What Are We Doing?

I'll start with this: why in the hell is this game being played tonight?

OK, we all know why it's being played: money talks. But in light of the COVID outbreak that hit the 49ers on Wednesday, causing them to shut down their facility one day before the game, it seemed preposterous that they wouldn't push the game back to Monday or Tuesday. I mean, if this game was a Sunday game I would think it would be in jeopardy to be played as scheduled.

But the game is officially on and it will likely look nothing like the game we saw last January. Well, at least it better not look like the game we watched last January. Even before the virus struck the locker room, the Niners were just the latest Super Bowl loser to struggle the following year.

No team has been ravaged by injuries like San Francisco. Let's start with the offense: Last week they lost Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle to injuries that will keep them out for weeks. WR Deebo Samuel had already been ruled out. Raheem Mostert, who destroyed the Pack last January has been gone for weeks. Their next two running backs, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson are also out. Now the positive COVID test by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has cost them Bourne, electric rookie receiver (and THC draft crush) Brandon Aiyuk and left tackle Trent Williams.

Not one player who touched the ball in the NFC title game will be on the field tonight. Only fullback Kyle Jusczyk and a few linemen will be familiar to all but the most diehard followers of the team.

So what does this mean? It means that if Kyle Shanahan gets the best of Mike Pettine tonight, the Pack's DC may need to find a different mode of transportation to get home. The Niners will look to move the ball on the ground, since the last time they played the Pack they ran at will, to the tune of 285 yards. Yeah, we all remember that all too well. It doesn't seem to matter who carries the ball, they can make it work in Shanahan's offense.

Former Viking Jerick McKinnon, healthy for now, will share time with JaMycal Hasty. They're both smaller, quicker backs who excel in the passing game as well. I expect Hasty to be the featured guy. Let's just hope Pettine's defense doesn't turn him into a household name and instant fantasy waiver wire pickup (for the record, he's already on my roster but I will not be starting him tonight).

With Nick Mullens under center, the Niners have a capable backup. He's the dude who broke all of Brett Favre's records at Southern Miss. But he will be throwing to guys named Trent Taylor, Richie James and Ross Dwelley. Even without Kevin King, the Pack should be able to handle the passing game, especially when you consider they haven't had a chance to practice together.

That said, the Pack is very thin at safety with Will Redmond and Vernon Scott out and Raven Greene questionable. Greene would be really nice to have available, with his abilities against the run. With Kamal Martin on the COVID list, let's hope that Krys Barnes can finish the game (he's been limited all week with the shoulder injury he's been dealing with). The Pack will need to be infinitely better when it comes to tackling than they were last week. Granted, they're not facing Dalvin Cook tonight, but we didn't know who Mostert was before the championship game.

Now, let's consider what it's going to look like when the Pack has the ball tonight. It sounds like Aaron Jones is going to be held out. The fact that he was listed as limited on the injury report makes me pessimistic about his chances. I guess they weren't holding him out of the Vikings game to make sure they had him for this one. Obviously, the team desperately needs him, with Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon unavailable.

How much does the Pack trust Dexter Williams? You have to figure he'll get the first crack by default. But he has not been reliable as a receiver nor in pass protection, so the rope may be short. Tyler Ervin figures to be out there, maybe mostly on third downs and I wouldn't be surprised to see TE/FB John Lovett get some run. He may earn a few touches and prove to be more reliable in the pass pro department.

The Niners' injury issues really started on this side of the ball this season, beginning with the loss of elite pass rusher Nick Bosa, who was lost for the season almost before it started. They'll also be without Dee Ford, Richard Sherman and Solomon Thomas. They traded stud defensive lineman DeForest Buckner after last season and this week they dealt linebacker Kwon Alexander to the Saints. Yeah, it's a much different defense.

But there's still plenty of talent on that side of the ball, beginning with linebacker Fred Warner, who will play the part of Erik Kendricks this week. He's a tackling machine and is always around the ball. Up front, Arik Armstead needs to be dealt with and it's unclear who will be playing right tackle opposite him. Ricky Wagner is questionable with a knee injury, and David Bakhtiari's status is also up in the air. If he can go, Billy Turner can return to right tackle and all is right in the world. If not, Turner replaces Bakhtiari on the left side and I have no idea who slides in at RT. Jon Runyan? Elgton Jenkins? The line could be an adventure tonight.

The other mystery on offense is whether Alan Lazard will play. By the time you read this, we may already know his availability, but he did fly with the team and can be activated and play if the Packers decide he's ready to go. After watching the production at tight end the Pack got last week, the passing game looks poised for a big night--but it will help if there is a threat to run the ball some.

This game looks nothing like the game we expected when the schedule came out. The Packers are 6-7 point favorites against the depleted 49ers and are expected to take care of business and hit the halfway point of the season at 6-2. They have to still be smarting about their performance last Sunday. Combine that with how they were embarrassed twice by this team last year and you have to believe they'll be ready for a bit of revenge. Plus, the Pack has yet to lose two straight under Matt LaFleur.

The Packers will need to buck a little Thursday night history tonight. No team has ever flown from the Central time zone to the Pacific time zone and won a game on a Thursday night. Shanahan will likely have a few tricks up his sleeve, but there simply is no way the Packers can be considered a Super Bowl contender if they can't handle this team in its current state of distress:

Packers 23 49ers 13

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