Oct 4, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers running backEddie Lacy
(27) looks to elude San Francisco 49ers free safetyEric Reid
(35) in the first quarter at Levi
The last time the Packers were 4-0, it was on the way to a 13-0 start and a 15-1 regular season. Unfortunately, that team lost in their first playoff game to the New York Giants, rendering an excellent season as a lasting disappointment.
Part of the problem that year was obviously an injured and inexperienced defensive group that was being rebuilt on the fly; their inability to keep scores low often forced the offense to need to score every time on the field.
The other troubled aspect was on the offense itself, which was wholly unbalanced towards the pass due to an ineffective running attack. Though the passing attack was beyond excellent, the effectiveness is hampered if the defense knows it is coming and can load up against it. That gets exacerbated further when a defense knows it has nothing to fear from the ground game.
This time around, things appear to be drastically different on offense.
Of course Aaron Rodgers still leads a dominant passing attack, but there is much more balance added to the equation; it showed outright in this particular matchup.
Oct 4, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talks with running back Eddie Lacy (27) after running a play against the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter at Levi
There were 32 pass attempts and 33 rushes on the day; those accumulated 200 yards and 162 yards, respectively. Each area also added in a touchdown; the first came from Rodgers to Richard Rodgers, the second a 1 yard plunge by fan-favorite John Kuhn.
This type of balance usually gives a team multiple positive outcomes in a game.
The most obvious is that it keeps the defense guessing, not allowing them to load up against any one aspect; despite having a pretty strong game overall and not allowing many successful scoring drives, there were just enough opening left for the Packers to both run and pass against since the 49ers could not bank on stopping either on a given play.
This balance also showed up in other areas. The Packers led the 1st-down battle 18-8, at least partially due to the ability to pick up yardage when needed on the ground or through the air to give them a new set of downs. They also held control in time of possession (36:34 – 23:26); by doing so, they controlled the tempo of the game.
Without the run game providing the necessary counter to the defense’s efforts to slow the passing game, this may well have been a much worse performance that Green Bay could have eventually lost even with their defense playing well.
It isn’t too hard to envision a scenario where the run game floundered, forcing the passing game to carry the load; more load without threat of the running game means more likely opportunities for the defense to force a mistake or two (i.e.: turnovers). Any mistakes or turnovers could have given the 49ers either the spark needed to inspire the offense or good enough field position to capitalize with a score or two that makes this game a lot less of the comfortable victory it tended to seem like despite the somewhat-close score throughout.
This kind of balance has been something Green Bay has worked on crafting for years now, with it showing up for most of the time that Eddie Lacy has been on the roster. Continued refinement of this aspect will only make this offensive group even more difficult to slow down.
Next: The Feet of #12