Film Room: Packers-Niners

Film Room: Packers-Niners
Film Room: Packers-Niners
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Andy Benoit

Week 1 gives us what could be a preview of the NFC Championship: Niners at Packers. This game is ripe with storylines, features the NFC’s premier defense against its premier offense, and presents a chess match between two of the best coaching staffs in the league. Let’s break it down.

1. The 2005 Draft revisited

Everyone agrees the Niners got it wrong. Hindsight being 20/20, they should have used the No. 1 overall pick on Cal’s Aaron Rodgers, not Utah’s Alex Smith. Only the rare 49ers homer would play the "smartest guy in the room" card and argue that the gap between the two signal-callers isn’t really that wide.

Smith has grown past some of his limitations, but he still has others. Rodgers has a much stronger arm, far better accuracy, and more dynamic mobility in and out of the pocket. He's a better decision-maker under duress and reads the field well prior to the snap. But the gap between these players is best exhibited by how each player’s team uses him. The Packers win working through Rodgers; the Niners, generally, win working around Smith.

This is most blatantly exhibited in the types of formations the teams use. Green Bay spends a lot of time in spread sets, asking Rodgers to be a field general. They do nothing to camouflage the fact that they’re putting the game entirely in their quarterback’s hands. When you play like this, you invite the defense to bring its full gauntlet of attacks, as most blitzes and defensive tricks come from nickel and dime packages.

San Francisco mostly sticks to base formations. That keeps the defense more vanilla. This, in turn, makes them somewhat vanilla. There are fewer wide receivers running routes for them and, by the nature of the condensed formations, there are more play-action concepts and either-or reads for Smith. This is how the Niners take the game out of their quarterback’s hands. Even when they seemingly put the game in Smith’s hands by taking a shot at the end zone on first-and-10 from the opponents 40-yard-line (something the Niners do often in that part of the field, by the way), they’re really not banking on Smith. Shot plays are single-read throws. Aside from accuracy being harder at long distance, there’s really nothing about them that’s difficult for a pro quarterback.

Credit both Rodgers and Smith for responding well to their assignments. And credit both coaching staffs for giving their quarterbacks the proper assignments. But if Rodgers and Smith post similar numbers this Sunday, don’t think for a second that this means they’re on the same plane. Rodgers’s assignments are drastically more demanding than Smith’s. Those numbers are coming from different assignments. If one student gets an A on a remedial math quiz and another student gets an A on an advanced calculus quiz, are both students on the same plane?

2. The Hot Matchup: San Francisco’s inside linebackers against Green Bay’s tight end

What makes the Niners’ defense and Packers’ offense so great is versatility. The Niners can operate sub-package concepts out of their base personnel. The Packers can execute spread passing plays out of their base personnel. The reason? Both have insanely athletic weapons in the middle.

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are by far the best inside linebacking duo in the league -– and perhaps the two best inside linebackers in football. Pushing them to the top of the highest echelon is the fact that they’re smart and fluid in coverage.

Jermichael Finley is arguably the most sinewy receiving tight end in the league. He has an uncommon ability to adjust to passes without compromising his size and speed. With his body control, Finley would be borderline unstoppable if his hands were just a little more reliable.

Most defenses have to make a tough decision about how they’re going to defend Finley. Do they use a nickel corner against him and hope that Green Bay doesn’t attach him to the formation and run? Or, do they stay in base defense and hope that their linebackers don’t get stuck on an island against the monster?

The Niners don’t have this dilemma. They believe Bowman or Willis can hold their own against any tight end, which means the decision shifts to the Packers. Do they add any wrinkles to their usual sets so as to try and force the type of mismatch they’re used to? Or, do they take their chances and trust that their star can beat the defense’s stars?

3. Stunt Devils

If you had to identify a weakness on the Packers offense, you’d probably say left tackle. Veteran Chad Clifton is gone. His heir, 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod, is still recovering from a horrific broken leg. So protecting Rodgers’s blind side this Sunday will be third-year pro Marshall Newhouse, a former fifth-round pick who doesn’t have the quickest feet. That’s not a big deal –- Rodgers knows Newhouse doesn’t have the quickest feet and he can adjust his approach accordingly, as he did down the stretch last season.

