It was always going to be close, but the San Francisco 49ers managed to prevail against the Green Bay Packers yesterday on a 33-yard, game-winning field goal from veteran kick Phil Dawson. Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree racked up the big numbers on the stat sheet on the offensive side of the ball, but no two players stood out to me more than 49ers top-notch pass rushing duo Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, who certainly made their presences felt yesterday. In fact, Smith and Brooks were crucial in the 49ers success, even if Aaron Rodgers still “got his”. I mean, he’s the best friggin’ QB in the NFL, so it’s hard for Rodgers not to look good, even in the face of incredible pressure.
I was critical of Brooks as a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection due to the better resumes of other outside linebackers, but there is little doubt that Brooks is a great 3-4 OLB and there is even less doubt that he looked like a Pro Bowler yesterday afternoon in Lambeau. Smith may be the better player, but it was Brooks who spearheaded the 49ers pass rush, as he put incredibly consistent pressure on Rodgers. There is little doubt that he beat Don Barclay with ease, and both Packers tackles looked completely overmatched against Smith and Brooks, whose consistent pressure prevented Rodgers from making big plays (he averaged just 10.4 yards per attempt).
Aldon Smith, who is one of the most devastating pass rushers in the NFL when he’s at his best, finished with 1.5 sacks and was stout against the run. Brooks was even better with two full sacks, and he also had two more tackles (six to four) than his partner on the right-hand side of the 49ers elite defense.
Aaron Rodgers went 17-26, but he only averaged 6.8 yards per attempt against the 49ers defense due to the fact that he was almost always under pressure on the outside. For much of the game, Rodgers was seen scrambling around or uncomfortable in the pocket, and it would have been another vintage performance in the cold from Rodgers had the Packers won. Heck, he was still really good considering the circumstances, because it’s never easy to have a 97.8 QB Rating with no interceptions when one of the league’s best pass rushing duos is hot on your tail and playing their best football.
There is little doubt that Brooks and Smith were at their best in combining for ten tackles and 3.5 sacks, but their impact on the 23-20 win goes beyond the stats. I mean, it’s one thing to get 3.5 sacks and do little else aside from that. It’s another thing to manhandle the guys blocking you and consistently put an elite quarterback under duress, thus cutting out the big play and alleviating a lot of pain from your secondary. The Packers ran a lot of four-wide looks, and they would have won this game by spreading out the 49ers defense and racking up bigger passing yards had the pass rush not consistently been there.