SANTA CLARA –- Aaron Rodgers is good enough on his own that he does not need any gifts from the 49ers’ defense.
That is 49ers coach Jim Tomsula’s message this week in practices leading up to Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers is a master of using the hard count and his cadence to draw the defense offside. Then, he often unleashes nothing-to-lose deep throws.
At worst, the Packers accept the five-yard penalty. At best, Rodgers connects for a big gain against a flat-footed defense that becomes susceptible to a pass down the field.
On Monday, he caught Kansas City's defense napping with a 52-yard pass to James Jones after it jumped into the neutral zone at the snap.
“Yeah, there’s no secret to it,” Tomsula said on Friday. “We talked about that the other day. It’s something he’s really good at -- one of the many things he’s really good at.”
Last week, 49ers defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie jumped offside on a running play. He stopped while Arizona running back Chris Johnson ran around that side for a 15-yard gain.
“You have to keep playing,” Tomsula said. “I thought he made contact. If you make contact like that then, obviously, they blow that dead. They don’t want to give you something unimpeded to the quarterback. But, you can’t decipher that. You’ve just got to play.
“Your natural reaction is you want to pull back. And then, we’ve all seen guys that come off the ball and then blast the O-Linemen. Then you’re looking at that going, ‘What in the world?’ So the thing to do is to stay onsides.”
The 49ers got to Russell Wilson in Monday night's 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilson was sacked a season-high five times at Levi's Stadium, posting his second-worst passer rating of 2019 (86.9) and a season-low 43.6 QBR. He also threw his second interception of the season and fumbled for the first time since Week 4.
Yet Wilson did just enough to remain effective in spite of that pressure, showing why he is an MVP frontrunner when he led the Seahawks to their game-winning field-goal drive in overtime. Wilson also employed plenty of misdirection to keep the 49ers' dominant pass rush at bay, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
On the season, the 49ers have pressured QBs on 29.7 percent of dropbacks. That 17 percent pressure rate on play-action plays would be 30th-best in the NFL if extended over a full season, just behind the Cincinnati Bengals (17.1 percent) and just ahead of the Oakland Raiders (15.9 percent).
For reference, those two teams have combined for five fewer sacks (30) than the 49ers have all season.
Wilson's play-action success could give opposing teams something of a blueprint, and that could trip up the 49ers in their own division down the stretch. In addition to playing the Seahawks once more, the 49ers also will play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 at Levi's. Rams coach Sean McVay loves using play-action, and the Rams were far more efficient last season on play-action passes than traditional ones. The Rams have taken a step back this season and the 49ers kept LA's offense in check in Week 6, but play-action remains a big part of the Rams' offense and the 49ers will have to be ready for it.
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It doesn't stop with the Seahawks and Rams. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is known for his play-action abilities, too, while Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers also have been better in play-action this season. The 49ers play Green Bay and Arizona in each of the next two weeks.
San Francisco has a difficult slate of QBs remaining on its schedule, including ones who succeed where Wilson did Monday night. That's one additional area the 49ers will have to shore up down the stretch.
Despite the 49ers not suffering their first loss until Week 10, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his play in 2019.
He has done enough to lead his team to victories in all but one game this season, but the 49ers haven’t had to ask much of their signal-caller thanks to a dominant defense and a highly-potent running game.
His first chance to make a statement against a great team in prime time didn’t go as expected, as Garoppolo was just above a 50 percent completion percentage and had his worst QB rating (66.2) of the year in Monday night’s 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
"At one point, I remember looking up at the TV, and I said, 'I cannot remember Jimmy Garoppolo playing with happy feet like this,'" King told Mike Florio and Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk. "Look, this is whatever, like his 18th NFL start, so we don't really know him yet, but that was a bad night for Jimmy Garoppolo and for 49ers fans who want to love him, who want to have faith in him."
The 49ers might have fallen in the team’s first true test of 2019, but there are plenty of worthy opponents on the horizon for San Francisco.
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After hosting the Cardinals in Week 11, San Francisco will take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a recently flexed matchup on "Sunday Night Football," followed up by trips to Baltimore and New Orleans in consecutive weeks.
So there will be ample opportunity for Jimmy G and his squad to rebound in front of a prime-time audience.