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Besides trying to rebuff a pass-rusher’s sheer speed off the edge, what gives players like Newhouse the biggest fits is having to make adjustments on the fly. Stunts force an offensive tackle to do this –- both mentally and physically. With a 3-4 front, most stunts involve a defensive end attacking the B-gap (between the guard and tackle), so as to eat up both blockers. This creates an inside lane for the outside linebacker to sweep into and, hopefully, a clear path at the quarterback.

The Niners execute stunts better than any defense in the NFL. Even when the offense knows it’s coming, it can’t always stop it. San Francisco’s secret? Holding. They have a pair of top-tier defensive ends in Justin Smith, arguably the best 3-4 lineman in the league right now, and Ray McDonald, one of the game’s most underrated players. Those guys are taught to grab the left outside of the offensive guard’s jersey or the right inside of the tackle’s jersey. The umpire and referee, who are tasked with holding on the interior line, often can’t see this –- there is too much congestion in the middle of that action. They are standing in the backfield, and can’t see through the offensive linemen to get a look at the defensive end’s hands. The grabbing prevents the blockers from getting over quickly enough to pick up the stunting blitzer.

Stunts can take place on a stretched basis, too. Take a look at how the Niners set up this Aldon Smith sack against the Browns last year.

Graphics by Matt Glickman

4. Niners offensive line vs. Packers pass rush

San Francisco was pathetic in blitz pickup last season. Even traditional pass-blocking was a problem for this line most of the time. Right tackle Anthony Davis must improve his body control, guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone need to hone their mechanics and improve their vision against pass-rushers coming from an angle or delay. Center Jonathan Goodwin could stand to get quicker laterally.

The Packers pass-rush tailed off in 2011, but that was most likely an aberration. It should be better this season. Clay Matthews is healthy. First-round rookie Nick Perry is expected to be an upgrade over Erik Walden. B.J. Raji is built more like a run-stopper, but his suddenness off the snap can collapse a pocket and break down protection concepts. That’s what most of pass-rushing is: breaking down protection concepts. The Packers do this extremely well. Charles Woodson is a fantastic blitzer from the nickel slot. He doesn’t aim to get sacks so much as he aims to move the quarterback off his spot. That movement ruins the timing of passing plays and creates sack opportunities for other defenders.

Another thing the Packers do well is fire-X blitzes. This is where one inside linebacker attacks the A-gap opposite him, while the other inside linebacker waits a beat and then attacks the A-gap opposite him. Desmond Bishop, with his downhill burst and physical strength when on the move, is one of the best fire-X blitzers in the NFL. However, he’s out for the season with a torn hamstring. The Packers are hoping last year’s athletic sixth-round pick, D.J. Smith, can fill Bishop’s shoes.

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Whoever is on the field, you can bet Dom Capers will be dialing up plenty of layered, staggered, pass-rushes given how much he and his staff must have salivated when watching the Niners’ offensive line film from last year.

5. Randy Moss

Won’t it be interesting to see just how rejuvenated the 35-year-old really is? If Moss has his old straight-line speed back, we’ll get to see a great individual matchup Sunday, as starter Tramon Williams and frequently used backup corner Sam Shields are both outstanding downfield man-to-man defenders.

The problem with Moss is that his game consists only of straight-line downfield speed. That’s what pushed him into retirement last season. It wasn’t because he no longer loved the sport. It wasn’t because no team in the league wanted to put up with his distractions. It was because he couldn’t athletically change directions or control his stop/start prowess. Father Time had caught up to him. The Niners are hoping that Father Rest has done Moss some favors. We’ll start to find out for sure this Sunday.


57 comments, Last at 14 Oct 2012, 12:34pm

#1 by 9ers (not verified) // Sep 06, 2012 - 4:46pm

Well, this doesnt talk about the niners strength, the run offense. Exceedingly strong in run support they could very well have the Packers D line worn out in the second half.
This will shorten the game and give the niners a much better chance to pull off the upset.

Points: 0

#2 by t.d. // Sep 06, 2012 - 4:57pm

but their passing game was actually more efficient (at least by dvoa) than their running last year, by a significant margin

Points: 0

#4 by bravehoptoad // Sep 06, 2012 - 5:02pm

Isn't that often the case? Strong running teams have good passing DVOA, strong passing teams have good running DVOA (NE Patriots recently).

