Matt LaFleur wants this one badly. He brings his team to San Francisco to face his mentor Kyle Shanahan and his good buddy, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Those guys have their team sitting on top of the league at 8-1, but their spot on the throne is very tenuous and the Pack can depose them with a win on Sunday night.
Green Bay comes into this clash remarkably healthy, with two weeks to prepare. The 49ers are banged up, missing several key players and are about to embark on the most difficult three game stretch in NFL history: playing three straight teams with .800 records. They hit the road to face Baltimore and New Orleans the next two weeks, so they know it’s imperative that they win this one.
We know they will be without LT Joe Staley, OLB Dee Ford, RB Matt Breida and K Robbie Gould. Listed as questionable are TE George Kittle and WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuels. Betting money says all three of those guys play and that might be the difference in this game.
The 49ers are an entirely different team when Kittle is on the field. He’s the most complete tight end in the league, the 49ers top receiving threat and a guy who ignites the running game. His return would be a major boost for an offense that has lost its way the last couple of games. They have not run the ball as well as they did earlier in the season and I expect them to showcase Tevin Coleman to test the Pack’s run defense and their ability to cover him as a receiver.
Their trade for Sanders in mid-season was huge, giving a big boost to a unit that lacked playmakers, though the rookie Samuels looks like he has star potential. Jimmy Garrapolo needs all the help he can get–he’s been up and down and has struggled when he’s forced out of the pocket, something the Packers’ pass rush should be able to accomplish. He’s prone to throwing interceptions and the Pack has been adept at taking the ball away this year.
What we’ve learned about the Pack’s defense through ten games is that they will give up big chunks of yardage throughout the game. The question on Sunday night is whether they can stiffen in the red zone and force their rookie kicker to salvage drives. The Smiths need to have big games against struggling right tackle Mike McGlinchey and backup left tackle Justin Skule.
The most interesting matchup will be Aaron Rodgers against the 49ers’ top-ranked defense. Their front four is so dominant they can get constant pressure, allowing seven guys to play in coverage. Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have all had great seasons, but they will miss Ford. If Rodgers can take what the defense gives him, dumping passes off to the backs and hitting receivers on slants and screens, he will have the opportunity to test Richard Sherman deep as he ties to cover Davante Adams.
Let’s hope LaFleur commits to the run as well, to keep that pass rush guessing. We’ve seen all season that the Packers are at their best when Aaron Jones is featured. A heavy dose of him and Jamal Williams need to be the game plan for the rest of the season. The Pack has been careful of not overworking Jones–he’s been on the field for 60% of the offensive snaps. Look for his workload to steadily increase as we tick closer to the playoffs.
This is such a tough one to call. The Packers are rested, healthy and haven’t turned the ball over in four games. They’re the only team in the league to be unbeaten and win four games against teams that currently have a winning record. The Niners are banged up and their best win came against the Panthers. Their other wins have come against the Bucs, Bengals, Steelers, Browns, Rams, Redskins and Cardinals twice.
This is absolutely a game the Packers can steal and I think they win if Kittle doesn’t play. But I think he will, so I’ll give the 49ers the slightest edge, knowing they have to have this one, with the Ravens and Saints up next.
49ers 24 Packers 23