There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Packers’ early playoff exit. Special teams was putrid, Aaron Rodgers missed some throws, AJ Dillon went down with an injury, and there were some drive-killing penalties and missed assignments. Green Bay’s offense did not look like the team we had seen the last seven weeks of the season where they scored under 30 points just one time.
Every drive and every play matters in the playoffs. We knew the special teams was a liability, so let’s look at what went wrong on each of the Packers’ nine non-touchdown drives.
Drive #2 – Marcedes Lewis’ Fumble
Tight end Marcedes Lewis’ fumble was the first and most obvious play that shifted momentum away from the Packers. During Green Bay’s first drive they did a great job of mixing run and pass, had gotten some good gains on inside zone and duo, and kept the 49ers defense off balance. The Packers picked up right where they left off with a quick RPO to wide receiver Davante Adams and a toss to running back Aaron Jones to stretch the perimeter of the defense. The Matt LaFleur offense was in rhythm and they dialed up one of their bread-and-butter concepts: play-action rollout with a sail concept.
The concept pulls linebackers down to the run and exploits the horizontal space the other way. With pressure in his face, Aaron Rodgers dumps the ball off to Lewis who is immediately hit and fumbles the ball.
Drive #3 – Two receivers in the same spot on 3rd down
Following the turnover, the Packers force a quick three-and-out and get the ball back at their own 16-yard line. On 3rd and 6, Green Bay comes out in trips with Davante Adams isolated. Rodgers initially looks at Adams, but, as was the case most of the day, the 49ers have safety help over the top. To the three-receiver side, fullback Dominique Dafney is running a seam and clearing out the middle of the field. However, receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard both run dig routes and end up in the same spot. Rodgers can’t make anything happen on the scramble drill and the Packers have to punt the ball away.
Drive #4 – False start turns 3rd and short into 3rd and long and a sack
The 49ers once again go three-and-out and the Packers have the ball at their 17. Green Bay gets into 3rd and 3 before Allen Lazard has a false start and bumps them back to 3rd and 8. The 49ers destroy the left side of the line with a stunt. Rodgers doesn’t have enough time to dump it down to tight end Josiah Deguara in the flats for an opportunity to convert.
Drive #5 – Open field for scramble turns into a sack
In their 5th drive of the game, Green Bay finally starts to get some offensive momentum. They get a first down and are sitting at 2nd and 10 on their own 37. They run a bow concept to the bottom of the screen with running back Aaron Jones designed to pull up linebackers which allows for Davante Adams to wrap behind him. There’s a small window, but Rodgers is looking the other way. As the pocket collapses, Rodgers climbs up and out. The defense is running with their backs turned to Rodgers and there is a huge amount of space for him to scramble and pick up the first down. However, defensive end Nick Bosa disengages from his block and makes a shoe-string tackle to set up 3rd and 11.
Drive #6 – Sack fumble after big play to Aaron Jones
After the Packers gashed the 49ers late in the half with a broken play to Aaron Jones down the sideline, Green Bay is sitting at the San Francisco 14 with no timeouts and 26 seconds left. Green Bay should have at least two shots at the endzone and have a field goal as a safety net. Instead, they come away with only one play and zero points.
The Packers love to run slot fades, especially to Davante Adams. Here, the Packers run a mirrored concept with two in-breakers from their outside receivers and slot fades from Adams and Deguara. However, the 49ers are in a quarters look and aren’t threatened with plays underneath when the Packers have no timeouts. Of course, as was a theme through the game, Rodgers looks immediately at Adams and the 49ers have him bracketed. Quarters coverage also leaves San Francisco’s linebackers in the flats with leverage on those in-breaking routes from the outside. So, even if Rodgers wanted to throw those, they weren’t there. It’s a very poor play against this coverage.
Dennis Kelly is left alone on Nick Bosa, who quickly wins. Rodgers is looking towards Adams who is covered, and Bosa gets home for the sack-fumble before Rodgers can come off his read and hit what would have been a wide-open Josiah Deguara in the opposite corner.
Green Bay then has to settle for clocking the ball and attempting a field goal – which gets blocked.
Drive #7 – Rodgers panics in the pocket
To start the second half, San Francisco drove 39 yards for a field goal to make the game 7-3. In response, Green Bay came out with one of their five three-and-outs of the game. On 3rd and 10 after two incompletions, the Packers are running verticals with Adams isolated and running a dig. The 49ers are again in a quarters look and bringing a corner blitz. Rodgers feels the pressure, panics, and tries to escape. If he instead had calmly climbed, he has a great pocket and Davante Adams breaking open in the middle of the field for a big gain.
Drive #8 – A familiar play in the red zone comes up short
In pivotal moments in their last two playoff games, the Packers have run with the exact same play, on the exact same down and distance, out of the exact same formation, in the exact same spot on the field. Against Tampa Bay, it would have given the Packers the opportunity to tie the game with a two-point conversion late in the 4th quarter. Against San Francisco, it would have put Green Bay up 14-3 with under 12 minutes to go.
On a 3rd and goal from the 8-yard line and on the left hash, the Packers dialed up empty with a Levels concept to the top of the screen. The exact same spot, endzone, and play call as the Packers’ 3rd and goal from the 8 that they failed to convert against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An incompletion on that play led to Matt LaFleur kicking his controversial field goal to narrow the deficit to five.
Levels has two five-yard ins from the #1 and #2 receivers with a corner from #3. The goal of the concept is to simultaneously stress the underneath zones while also attacking the deep zone behind them with the corner route. As the safety takes the corner route and the slot defender comes inside with Davante Adams, Allen Lazard is open outside for Green Bay’s best chance at getting in the endzone. Rodgers holds the ball, takes the sack, and the Packers have to settle for three points.
Against the Buccaneers, Rodgers also misses Lazard on the outside route before scrambling and throwing incomplete to Adams.
Drive #9 – Bad throw on Cover 2 go ball to Davante Adams
When cornerback Josh Norman came into the game to replace injured starter Dontae Johnson, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Aaron Rodgers would take a shot at him with Davante Adams. On a ball that Rodgers and Adams have completed like clockwork before, Rodgers makes a poor throw that is low and away from Adams. The ball falls incomplete and the Packers have to face a 3rd and long. Rodgers is subsequently sacked on that 3rd and long and the 49ers then block the ensuing punt.
Drive #10 – Allen Lazard is wide open
By now, we all know what play is coming. On perhaps Rodgers’ last throw as a Packer, he misses a wide-open Allen Lazard on a dagger concept. The 49ers do bring a unique blitz with safeties coming from depth, but Rodgers is well protected and should clearly see the rotation to protect the post from Davante Adams. Despite that, Rodgers takes the shot to Davante when there are no underneath defenders to get into the throwing lane to Lazard who is just about to break open in the middle of the field.
There’s no doubt the 49ers are a good team, but the Packers were in control for much of the contest and had some monumental miscues that led to them sitting at home for the NFC championship game. One play can make all the difference, and Green Bay had chances, but never could manufacture the one that would win them the game.