It was a hard-fought game as the 49ers earned it with a 34-28 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon. What really stood out in this game was how the Packers had the right game plan against the 49ers. The biggest reason why they lost? Colin Kaepernick was one step ahead of them in execution.
From the build up to the game, it was well-documented how the Packers weren't scared to hit the quarterback and focus on the read-option. The coaching staff even spent the summer at Texas A&M with head coach Kevin Sumlin's staff on read-option football. Texas A&M Aggies Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel has been known to have a dual threat ability similar to Colin Kaepernick.
Their ability to stop the run and read-option showed and credit is given to defensive coordinator Dom Capers and the rest of his staff for studying a new style of football. In the first half, the 49ers only had 16 yards on the ground and it wasn't until the fourth quarter where they were worn down to give up yardage to Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Colin Kaepernick has been known to scramble if he sees an opening or if the coverage in the secondary is well-executed. This time, the Packers had everyone keep an eye on the quarterback in case he chose to run. Five or six Packers were seen swarming on Kaepernick the moment he was declared as a runner.
What motivated them for this? There were 181 reasons when Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards with two touchdown runs in the NFC Divisional Playoff meeting last January. It was an embarrassing 56-yard touchdown by run by Colin Kaepernick allowed by the Packers off a read-option. Kaepernick wasn't the only one who dominated on the ground as Frank Gore had 119 rushing yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.2 yards on 23 carries.
This time, Gore and Kaepernick were held for 66 yards on 28 carries, averaging 2.4 yards per attempt. In the fourth quarter, the Packers allowed a 20-yard run by Kendall Hunter followed by an 8-yard touchdown run that gave the 49ers the lead for good.
Not only did the Packers have a good plan defensively, but offensively they did well. In the first half, they had a paltry 10 rushing yards on the ground with Aaron Rodgers throwing for 203 yards and two touchdown passes. It wasn't easy to gain on the ground when it was well-known that rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari was the starting LT for the Packers. They countered well by calling a screen play to Eddie Lacy when he caught a short pass that went for 31 yards. The 49ers had trouble tackling and if it weren't for a turnover in the first half, they would have been trailing at halftime.
In the second half, they adjusted to philosophy of run first and pass second which worked. Lacy helped give them a few first downs, then Rodgers went out to pass and found Jordy Nelson for a significant game. The balance on offense helped throw the 49ers off rhythm which had them allow two touchdowns. It wasn't until crunch time after the 49ers went ahead that the Packers were forced to pass first and later crumbled.
The biggest reason the 49ers won was because the Packers challenged Kaepernick to make plays with his arm. In his first opening day start, Kaepernick was able to find Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis several times as the secondary of the Packers gave up significant yardage. The Packers were shorthanded in the secondary with both CB Casey Hayward and S Morgan Burnett being ruled out for the game as it hurt them in coverage.
With little resources and pre-season injuries, the Packers coaching staff adjusted the best that they could given the situation. The complexion of this game could have changed had a few turnovers not happened where an interception by Eric Reid occurred went off Jermichael Finley's hands and a fumble in their own zone.
The Packers will continue to be a force in the NFC when healthy and will still be a threat. Jim Harbaugh's 49ers just finished stronger in the fourth quarter when it mattered most.