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Packers film room: Aaron Rodgers saves his worst performance for possibly his last

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is partially responsible for lifeless Packers offense versus the 49ers.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The bottom line up front is Rodgers did not play well versus the 49ers in what may have very well been his last game as a Green Bay Packer. It was not supposed to end this way, with an unceremonious loss to the 49ers after finishing with the number one seed and earning the bye week.

They had higher aspirations of winning the Super Bowl and even called it their own version of the “Last Dance.” And now the future remains uncertain as to what the next chapter holds for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

It’s taboo to suggest that Rodgers plays anything but elite at all times but this was not one of those times. He shoulders as much of the loss as the special teams unit and coaches do in this one. He’s a generational quarterback who is not supposed to make these mistakes and instead is a player who can elevate those around him.

Yet on at least four key plays, the signal-caller passed up opportunities to put the dagger in the 49ers, who remained largely impotent on offense and whose special teams scored all 13 points after the offense failed to put the ball into the end zone for four quarters.

It’s equally true that the 49ers defense put the clamps on the Packers offense for most of the game outside of the opening drive. But Rodgers did not make it easy on himself or his offense either in certain situations.

First play, 1st quarter, 1st and 10 @ GB-46, 5:20

The 49ers are showing a 2-high coverage shell on first down here that rotates into a cover-3 “buzz” single-high coverage. The Packers play call is a shotgun “double go/middle read” concept with play-action they like to call to isolate Adams on go routes. If the go route isn’t there Rodgers has the option of throwing the ball to the slot receiver on the “Y-reader” route.

Versus 2-high, the slot receiver, tight end Josiah Deguara in this case, has the option of running a deeper cross/post stem that splits the two safeties or a deeper dig straight across under a middle of the field closed look (single high safety).

Rodgers drops back looking to the left but cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (No. 4) has Allen Lazard’s go route capped over the top with inside leverage. Rodgers scans next to Deguara and moves off the read too quickly in favor of looking to Adams, who’s blanketed by cornerback Dontae Johnson (No. 27).

Rodgers quickly checks the ball down Aaron Jones but Deguara was open the second he cleared linebacker Fred Warner (No. 54). He moved off the read too quickly and did not give the play a chance to develop.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw (No. 57) sees the crosser too late and tries to rob underneath Deguara but Rodgers moved on. Deguara was open for a substantial gain. The Greenlaw effectively had no angle to cut off the throw because his back was turned. The old adage in the NFL is if you see a defender’s backside numbers, the receiver is open. The play result was positive overall but Rodgers needed to take the shot he had to Deguara. It’s why they called the play at mid-field.

Two plays later, tight end Mercedes Lewis fumbled when he had the ball punched out and recovered by the 49ers defense. Not an ideal end to the first quarter where the Packers looked in total control.

Second play, 1st quarter, 2nd-and-6 @ GB-20, 1:41

It’s clear the 49ers had a game plan to limit Adams because it was clear early on that the Packers were going to try and target him the most. On the first drive, they did. On later drives, they largely went silent on his targets. And all season, when opposing teams schemed Adams out of the play, Rodgers and the Packers had answers to get others involved.

Here, the 49ers schemed Adams out of the play and Rodgers immediately checked it down without even considering his other options. The Packers have Adams isolated on the single receiver side running a go route with double dig routes to the front side of the play by Lazard and Randall Cobb.

The 49ers show single high coverage pre-snap that rotates to cover-6 post-snap (quarter/quarter/half or cover-2) with the cover-2 bracket to Adams side and safety capping his go route.

The dig routes are open in front of the safeties and Rodgers has time to come back to one of them but he quickly just dumps the ball off to tight end Dominique Dafney on the check down.

Rodgers displayed little patience for any other route combination andm as a result, it didn’t pay off and didn’t allow others to take advantage of the zone coverage holes in the 49ers defense. The Packers punted on this series and missed another opportunity to score some points.

Third play, 4th quarter, 2nd-and-8 @ GB-23, 5:33

Late in the fourth quarter, Rodgers tried to force Adams two separate passes and does not even consider where other receivers are in their route progression nor does he anticipate them getting open while he has time.

On this play to Adams on the drive before their final drive, Rodgers sees a 1-on-1 matchup for Adams with Josh Norman, who just entered the game. Naturally, the 49ers rotated a safety over to his side post-snap to give him help over the top. The 49ers have a fire zone blitz called with a 2-under/3-deep coverage shell behind it.

The rotation was a bit late but Rodgers' pass was off target and did not give Adams a chance at a play. On the front side of the route combinations, Rodgers could have peeled off his read to the right and probably found Lazard or Cobb on a hot route shallow across the middle.

Two plays later the 49ers blocked a punt and scored on the recovery to tie the game. Perhaps if Rodgers plays within structure instead of predetermining the pass pre-snap, then the Packers aren’t helpless and can keep the 49ers special teams, and their own, from changing the course of the game.

Fourth play, 4th quarter, 3rd-and-11 @ GB-28, 3:40

On their final play of the game, Rodgers again predetermined a throw here due to the safety sitting in single-high coverage. In my own opinion, the decision wasn’t necessarily a bad one but considering Rodgers disregarded what worked all season for what he was more comfortable with, it ends looking just as bad. In this situation, it’s preferable to get your best player a 1-on-1 and throw if it’s there.

The play was there until it wasn’t. Rodgers had two really good options on this play to keep the chains moving and elected for the deep shot that ends up falling into double coverage. Pre-snap, it was the right decision.

Post-snap, he had the time to come off the read and hit Lazard wide open down the opposite hash or hit the dig route underneath where 49ers nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams busted his coverage and left the dig open.

The 49ers have the 2-under 3-deep fire zone blitz called again and the safety rotated over to Adams long before Rodgers threw it. Yet he still took the less than ideal deep shot. The play falls incomplete, the Packers punt it away, and the rest is history at this point.

Outlook

The game-ending on an incomplete deep pass to Adams sums up the season. The Packers had answers all season for problems like this and Rodgers disregarded the “rules” and it bit him and the organization hard. The rules being to look for the outlet options if Adams isn’t open whether that’s Lazard wide open on a corner route or Cobb wide open on a dig route.

If there were two defenders on Adams, someone else was always open. This time it didn’t work, and Rodger' last pass at Lambeau will be remembered as the equivalent of a desperation three-point shot that bounces off the rim. Incomplete in the snowy turf on what was supposed to be a championship season.