The Green Bay Packers (0-1) proved they have progressed since January. The San Francisco 49ers (1-0) were the overwhelming favorites to beat the Packers on Sunday, yet it was the Packers who had the prime opportunities to win the football game in the Bay.
The Packers defensive front seven stepped up to the challenge of preventing the 49ers rushing offense from making an impact on the football game, but the defensive secondary allowed too many yards on too many occasions on Sunday.
“They obviously made too many big plays, and we gave up too many big plays”, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I thought we did a good job keeping him (49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick) in the pocket, but he made plays. We will rebound from this, and I feel good about this defense, our mentality and where we are going”.
Next week at Lambeau Field against the Washington Redskins, the Packers will likely provide a similar game plan to prevent quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris from utilizing the zone-read option efficiently. The Green Bay defense was sub-par on Sunday, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he knows both sides of the football must improve before next Sunday’s home opener.
“We have to score more points, and they (defense) have to give up fewer points”, Rodgers said. “We had chances, we had a couple of costly turnovers which they (49ers) turned into points, and you can’t do that. It is one game, we are 0-1”.
Rodgers said the Packers pass protection was “excellent”, and he was impressed with rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. Despite Rodgers kind words, Bakhtiari’s wasn’t very enthused about his rookie debut, as he said he believed it wasn’t his Sunday best. “I’m held to a high standard”, Bakhtiari said. “I want to not just be good as a rookie, but be good as a left tackle. I’m not mad, but I’m not ecstatic”.
Coach T’s Week One Player Spotlights
Offensive Player of the Game: WR Jordy Nelson
Jordy Nelson played like a star on Sunday, leading all Packers receivers with seven catches for 130 yards and one touchdown, and he failed to drop a pass. Nelson displayed great instincts, athleticism, and toughness in the close loss to the 49ers. “Jordy is a great player”, Rodgers said. “When he is healthy, he is tough to guard. He makes incredible catches look easy, so I’m not surprised (about his performance)”.
Nelson did not record one catch throughout the entire preseason, but Rodgers and the remainder of the Packers perimeter group was successful in the no-huddle offense.
“I think we were able to tire them out”, Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “I thought our offense moved the ball well. If we clean up our mistakes, it is a different game”.
Defensive Player of the Game: OLB Clay Matthews
The leader of the Packers defense, Matthews recorded eight tackles, three tackles for loss, and one sack against the 49ers, and was Coach T’s hands-down Defensive Player of the Game. Led by Matthews, the Packers defense limited the 49ers to 66 rushing yards on 28 carries on Sunday.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh publicly had criticized the All-Pro last week leading into Sunday’s game, as Matthews said the Packers plan was to hit Kaepernick, and Matthews didn’t help ease Harbaugh’s tension on Sunday.
In the second quarter with the game tied 7-7, Matthews committed a personal foul after tackling Kaepernick after he ran out of bounds, and the 49ers scored a touchdown on the ensuing play. “It wasn’t a very smart play”, Matthews said after the game. “I already committed to hitting the quarterback. It wasn’t personal, so that’s the end of that”.
The Packers depth in the trenches alongside Matthews though proved to be outstanding on Sunday. Second-year outside linebacker Nick Perry successfully contained Kaepernick and kept him from springing loose. Rookie defensive end Datone Jones recorded a crucial third-down tackle on Kaepernick to avoid a 49ers fresh-set of downs. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly, who is back in the NFL after a three-year suspension, has added a serious attitude to the Packers defense.
Opposing quarterbacks and running backs beware. Coach T believes that as long as no. 52 (Matthews) is here, the Packers will successfully haunt opposing offensive backfields all season long.
Must Improve Offensive Player: RB Eddie Lacy
Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy displayed early jitters in Sunday’s opener in San Francisco, recording five carries for four yards, including a costly fumble in the second quarter at the Packers own 14-yard line, which led to a San Francisco touchdown on the ensuing possession.
“I tried to get extra yardage, but I should’ve went down and protected the ball a little better”, Lacy said after the game. “It was a mistake on my behalf, and you have to put plays like that behind you, and I just put it behind me and kept playing”.
In the second half, Lacy provided much-needed balance for the Green Bay offense, recording 37 yards on 9 carries, and scored his first career NFL touchdown in the fourth quarter, giving the Packers a 28-24 lead (Last season, the Packers failed to score a rushing touchdown until week five—a sign of improvement).
Coach T’s message to Lacy is simple: play loose, and be the bruising, physical runner the Packers knew you were at Alabama.
Must Improve Defensive Player: S Jerron McMillian
McMillian started in place of injured safety Morgan Burnett on Sunday…and it wasn’t pretty. McMillian was awful, and was the easy target of blame for Kaepernick throwing for a career-high 412 passing yards.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis totaled 19 receptions, 306 yards, and three touchdowns. McMillian and fellow safety M.D. Jennings looked lost and confused while defending the deep-thirds of the Packers zone defense, as Boldin and Davis consistently found gaping holes in the back-end of the Packers defense.
It may not entirely be McMillians’ fault for the 49ers air-raid on Sunday, but McMillian didn’t look ready to play. The good news for the second-year safety is that Coach T believes there is a TON of room for improvement, and there is no way he could display anything worse in the future.
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