Coaches preach it, but it’s a tough sermon to sell these days.
Run the ball, stop the run. It was the fundamental principle of championship football not so long ago, but the game has turned decidedly toward the pass in recent years, and so has the belief that championship football is played by teams that pass the ball and stop the pass.
“Over the years, it’s changed,” Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said. “Everybody loves the big plays, the passing game. Running the ball sets up a lot of things. If we can stop the run, there are a lot of things we can do.”
The Packers didn’t stop the run in a 30-22 loss to the 49ers this past Sunday. As much as Capers preached on the need to stop the 49ers from running the ball, his words were wasted.
Offensively, the Packers suffered a similar failing along the ground against the 49ers. While the defense was failing the stop the run, the offense was failing to run the ball. It’s a bad combination, even in today’s game.
“We want to play as well as we can every play, whether the play is a pass or a run. We threw it well, but we need that other part of our game,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said.
“They got off blocks well. Sometimes we didn’t hit the hole properly. There’s a combination of factors, beginning with they’re an excellent defense,” Clements said.
“Two of the runs, we were off the page with the offensive line. That’s learning and growing, with Cedric Benson being new,” Running Backs Coach Alex Van Pelt said. “It’s not a lack of toughness hitting the hole.”
All parties concerned went back to work, trying to sell their message in a short week of preparation for Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears, a franchise steeped in power football. The Bears are similar to the 49ers in that they like to stop the run with a minimum of defenders committed to the line of scrimmage, though they’re different in how they accomplish it.
“They’re a little different style of defense. They’re penetrators, where San Francisco is more read and react,” Clements said.
Capers knows his defense can expect the Bears to focus on running the ball, partially because it’s in their personality to do so, and additionally because they saw what the 49ers were able to do on Sunday.
“They’ve got two very good runners. I have a lot of respect for (Matt) Forte. He can go the distance with screens. He’s good in pass protection. He’s a complete back. (Michael) Bush is a big back. They’ve obviously improved their talent at receiver. We know their personnel well and we’ve played against (Jay) Cutler quite a bit,” Capers said in a mini scouting report on the Bears.
Just as it began – you might say it never began – with stopping 49ers running back Frank Gore this past Sunday, stopping the Bears will begin with stopping Forte on Thursday.
“When people run the ball on you, they end up with third-and-short situations, and they’re tough to win because now you have to defend run and pass,” Capers said.
It’s this week’s sermon, just as it was last week. Additional coverage - Sept. 12