Points: 0

#5 by t.d. // Sep 06, 2012 - 5:21pm

maybe, looking back, the 2010 Chiefs, the 2008 titans and Panthers are the most recent playoffs teams I can remember driven by running and defense, and they all had higher passing dvoa than running, but they also didn't have 'bad' running dvoa. The 49ers did. Was Frank Gore really any good last year?

Points: 0

#9 by commissionerleaf // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:31pm

The 49ers are a committed running team, not a good one. Gore was -10% DVOA last year, and while the other backs did better in limited usage, having the marquee running back work a below-replacement-level rut into the turf will ground even a good offense occasionally (see Giants this week). An offense run by Alex Smith will turn into a pumpkin on a weekly basis.

I don't think there is much question that the Packers are the better team. They have a top three offense and a defense with a reason for existing (unlike New Orleans, for instance). Also, their offense thrives on spread concepts, to force San Francisco into nickel or dime where their not-amazing secondary can be picked on.

Points: 0

#10 by Alex Smith: ki… (not verified) // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:34pm

Agreed. San Fran's 4th corner didn't play last year (Perrish Cox). Their 5th corner, Brock, struggled during preseason. Their backups safeties are not supposed to be that great either.

Points: 0

#15 by Karl Cuba // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:03pm

Cox is probably better than you think, he's looked good in practice and preseson. The reason he wasn't on the team is the reason I'm not sure I want him on it, he probably did rape that girl, they just couldn't prove it. The point I'm trying to make is that he wasn't out of football last year because he can't play.

Brock has been down on confidence but was decent as the nickel back for the first three games last year before he got injured.

The niners like CJ Spillman at safety but probably more as a replacement for Whitner and less as a coverage type. I'm not suggesing the Pack can't light them up but I'd take the niners' secondary over Green Bays's for example and quite a few others in the league.

Points: 0

#12 by dmstorm22 // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:44pm

Spread will also make for more one-on-one blocking for their o-line, which easily could be overmatched against the 49ers front. For 50 minutes, the 49ers pretty much shut down the Saints last season. They've shown that they can play with great offenses. I do think the Packers are the better team, but I don't think the Packers offense against the 49ers defense is that clear of a matchup, especially because the Packers are unlikely to be THAT efficient on offense again.

Points: 0

#13 by Karl Cuba // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:53pm

I think it's possible to construct a plausible image where the reason that the 49er passing game was average by DVOA and the run game was poor has something to do with the niners being predictable when they run and being willing to pound the ball into the teeth of eight and nine man boxes.

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#26 by bravehoptoad // Sep 06, 2012 - 8:43pm

Also important to note that Gore's performance worsened as the year progressed. I imagine that's why the team brought in so many running backs, wanting to keep Gore fresher. Six of them on the roster now.

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#31 by tally // Sep 07, 2012 - 12:00am

By most metrics, SF was a terrible running team and an average passing team.

DVOA: Rush -7.3% (24th), Pass 15.3% (13th)
Expected Points Added/Play: Run -0.05 (27th), Pass 0.08 (14th)
Success Rate: Run 39.8% (21st), Pass 43.5% (22nd)

Even with Alex Smith at QB, they should have called more pass plays. Running as much as they did, the only defense they were wearing out was their own with all those 3 and outs.

Points: 0

#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 06, 2012 - 5:01pm

"San Francisco mostly sticks to base formations. That keeps the defense more vanilla. This, in turn, makes them somewhat vanilla. There are fewer wide receivers running routes for them and, by the nature of the condensed formations, there are more play-action concepts and either-or reads for Smith. This is how the Niners take the game out of their quarterback’s hands"

Now replace "San Francisco" with "Indianapolis" and "Smith" with "Manning".

Does the conclusion still make sense?

Points: 0

#6 by t.d. // Sep 06, 2012 - 5:28pm

I think the Colts dramatically lowered their ceiling by being so predictable. In the age of quarterback dominance, they had the greatest quarterback of them all and they only won once. Their simplicity held them back.
/also felt that their strategy of 'limit the # of possessions per game' was counterproductive, but whatever

Points: 0

#11 by dmstorm22 // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:40pm

Or they just lost games. It's not like once the Patriots 'expanded' their playbook around 2007 they've flown to Super Bowl titles.

