49ers Can Run, But They Can't Hide.Posted:Jan 21st, 2022 9:50 am
We’re programmed to be uptight. We’re programmed to start believing all the pre-game hype. This is the worst possible matchup for the Packers, they say. A hard-nosed physical team that can run it down your throat and get after the quarterback is the last thing the Pack wants to face this weekend.
R-E-L-A-X. I’m not buying it. Yes, this is a very talented 49ers team has gotten better as the season has gone on, but they are not coming into a frigid Lambeau Field on Saturday night against this Packers team and springing the upset. Not happening.
Now, I’m not saying it’s going to be a cakewalk. Not at all. I've got concerns, starting with the first quarter. The 49ers have been playing playoff football for the past two weeks. Their unlikely comeback against the Rams two weeks ago has them playing confidently and feeling like they’re ‘that’ team this season. The Pack hasn’t played a meaningful game since the Week 17 yawner against Sean Mannion and the Vikings.
And they've been slow out of the gate virtually all season, averaging a head-scratching three points in the first quarter all season. This is the kind of a game where a fast start by Green Bay is the last thing the Niners want to see. They want the ball and they want to see how much clock they can use up, take a lead and see if the Pack starts to panic a bit. The Packers need to send a message: the offense needs to feed off the crowd and send a message early.
It sounds like the 49ers’ two injured defensive stars will both be able to go. If Nick Bosa clears concussion protocol, and it sounds like he will, he should be his usual menacing self. Though he did virtually nothing against Billy Turner (who will return at right tackle) in the Week 3 matchup. Linebacker Fred Warner’s ankle injury bears watching. It’s hard to believe he’ll be anywhere near 100%, and the cold conditions won’t help. A somewhat gimpy Warner is a big loss for that defense.
On the other side, the Pack will be without MVS, which eliminates the offense’s deep threat and will allow SF to scheme differently, not worried that they can get beat over the top. We know Davante Adams will get all their attention; but he has monster games whenever he faces this team and it will be no different Saturday night. Allen Lazard’s emergence the last five weeks (second most TDs in the league during that stretch) and the return of Randall Cobb means Rodgers will have reliable options all over the field. I see Josiah Deguara making a big play or two. And look for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to make plays in the passing game against the Niners’ aggressive pass rush.
I’m really curious to see how well Green Bay runs the ball against a defense that is among the league’s best in that department. They haven’t faced too many top tier backs this season and the Pack’s offensive line should feature four of their preferred starters for the first time in forever--a unit that takes pride in its run blocking proficiency. Only Elgton Jenkins is missing, presuming David Bakhtiari starts at left tackle. His questionable status on the injury report and absence from practice this week is cause for concern. If Yosh Njiman is forced to start, it won’t be disaster. He made his first start back in Week 3 against the Niners and his performance since replacing Jenkins has been a revelation.
But the biggest storyline heading into this game is whether the Packers can deal with the 49ers’ resurgent running game, which is hitting its stride since Kyle Shanahan decided to make sure his best offensive player has the ball in his hands as often as possible. Deebo Samuel was one of the league’s best receivers all season and was maybe the best after the catch. His emergence as a part time tailback has made this offense even tougher to defend. With all of the motion and misdirection, the Packers’ defense has to be disciplined and not get duped by all the bells and whistles. Hopefully, the gadgety stuff the Lions ran (and ran productively) in Week 18 gave this unit a hint at what might be coming.
Green Bay has been a much better tackling team this season—De’Vondre Campbell led the league with just four missed tackles all season. His All Pro performance in 2021 is a main reason this defense took a big step this season. That said, he and his teammates have to wrap up on Saturday night. Jimmy Garoppolo, battling thumb and shoulder injuries, will not be looking to throw the ball deep. He wants to get the ball in his playmakers’ hands and let them rack up the YAC. The Pack needs to get Samuel, Kittle, Aiyuk and company on the ground as soon as they catch the ball. Make that team work for its yards.
Speaking of Garoppolo, we all know that his big problem is giving the ball away. He always throws a couple of balls up for grabs. That ugly pick in Dallas last weekend nearly cost them the game. The Pack needs to hold up on first down and put him in passing situations. We’ll find out today whether Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus are activated. If they play, they’ll both be on snap counts and will likely take snaps away from Jonathan Garvin and Tipa Gilea—that’s a huge upgrade in sub packages.
Rashan Gary and Preston Smith will make things dicey for Jimmy; the question is, can they hold up in the run game and keep Elijah Mitchell and Samuel from doing damage on the edges. I’m hoping the Pack learned its lesson from the Browns game. They followed up by bottling up Dalvin Cook the next week, but there was no passing game to contend with.
Unfortunately, special teams will also factor into this one as it did in the first meeting, when the Pack’s near perfect first half and 17-0 lead were derailed by giving up a huge punt return in the final minute, leading to a momentum-building touchdown and then another coming out of the half to make it a ball game. I expect and pray that David Moore will return punts—Amari Rodgers back there on a freezing night? No thanks.
Add it all up and it comes to this: the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. He’s been on a mission all season and is more than ready to end the narrative about his 0-3 playoff record against the 49ers—the team that passed on him on draft day. He may get off to a slow start, but he’ll heat up quickly enough and find holes in the secondary. He, Adams, Bakhtiari, Marcedes Lewis and the other veterans are ready for this moment. This team was 13-2 in games Rodgers started and finished. They've found a way to win all season.
The Packers are undefeated this season at home. The Packers are undefeated this season when they take the ball away at least once. Do you not believe the Pack will get a takeaway? Do you not believe the frigid temperatures and jam packed Lambeau Field won’t make a difference? Do you really think the 49ers, playing on a short week, traveling east and led by a dinged up Jimmy Garoppolo are going to come into Lambeau and outduel the soon to be four time MVP? The Packers are Super Bowl favorites for a reason. They'll remind everyone on Saturday night.
Packers 31 49ers 20