The San Francisco 49ers did what all great teams do. They came up with an effective gameplan and then executed it to perfection.
According to Mike Silver of NFL.com, the plan devised by Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers offensive staff for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game was relatively simple: Run the ball until the Packers proved they could stop it, and use a hoard of tight ends to go right at edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in the run game.
The 49ers used a devastatingly effective rushing attack to run right over the Packers on the way to a 37-20 win at Levi’s Stadium.
“[Our coaches] said before this game, ‘We’re gonna run it till they stop it.’ So we did, and they didn’t stop it, and we kept running and running some more,” 49ers tight end George Kittle, arguably the game’s best run-blocking tight end, told Silver.
The 49ers lined up and ran the ball down the Packers’ throats. Save for one stop on third-and-short on the 49ers’ first possession, the Packers had no answer.
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Spearheaded by the effectiveness of the tight ends blocking on the edges, the constant disguise of pre-snap motion and the speed of running back Raheem Mostert, the 49ers raced to 285 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on 42 attempts, with 220 of the yards and all four scores coming from Mostert.
The Packers tried a little bit of everything but nothing worked. Their stars were neutralized.
Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, the productive pass-rushing pair who powered the defense’s revival, were fully subverted by a plan that forced them to be perfect at the point of attack on almost every single running play. And the 49ers threw only eight passes, so their best asset – disrupting the quarterback – was almost completely negated.
At times, the 49ers ran trap blocks on the edge rushers. Other times, a tight end and an offensive lineman combined to double-team the edge. And Kittle did his share of blocking both Za’Darius and Preston Smith one-on-one. Everything worked.
Mostert’s speed caused huge problems. He’d either beat the Packers defense to the edge and get around the corner for a big gain, or he’d take advantage of an over-pursuing back seven terrified of his speed and cutback to daylight.
The first two drives of this game were largely uneventful. San Francisco started the game with the ball and ran it three times before punting. The Packers didn’t do much better, gaining just one first down before seeing Jamaal Williams tackled a yard short of the first-down marker on a third-and-3 swing pass and then punting the ball back to the Niners even though they had an opportunity to go for a fourth-and-1 from the 50-yard line.
The play made by Dre Greenlaw to get Williams to the ground before he could get a first down may have been the real turning point of the game, but the catalyst for the explosion we saw the rest of the way came to a few plays later. Two big gains from Deebo Samuel set San Francisco up inside Green Bay territory, but the Niners followed up Raheem Mostert’s six-yard run on first down with a screen pass that lost four yards. All of a sudden, it was third-and-8 from the Green Bay 36-yard line.
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