They lost twice to two Patriots teams that were just better. They lost to a good Steelers team because they were outplayed, and because Nick Harper cut the wrong way and Mike Vanderjagt kicked a field goal about as far right as possible. They lost twice to San Diego because Manning threw two int's in the red zone that first went off the hands of Colts players one year, and because Mike Scifres had the greatest game in punting history the next. They lost to the Saints because the Saints recovered a surprise onside-kick, got a really fortunate 2-point conversion and Manning threw one bad pass, partly due to Wayne being slow out of his break. And they lost to the Jets in a game where they became the 2nd team in recent years to lose after taking the lead with less than a minute left (and that was the Music City Miracle).

They didn't lose because they were predictable. If that was the case, Manning wouldn't have the following stat-line in the Colts last five playoff LOSSES (the one's I mentioned, starting with the Steelers loss in '05):

22-38 290 yds 1/0 TD/INT 90.9 rating
33-48 402 yds 3/2 TD/INT 97.7 rating
25-42 310 yds 1/0 TD/INT 90.4 rating
31-45 333 yds 1/1 TD/INT 88.5 rating
18-26 225 yds 1/0 TD/INT 108.7 rating.

That combines for a 129/199 for 1,560 yds and 7/3 TD/INT statline, which is a 94.1 passer rating. Again these are his numbers in his last five losses.

You can say that their defense was too simplistic, and it was in the two notable losses where the defense was bad, against SD in 2007 and Super Bowl XLIV. In reality, it was just a team losing strange games where they were outplayed, sometimes in large part because of random, unrepeatable acts, like Scifres being robo-punter (he's good, but not THAT good), Hank Baskett trying to cover an onside-kick with his face or Eric Weddle picking a pass off at the 2-yard line because Kenton Stonehands Keith bounces the ball up in the air.

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#14 by t.d. // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:56pm

Frankly, I'd argue that Peyton's been on the best team in the league exactly once (2005), and he's won one title, so it's not like he's underachieved. Still, Ithink they'd have beaten Pittsburgh if they hadn't been outprepared in 2005 and they should have at least split with San Diego uder Norv. Predictability hurts when the talent level is comparable

Points: 0

#18 by dmstorm22 // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:20pm

2005 was a choke job by the team as a whole. That was the one year where they started out 'rusty' in the game after resting guys late in the regular season. They were not prepared at all for the Steelers to pass in the 1st quarter. Their o-line let guys run free all day. Manning got no time to throw. That said, Manning came within one missed field goal of the biggest 4th-quarter playoff comeback ever (at least in terms of getting the game back level).

Of course, there is one giant external issue in 2005, the tragic suicide of Tony Dungy's son. It doesn't excuse them looking flat and unprepared, but I saw many similar things from the Packers this past January after Joe Philbin's son died.

As for splitting against Norv, they came close to winning both games, but even then, the 2007 Pats would've put up 40 against that Colts team that had no pass rush (Freeney was on IR, Mathis was playing hurt), and the 2008 Colts team was the worst Colts team from 2003-2009. Those were most liklely not Super Bowl seasons anyway.

I think you are right. Manning's had the best team once, maybe twice if you want to give that distinction to the 2009 regular season Colts, but either way, it isn't like he routinely had the #1 seed and didn't pull through. In comparison, Brady's had the best team three times (2004, 2007, 2010) and won three Super Bowls, but only once did those two things align (2004).

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#7 by Rupps (not verified) // Sep 06, 2012 - 5:54pm

You do know that Smith =/= Manning right? Staying in base may usually be used to manage QBs as seen with many below average QBs but with Manning's ability to read presnap and be his own OC this just plays to his strengths. In other words, the moment you substitute in Peyton Manning its a whole different beast.

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#19 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:25pm

I get that. But Smith is a bad QB for reasons entirely different than the description. I was just pointing out that Peyton Manning also played in an amazingly simply offense.

Just one where even when you knew what was coming, you still couldn't stop it.

Points: 0

#21 by commissionerleaf // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:40pm

There is so much wrong with this it isn't funny.

