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Packers DC Mike Pettine finally found the right matchups against the 49ers

It took almost a half, but once the Packers figured out how to line up against Kyle Shanahan’s offense, the chunk plays all but disappeared.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Not a roughing the passer penalty, thankfully
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night, the Green Bay Packers defeated the San Francisco 49ers 33-30 in a thrilling comeback victory. Green Bay’s defense got in a big hole early, matching up poorly with the Niners’ offensive personnel groupings and giving up three touchdowns in the 49ers’ first five offensive possessions. However, as the game went along, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine found personnel groupings that worked to counter the big plays that San Francisco racked up in the first half, slowing down and eventually stymieing Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Early on, it wasn’t pretty. Pettine seemingly had no answers for Shanahan and C.J. Beathard, who had four plays that went for 20 yards or more in the first 25 minutes of the game. On the game’s first drive, the Packers lined up primarily in their 3-3-5 look, with three defensive linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. The 49ers were primarily in 21 personnel — two backs in Matt Breida and Kyle Juszczyk and a tight end. The Packers sprinkled in a pair of snaps in a 3-4, including one with Nick Perry putting his hand in the dirt as a down lineman, but San Francisco took an early lead with a few nice passes from C.J. Beathard leading to a Matt Breida touchdown run out of 11 personnel against the Packers’ 3-3-5.

The next series saw Pettine use his base 3-4 against the 49ers’ 12 package (one back and two tight ends), before getting off the field on a third-and-two from the more typical 2-4-5 nickel alignment. However, Beathard struck for a deep ball on the next drive — after the Packers gave up a first down through two plays out of the 3-4, Pettine switched back to 3-3-5 and saw Marquise Goodwin burn the secondary for a 67-yard touchdown. Although that was the biggest play of the game and it came from the 3-3-5 (though it was more of a 4-2-5 look with Perry standing up at 5-technique), Pettine ran a zone blitz and dropped nose tackle Tyler Lancaster into coverage. Goodwin split Kevin King the linebackers’ and Kentrell Brice’s coverage, easily outrunning Brice to the football and the end zone. (Note: After it was pointed out by a reader in the comments and after taking a closer look at the all-22 film, it was clear that King was part of the zone blitz, and Goodwin ran through the zones occupied by Clay Matthews and Blake Martinez before beating Brice.)

The next two drives combined for just four plays, during which the Packers played base opposite the 49ers’ 21 group. The Packers forced a fumble on the first play, but only after letting Juszczyk pick up 21 yards through the air; then the fifth series was a quick three-play touchdown drive.

Admittedly, much of the trouble in the first 25 minutes of the game was the fact that the 49ers barely saw any third downs, let alone any third-and-long snaps. In fact, by the time they had a 21-20 lead on Green Bay, they had only one snap on third down — a failed third-and-two that resuted in a punt.

However, after that point, Pettine finally found the matchups that worked, forcing the Niners to drive more methodically and resulting in some third down opportunities down the stretch.

Starting with the sixth series of the game, Pettine used his base defense exclusively when San Francisco lined up in 22 personnel, going to a little bit of 2-4-5 and a hefty dose of 3-3-5 any time the Niners were in 12 or 21. Having an extra defensive back on the field worked, as the Packers allowed just nine points the rest of the way. Most importantly, the chunk plays disappeared for San Francisco, as their three field goal drives averaged 4.6 yards per play compared to the 13.6 yards per play allowed previously. They also allowed no plays of 20 yards or more after this point and just two plays longer than 15 yards.

In the Niners’ final three series, Pettine and company were able to slam the door with the help of good field position and a few timely stops. The Packers finally forced some third-and-longs in the second half, allowing their dime defense to take the field in three different arrangements: a 2-3-6, 1-4-6, and even a few snaps from a 0-5-6 grouping with no down linemen.

All told, here’s the breakdown of the Packers’ snaps by personnel group on defense (I charted 59 total snaps):

  • Base 3-4: 20
  • Nickel 3-3-5: 21
  • Nickel 2-4-5: 9
  • Dime 2-3-6: 4
  • Dime 1-4-6: 3
  • Dime 0-5-6: 2

Yes, the 49ers’ biggest play of the game came against the 3-3-5, but it was the use of that personnel group against certain San Francisco packages that seemed to do the trick for Pettine in the second half.