this has been a red zone issue from the one-yard line itself. Against San Francisco, Head Coach Matt LaFleur used a new wrinkle to help the Packers quickly get six points.
After a curious (potential make-up call) pass interference penalty midway through the second quarter, Green Bay had a first-and-goal at the 49ers’ one-yard line. Pre-snap motion has been a friend to the Packer offense in 2020, but this time they used Marquez Valdes-Scantling in motion at the snap from a 12 personnel set. Streaking toward Aaron Rodgers in what appeared to be an end-around, MVS was the perfect decoy as Rodgers first faked the hand-off to Aaron Jones and then bluffed a look at MVS. Meanwhile, Marcedes Lewis bluffed his own perceived run-blocking before sneaking uncovered to the right side of the end zone.
The result was an easy pass-and-catch for the score. Emmanuel Moseley sprinted all the way across the field at the snap to shadow MVS, while San Francisco’s two linebackers moved up near the line of scrimmage anticipating a Jones run. That left no one on the entire right side of the field in coverage. Not often have the Packers showed a play-action double-fake concept in the red zone, much less used it with Lewis as the target. Viewers did not see it coming and neither did the 49ers. Kudos to LaFleur.
Are the defensive takeaways about to arrive?
During the 2019 regular season, the Packers accumulated 25 defensive turnovers and 16 by the end of their eighth game. Four of those games were multiple-turnover affairs in which Green Bay dominated the turnover margin and aided the team to victory. While the defense had its deficiencies, particularly against the run, the unit’s pressures and turnovers were critical in keeping opposing offenses off the field and helping the Packers reach a 13-3 record.
Last year’s numbers are a stark contrast to those of 2020. So far, the Packers have tallied just six turnovers and finally broke a streak of zero interceptions since Week 2 with Raven Greene’s pick last night. Perhaps some of those lack of takeaways have been due to the absence of Kevin King, the team’s interception leader a year ago. But the issues with pass rushing and overall defensive calls have impacted those tallies as well. Even though opponents have been running with ease on the Packers’ defense, they have still passed more than they have run.
Regardless of the reasoning, one thing is for sure. The turnovers need to start coming for Green Bay in the second half of the season to remain in the top handful of NFC teams. Last night was a good start with Greene’s interception, along with Darnell Savage’s near-pick, and Za’Darius Smith’s sack-strip. Each of those plays against the 49ers showed just how much of a game-changer turnovers can be when the offense is cooking. Maybe this is the beginning of an aggressive trend in that area with Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine’s seat getting hot.
Montravius Adams is finally beginning to fill a role
Earlier this week, a pair of tweets about Montravius Adams provided below raised an eyebrow. With the Packers’ run defense grabbing storylines for the wrong reasons, perhaps Adams is creating a more positive one.
Montravius Adams is finally starting to show flashes of what the #Packers saw from him coming out of college.— Packer Report (@PackerReport66) October 30, 2020
Per @PFF, Adams ranks 16th out of 132 qualifying D-lineman in run defense.
He may not blow up the stat sheet, but he's consistently finding ways into the backfield. pic.twitter.com/Mi3x36MEFS
In a contract season, Adams appears to finally be coming into his own as a run defender after the Packers selected him in the third round four years ago. He has a few splash plays each game as seen above and had another one in run support against San Francisco. Although unblocked on a run play in the second quarter, Adams was able to crash inside without giving up the edge to take down the running back for a minimal gain.
Still, despite some of the stat lines being tossed around, the highest defensive snap count Adams has logged this season is 46% of the plays last night against the 49ers - and that’s even with Kenny Clark’s injuries earlier this season. This number also includes a confusing six snaps total against Minnesota two games ago.
Adams has made a case for more snaps the rest of the season, particularly on first and second down, and could be one of those internal pieces to help fix the run woes. Of course, that is if the Packers can show a little more trust and if they can stop dropping him into coverage as they did again last night.