1. Apples and Oranges: San Francisco runs its offense out of a mostly 2 receiver, fullback on the field, base set. Indianapolis ran 11 personnel, and two-tight end, with more of the former than the latter and an increasing amount of shotgun as time went on. Teams would spend the entire game in nickel against Indianapolis, rather than a "base set".

2. Indianapolis' offense is simple in a certain sense, but complex below the surface. Reggie Wayne didn't bother to huddle up for entire games some years because he was always on the left, and always running an option route based on the defense. Is that simple or complex? (Hint: There are no option routes in San Francisco).

3. Indianapolis was good because they executed simple things well. Manning was quoted once saying (something like) that they really had two plays: Outside zone run and "levels" (5 yard drag by the outside receiver, 10 yard square in by the slot), and everything else was just an attempt to punish defenses for assuming they would run those plays. And that can work if you run the 5 yard drag better than they defend it. Alex Smith doesn't. On a good day, he runs his bread and butter plays as well as the defense can defend them.

[If you want a demonstration, watch the Giants-Niners playoff game. Apart from two shot plays to Vernon Davis, who really is that good, the Niners passing offense was atrocious even on short dumpoffs.]

Points: 0

#23 by Karl Cuba // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:58pm

If we're criticizing then I would point out that the niners play a great deal more two TE, one back than two back one TE. They play more two back, two tight end than 21, which annoys me because I'm a big Bruce Miller fan.

Points: 0

#30 by jimbohead // Sep 06, 2012 - 11:38pm

A couple factual things.

Yes, the niners do run option routes. Also, while the general point of niners execution being poor, and Smith's own level of execution is a part of that, is a valid one, the NFCC game is a poor example of this because of the level of attrition at WR. For pete's sake, Brent Swain was out there on a quarter of the snaps! (and, if you're wondering who Brent Swain is, I think I've made my point.)

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#39 by Karl Cuba // Sep 07, 2012 - 5:13am

I want to say Brett Swain? Is that right? Kind of makes the point anyway.

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#42 by TacticalSledgehammer // Sep 07, 2012 - 5:35am

His name is Brett Swain, yes. Was the 5th receiver for the Packers for a couple years. Decent, but not a top-3 receiver for any team.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

Points: 0

#8 by Passing through (not verified) // Sep 06, 2012 - 6:31pm

Wish this article would have spent a little more time talking about the Green Bay offense other than "Rodgers is awesome. So is Finley."

What made GB's offense so effective last year?

Also you've got the rock/hard place thing going on: both Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers led the league in int rate, and both defenses were ball hawkers.

GB's pass rush vs. SF's o-line isn't important to me (both league bottom dwellers last year). Randy Moss isn't important either, unless you can guess how SF's crazy coaches will use him.

Points: 0

#17 by Karl Cuba // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:19pm

I like both the article and the format, if this is what we are going to see for the year then I look forwards to more.

1) "most blitzes and defensive tricks come from nickel and dime packages." - I'd love to read a proof of this statement. Seriously, I don't think I agree that you can state that so simply but if you can demonstrate that then I'd really like to read it.

2) FYI - Willis spent the whole of last year covering tight ends, Bowman took the backs. It should be apparent within about ten defensive snaps whether that will continue this year.

However, if the Giants - Cowboys game is anything to go by then the offensive lines will get away with murder. I think holding being allowed will favour the Packers over the 49ers and I also believe that the Green Bay offensive line coach is exactly the type to be telling his cohorts how to take full advantage. I'd take the over on Green Bay for that reason alone.

Points: 0

#16 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:16pm

Good stuff. Insightful. Sure you could've had even more, but I still feel like I know more about each team than I did 20 minutes ago.

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#20 by bucko (not verified) // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:35pm

I want to give this article some credence but it's tough when the writer lists Sam Shields as 'outstanding'. Shields was exposed repeatedly last year and struggled all training camp. The bloom is off this rose, and I would expect a writer for this site to know that information. I am not discussing some late-breaking story/injury here. Shields got lit up regularly in 2011.

The Packers get no pass rush from their ends. AJ Hawk is an awful blitzer. Green Bay's options are far more limited than San Fran's when it comes to generating a rush

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#22 by commissionerleaf // Sep 06, 2012 - 7:43pm

In the ends' defense, it's tough to pass rush when you're on the bench.

