Oct 4, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) reacts after recording a sack against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Levi
The Run Defense
In my estimation, this is the area that needs to be watched every single week with the defense.
We may be in the midst of a time in league history where the running game means as little as it ever has, but it is still important to giving a team balance. If your defense can disrupt that balance and force a team to put the ball in the air, your unit is dictating the game and elevating the odds of forcing a game-changing sack or turnover — especially if the passing game isn’t particularly their strength.
That was especially true of the 49ers coming in.
Since the former Harbaugh era started, this team was built around a dominant run offense and their equally forceful defense. They fell off that last season — part of why they ended up underperforming and getting Harbaugh fired — but it still has appeared that would be their best option.
The offense’s receiving options are best suited to be possession-types (Anquan Boldin) or deep threats (Torrey Smith); they don’t have the type of every-down dominant presence to keep the chains moving. The offensive line has been better at run-blocking than pass-blocking for years, and even though they lost guys to free agency and retirement, run-blocking is a simpler ordeal than pass-blocking (think: is it easier to push through something or hold your ground against it?)
Most of all though is the quarterback and running back. Carlos Hyde had been decently impressive leading into the game — especially in the 49ers’ Week 1 victory — and one of the biggest positives about Colin Kaepernick has always been his running ability.
San Francisco was held in check all day.
Kaepernick did a couple nice things on the ground, but most of it was in desperation and didn’t tend to get far (10 carries, 57 yards). Hyde did a lot less, getting only 20 yards on his 8 carries. As a team, they only rushed 19 times for 77 yards; not exactly breathtaking.
Things were so blasé that on some level it was as if San Francisco basically abandoned the running game a lot sooner than they should have; this game never got more than 14 points out of reach, so the score was close enough that they really could have kept running if they wanted to.
Apparently they noticed this defense had been stopping them pretty well. It also didn’t help that they routinely ended up stuck in long situations due to the inability to move the ball consistently on the ground.
This was yet another good showing from a widely-panned unit against a talented run game. In my estimation, they have come up big in three of their four matchups like that this season so far (the only one they didn’t do well against was Chicago; that was also on the road, without Morgan Burnett, and against a team with a newly-instilled coaching staff. Lots of unknown/unenviable variables working against them in that aspect).
They will have yet another tough task in the next week, with the Rams and Todd Gurley (who had quite an impressive showing against the Cardinals; 146 yards on 19 carries).
If the last few weeks of performances against the rush are any indication however — especially the ones against Seattle and this week — Green Bay should be up to the challenge.
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