The Green Bay Packers arrived in San Francisco on Sunday with an assumption. After seeing its defense roasted, sliced and served on a platter in the NFC Divisional Playoffs at Candlestick Park in January to the tune of 323 rushing yards, 181 by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Green Bay coaching staff assumed San Francisco would roll out a similar game plan to open up the 2013 season.
They were so assured San Francisco would go back to the zone read, they spent seven months preparing for it. And you could see why. If it a'int broke, don't fix it and all that.
But they were wrong.
While Green Bay spent its off-season preparing for one dimension of the San Franciso offense, the 49ers spent that same time working on the other dimension. The result? Kaepernick had a career day throwing the ball, connecting on 27-of-39 attempts for 412 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Those legs Green Bay spent so much time thinking about stayed willingly behind the line of scrimmage. And the 49ers won again, 34-28.
"The strategy was on full display with 13:26 left in the third quarter, when San Francisco faced third-and-9 with the game tied at 14," wrote Kevin Clark in the Wall Street Journal. "With the Packers playing just one lineman with his hand on the ground, it was clear Green Bay didn't intend to put much pressure on Kaepernick. Once the ball was snapped, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who feasts on quarterbacks, barely moved, staying about five yards from the line of scrimmage in a position to follow Kaepernick once he started running."
Needless to say, if you can design a scheme that keeps a heat-seeking missle like Clay Matthews standing still, you have won that play.
Lost in the the NFL's offseason hysteria about the zone read was the scheme's greatest lesson. It was never specifically about moving the ball down the field in one specific fashion. It's about taking the ball to a place where the defense hasn't devoted defenders.
Green Bay learned that lesson on Sunday. Again.