I kid, I kid, but Green Bay was 2-4-5 or 1-something-something a lot last year. And it was Raji on the field.

Points: 0

#29 by DisplacedPackerFan // Sep 06, 2012 - 9:56pm

Shields is an interesting case. Yes he did get lit up last year, but he was also doing a lot more than he was in 2010. Capers had a pass rush in 2010 and he was able to use Shields in a very limited fashion, man coverage on the outside. That is pretty much all he did in 2010. In 2011 he was asked to do a lot more zones and had inside responsibilities, and with Tramon playing with essentially one arm and being forced to give cushions and play more zone as well, it was just horrendous. When his responsibilities are limited he doesn't run as much chance of vapor locked blown assignments, and his speed is better able to make up for the mistakes he does still make. Shields did come around at the end of camp, and there is a chance that he can be effective again because there is a chance he can be used like he was in 2010. Williams and Shields on the outsides playing man, Woodson in the slot generally playing zone, or being one of the pressure guys, with one of the safeties. It's the concept they used for most of 2010 to great effect and didn't have the players to do it last year, so Capers tried other things and failed.

All that being said, if House recovers from his injury and gets right back into the form he had during training camp it may not matter because he was starting to look a lot like an Al Harris clone.

I fully agree with the rest too. I also am not sure they have recovered from the loss of leadership that Nick Collins gave them (as well as his skill at bailing them out). I'm curious to see if Worthy or Daniels can help collapse the pocket because we know that the rest of the linemen can't. Well Raji can if there is anyone else on the line that can help, otherwise we'll likely get more of last year from him too. Hopefully Perry/Moses/Walden (well Walden is suspended for the 49er's game) can occasionally get home from the other side of Matthews too. But they have 7 rookies on defense and 5 of them are expected to get a decent number of snaps (the way the Packers rotate 16-18 players tend to get a decent number of snaps on defense). There are just a lot of if's. I still think the D will be better if only because Williams is healthy and won't be playing with one arm at 20% strength all year and the new line depth and linebackers can't be worse than last year.

Points: 0

#36 by justanothersteve // Sep 07, 2012 - 1:46am

Wouldn't be surprised if they just put Shields on Moss and let Shields ignore the rest of the game. Moss pretty much ignores the game when he's not involved anyway. Shields is probably faster than Moss these days. (Shields may be the fastest guy in the NFL. He allegedly ran a 4.2 40 at Miami.) SF could probably try a few jump balls to Moss, but I'm not sure Smith can be accurate enough with that to be effective. I can't see Bush being able to cover Moss at all, so it'll either be Shields or Williams on Moss.

Points: 0

#40 by Karl Cuba // Sep 07, 2012 - 5:29am

My take on Shields is that he has great speed and can play the ball quite well in the air. However, I'm not convinced that he is any good at the other skills that a corner is asked to perform.

For example, look at his signature play where he picked off Jay Cutler in the NFC Championship game. He was beaten on the play, Knox had a couple of steps on him and a large cushion between him and the sideline, plenty of room for the qb to place the ball into. However, Cutler had torn his MCL and couldn't drive through the throw with his hips and so the ball floats and is underthrown. Then you see what Shields does well, he shows good catch up speed and then plays the ball well (If Knox played the ball as well in the air he'd be famous). You get to see all that is Sam Shields on one play, he could improve but many guys never really learn how to play corner, if it was easy then all the fastest cornerbacks would be the best cornerbacks.

Points: 0

#43 by KB (not verified) // Sep 07, 2012 - 6:56am

The thing with Shields is he has only played CB for 3 years now. He is a converted College WR(He converted his senior year of college). CB isn't an easy position to learn and there are plenty things he still doesn't understand.

Like it was already pointed out when Williams was healthy and GB had a solid pass rush Shields had life much easier. With no offseason and basically being thrown into the fire in 2011 he didn't fare well but I don't believe that it is fair to judge him based on that year. This year I do see Shields taking over the starting job(Partially because House will be in same situation as Williams last year) and performing much closer to 2010 than 2011. I actually consider him a good CB when he is on an island. His closing speed really does minimize his mistakes drastically and if he continues to tackle like he did in the preseason I will continue to have high hopes for the kid.

