16 carries for 181 yards, with two touchdown runs of 20 and 56 yards. The thing is, these numbers weren't made by Minnesota Vikings MVP running back Adrian Peterson. They were made by San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made the game against Green Bay his coming out party in the playoffs by guiding the 49ers to a 45-31 win.
The biggest difference in the game: the Packers' inability to stop the zone read. The Packers' linebackers, Erik Walden in particular (who is now with the Indianapolis Colts), were unable to contain the 49ers' powerful running game and the dual-threat ability of Kaepernick, who beat them with his arm as well as his legs. And defensive coordinator Dom Capers was unable to adjust and get the 49ers potent offense off the field, and this game left his future with the Packers uncertain.
But what have the Packers done to adjust for that in the offseason? The zone read concepts could be becoming more than a gimmick in this league soon as more quarterbacks run it in college, and bring knowledge of it to the NFL. Both the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks ran it successfully behind their rookie quarterbacks in Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, and all boasted some pretty good ground games. The Carolina Panthers have also found success running their own version with quarterback Cam Newton.
The Atlanta Falcons realized this, and took a trip to Clemson University to learn more about the zone read from Clemson's offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who has implemented the zone read at Clemson and made them into one of college football's best offenses. Urban Meyer highlighted the concepts of the zone read at Clemson and how it can really put pressure on a defense.
The Packers could have taken the same route as the Falcons and learned some concepts about the zone read, where the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback in what is known as the pistol formation instead of beside him, as he normally would in the shotgun formation. Not only could the Packers have learned more about the zone read and how to counter it on defense, but head coach Mike McCarthy could have also done something else: considered implementing it into the Packers' own offense to make their offense even more of a threat.
Everyone is already aware of what Rodgers can do as a quarterback in McCarthy's current West Coast offensive scheme. But implementing zone read concepts would fit the Packers' personnel. Rodgers is a mobile quarterback who can evade pressure, and, while running him all the time isn't necessarily an option, the threat it brings for defenses is enough to make it relevant for linebackers and safeties to sneak up. This in turn also opens up the passing game for the Packers, who have the triple threat of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones.
One thing that the zone has done is allowed offenses to place the ball in the hands of their best playmakers. Just as Florida ran this scheme to perfection and gave the ball to the likes of Percy Harvin often, and Clemson does the same by feeding their dynamic receiver Sammy Watkins, the Packers have their own dynamic threat in Randall Cobb. Adding some wrinkles of the zone read will give the Packers more chances to get the ball in Cobb's hands more often, as near the end of the season he garnered more attention from opposing secondaries. McCarthy is looking for ways to get the ball to his best playmakers, and this would be one of them.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the zone read: t has revitalized the importance of a strong running game, which the Packers have been in sore need of to take some pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. Of course, the Packers need to decide on a durable, dependable running back rotation, and whether they head into training camp with who they currently have or address the need in the draft, the zone read could increase the effectiveness of the Packers' ground game. Best of all, Rodgers remains the facilitator of how the zone read runs, and his ability to read defenses will expand with the addition of having to read the defensive end to decide whether to hand the ball off, keep it or pass it.
The long term future of the zone read may be up for debate, and whether fans or analysts alike think it's in the NFL to stay or if it's merely a gimmick, the Packers have the players and the ability to make it their own.