I believe Whitt(GB's CB coach) predicted Shields would be one of the top CB's in the NFL in a couple years. I've read numerous comments from Williams talking very highly of him also. He has the speed, Athleticism, and size to be what they expect. This year will really tell us if he can be the starter opposite Williams.

All I know is he won't be used in the slot in the dime. It would make no sense. I really hope he starters. I have to believe every Packer fan is hoping for that though.

Points: 0

#48 by Packer Pete (not verified) // Sep 08, 2012 - 8:33am

Nick Perry has shown this preseason that he can collapse the pocket from the left OLB position, but he hasn't really shown the ability yet to slide off that bull rush and finish the sack. Still, consistently hemming in the QB will afford more chances for the DTs and Matthews coming hard on the opposite side. If Perry can draw a few double teams, that will greatly benefit Matthews.

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#24 by Raiderjoe // Sep 06, 2012 - 8:18pm

Sweet graphics work by M. Glickman.

Will reaf aeictle later or tomofoew

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#35 by glickmania // Sep 07, 2012 - 1:33am

Sweet graphics work by M. Glickman.

Thanks, I'm glad you like them! I'm very much looking forward to making more as the season rolls on and picking up more knowledge along the way.

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#41 by Karl Cuba // Sep 07, 2012 - 5:32am

Very nice graphics. Just wondering if the final one is supposed to be the same as the previous picture?

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#44 by glickmania // Sep 07, 2012 - 8:58am

There were a few different versions of that one and the only difference in the two posted is the caption. So yeah, not any "football" changes in that last one.

And thanks!

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#25 by bravehoptoad // Sep 06, 2012 - 8:36pm

San Francisco’s secret? Holding. They have a pair of top-tier defensive ends in Justin Smith, arguably the best 3-4 lineman in the league right now, and Ray McDonald, one of the game’s most underrated players. Those guys are taught to grab the left outside of the offensive guard’s jersey or the right inside of the tackle’s jersey.

Sadly, your visual evidence doesn't support this assertion. In the key photo, Smith's left hand is nowhere in the picture, and his right hand is clearly down around the tackle's opposite waist, not on his shoulder at all.

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#32 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Sep 07, 2012 - 1:02am

Looks likely to me, and I'm assuming that the film review supplemented these snapshots.

Certainly it isn't *disproving* as you seem to be claiming.

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#34 by glickmania // Sep 07, 2012 - 1:30am

Yup, you got it. Screenshots were taken directly from the same film everyone has access to.

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#33 by glickmania // Sep 07, 2012 - 1:28am

Sadly, your visual evidence doesn't support this assertion.

Smith's left hand is buried in the guard's chest (and under the beefy arm in this particular view) which is why it can't be directly from this or any angle.

That aside, let's check the right hand: It's certainly not on the waist as it would be considerably lower. The shadows are playing a bit of a trick there now that I give it a second look since both players are crashing into each other. Plus the perspective is from higher above the field not on ground level so it may appear to some that Smith is grabbing much lower than he actually is.

If you feel the perspective is wonky and not showing an accurate portrayal you can also look at the very next image where Smith is locked up with the tackle and guard and see that both of Smith's hands are up high on each of the jerseys.

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#38 by zenbitz // Sep 07, 2012 - 2:22am

I guess what I don't understand is that I have watched 100s of NFL games and I have never, ever seen defensive holding called on an ineligible receiver (i.e., OL) - nor have I ever heard a talking head say "that's illegal but it's never called".

I didn't even know it was illegal until the ref series FO ran earlier this month!

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#46 by justanothersteve // Sep 07, 2012 - 2:50pm

I have seen it, but I can't remember when. I just know I was surprised as heck when it was called. It was on a DL against an OL.

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#49 by Aloysius Mephi… // Sep 11, 2012 - 1:25pm

I've seen it called a couple of times on running plays, when defensive linemen tackled guards who were trying to pull. It's very rare. I don't think I've ever seen it called on a passing play.

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#47 by Thomas_beardown // Sep 07, 2012 - 3:51pm

You must have a strange definition of waist because the player who is to Smith's right has his entire waist clearly visible.

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#27 by bravehoptoad // Sep 06, 2012 - 8:52pm

Whoever is on the field, you can bet Dom Capers will be dialing up plenty of layered, staggered, pass-rushes given how much he and his staff must have salivated when watching the Niners’ offensive line film from last year.

Also, wasn't it on this very site that I read that Alex Smith had a much higher DVOA against the blitz? True, the offensive line sucked at blitz pickup, but that seemed at its worst early in the year.

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#28 by fb29 // Sep 06, 2012 - 8:59pm

I am a fan of this article and format. Don't feel obligated to cover everything, just give a few interesting nuggets to watch out for.

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#37 by justanothersteve // Sep 07, 2012 - 1:54am

I expect the Packers O in the first half will try everything from 4 WR with a TE to 3 backs (including Benson) with a TE and WR, then sometime switch to a no-huddle swapping between whatever formations prove most effective. I don't see the Packers scoring less than 31 points. I'm curious to see if all the defensive changes make any difference in stopping even as mediocre an offense as SF.

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#45 by Jimmy // Sep 07, 2012 - 11:20am

Doesn't the standard rubrik about the spread waffle on about how it makes the game easier for QBs as the defense has to spread out laterally forcing it to be more vanilla and making the reads easier for the QB? Or is that only when bad QBs do it and when it is good ones it is just because they are awesome?

Doesn't make a lot of sense.

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#50 by Peterhultquist (not verified) // Sep 11, 2012 - 3:03pm

You guys are really smart with all your percentages and data. The 49ers whooped the Packers ass on Sunday. You nerds will try to say "well, they only won by 8...". Everything you thought about Gore was dead wrong. What's your stat for HEART? Shut it.

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#55 by bravehoptoad // Sep 13, 2012 - 10:58am

How'd that HEART stuff work out for ya with Singletary and Nolan?

Maybe...............there's something more to this football stuff than HEART?

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#51 by Scotter82 (not verified) // Sep 11, 2012 - 7:53pm

Jim Harbaugh ran the same style offense with Andrew Luck as his Quarterback. The style of the 49ers offense is not a result of the limitations of Alex Smith. Even if Harbaugh had Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback I think it is doubtful that the 49ers would be running a spread offense.

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#52 by glickmania // Sep 11, 2012 - 11:01pm

He'd certainly open it up and take advantage of the league's pass-friendly rules. It would be the smart thing to do and he'd do it. Bolstered by that defense it would be a nearly unstoppable team.

Harbaugh is playing to his team's strengths more than anything with the offense he runs. Rodgers' strengths are very different from those of Smith and therefore a smart coach would run the offense differently. Harbaugh can't love all those FGs and a superior QB would mean less of them.

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#53 by Brice (not verified) // Sep 12, 2012 - 12:31pm

According to Football Outsiders, the Niners were going to regress this year because they relied on turnovers. But the Packers had nearly the same turnover margin and they weren't supposed to regress. The Packers also improved from 10-6 in the 2010 regular season to 15-1 in 2011. The Niners went from 6-10 to 13-3. By the logic of Football Outsiders, the Packers should be due for a regression. Sure, the Packers won the Superbowl in 2010. But their record wasn't impressive in the regular season.

Judging a team based on the results of two years ago is as relevant as judging them based on uniform color. Turnover in players and coaches is so great that the current teams rarely resemble the team from 2 years ago. The FO predictions for the 49ers and Packers are not based on statistics, but rather FO attempts to bend statistics to fit their biased predictions.

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#54 by Thomas_beardown // Sep 12, 2012 - 12:50pm

The Packers were 14-6 in 2010. You can't just ignore that they played more games.

Also, FO is predicting regression towards the mean for the Packers. They ended with 28% DVOA last year and FO predicts they will have 23% DVOA this year.

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#56 by Ray (not verified) // Oct 14, 2012 - 12:32pm

I like how the RB didn't chip Aldon coming out of the backfield. I also like how the Center stands there with nobody on him and watches Aldon run by. There are several frames left out of this play. The writer tried to pick ones to support his case. Holding played no role in the success of this play. The only two guys who could have stopped Aldon did nothing about it.

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#57 by Ray (not verified) // Oct 14, 2012 - 12:34pm

My bad it was the RG not the C.

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