Packers Run Defense a Big Key to Defeating the 49ers

The Green Bay Packers will face a tough challenge on Saturday night when they open the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. One reason for this is that the 49ers strengths line up with many of the Packers weaknesses.

San Francisco is the one remaining team left in the NFC that does not have an offense that revolves around their quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo started 15 games but threw just 20 touchdown passes this season while also tossing 12 interceptions. He is truly a game manager who is called upon to not make mistakes more than he is asked to make game-changing plays.

Instead, the 49ers offense is predicated on a strong running game with a complimentary passing game that doesn’t make big mistakes.

So, Joe Barry and the Packers defense will have to slow down the 49ers running game. The challenge will not be easy as San Francisco ranked 7th in the league by gaining an average of 127.4-yards rushing per game. They averaged 4.3-yards per rush as a team.

The San Francisco running game is very different now than it was in Week 3 when the Packers. Their leading rusher this season is Elijah Mitchell who played in 11 games and started 10. He did not start in the Packers regular season matchup with the 49ers in Week 3. Mitchell gained 963 yards in 207 carries, an average of 4.7-yards per rush.

Over the last half of the season, the 49ers made a major change to their offense. They started to move their top wide receiver, Deebo Samuel, to running back on select plays. Samuel has outstanding speed and is one of the best wideouts in the league at running with the ball after the catch. That elusiveness and explosiveness also make him a threat to break a long run any time he gets his hands on the ball.

This season, Samuel ran the ball 59 times for 365 yards, an impressive 6.2-yard average per rush. He also scored eight rushing touchdowns and the 49ers were 7-0 in games he ran for a score.

Lining up Samuel in the backfield also can create mismatches in the passing game. Samuel can be matched up with a linebacker or a safety which gives him a big advantage because of his speed. The mismatch can be exploited by the 49ers.

But Samuel also causes difficulties for the Packers run defense. He can use his speed to gain the edge and can be used on jet sweeps and end arounds as well. One thing the Packers defense has had trouble with this season is holding contain on the edge. Players like Rashan Gary and Preston Smith have often failed to stay in their lanes and leave the edge exposed when they get sucked inside or blocked as they try to recover.

As a team, the Packers allowed opponents to gain 4.7-yards per rushing attempt this season. There are reasons for hope, however. Kenny Clark is healthy again and stout in the middle. The return of Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus, even if they can only play limited snaps, should make the edge defense more consistent and hold the edge better.

The other thing the Packers can do to contain the San Francisco running game is to get off to a quick start and take the lead. That forces the 49ers to throw to catch up and takes them out of their game plan.

In the first meeting between the teams back in September, the Packers jumped out to a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter. The 49ers had to pass to get back into the game. Their running game suffered as a result. They gained only 67 yards on 21 carries, an average of just 3.2-yards per carry.

Taking a lead has been one of the keys to the Packers success on defense. Doing that on Saturday night should help limit the 49ers chances of running the football extensively, controlling the clock and keeping Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field.

In the first meeting between the teams, time of possession was nearly equal with the Packers holding the ball for 30:08 to 29:52 for the 49ers. A similar performance on Saturday would give the home team a very good chance of winning the game.

Containing Mitchell, Samuel and the 49ers running game won’t be easy, but the Packers are capable to doing it. If they succeed, they have a very good chance of advancing to the NFC Championship for the third straight season.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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7 points

Comments (54)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:05 pm

Yes. If the D can restrict the run it will force the 49ers out of their game plan and tilt it towards the biggest relative weakness. Without the run, Jimmy G is more of an issue than his stats suggest.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 06:54 pm

There lies the rub. Will they show up and play fundamental football? If they watch Their Film from 2019 or 2020 with the power runs and Gronk Screens during the fourth quarter crunch time fails, they should accept the blame and come in Saturday Evening with the Resolve needed to hold the position, make the Plays and win the Game.

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GBPDAN1's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:20 pm

You mentioned that Z-Smith is good at holding the edge? He sure didn't in the 2019 NFC championship game ( and other games). Hope all of our OLBs are disciplined for this game. Stopping SFs running game is my only concern regarding this game (well, and Special teams)

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Qoojo's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:00 pm

You got that right, and it's part of why I suggested keeping Gary and Preston outside and playing Z inside, when Z comes back.

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dobber's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:03 pm

I think Z is only going to play 20-ish snaps anyway, and probably only on obvious passing downs. I don't expect the Packers to risk him wrestling with OTs on run plays (and helping TE/OG) too often. If I had to guess, he and Mercilus will probably divvy up most of the snaps Garvin and Galeai got in recent weeks, and spell P and Gary on occasion.

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Guam's picture

January 20, 2022 at 02:42 pm

I think Mercilus could get a few snaps on the D-line. Losing Keke has thinned the DL rotation just a bit and if Slaton or Abdullah are not playing well, Mercilus could well get some of their snaps too.

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Coldworld's picture

January 21, 2022 at 08:59 am

I think you will see more Abdullah in this game. He’s been good against the run. Not sure if he’s got the ability to penetrate, but he’s a good fit for how we expect this game to develop.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 21, 2022 at 12:55 pm

Those guys pushed Keke out the door. I agree with Coldworld--bring Abdullah into the rotation.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 06:57 pm

I would keep Tipa on the game day roster. He has the speed to run with Deebo and get into Jimmy's face quickly.
Shanahan Junior is all about speed and release.

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Coldworld's picture

January 21, 2022 at 09:02 am

Tipa is fast but so sleight. He has by far the worst pressure by snap rate of any on the roster, but I could see him kept to cover and as a situational blitzer, should we use one. Garvin is more like the other OLBs.

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mrj007's picture

January 20, 2022 at 02:31 pm

Edge contain is a legitimate concern in this game

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Spanky65's picture

January 21, 2022 at 06:10 am

You are absolutely correct in your concerns with the Run Defense specially with
Lancaster and Lowry still playing in the Dl-Line (Still have nightmares seeing these two
guys being run over in the 2019 NFC Title Game) As for the Special Teams big concerns
in defending the kickoff and punt returns. Lets Hope that this game does not come
down having to win it on a last second FG I have based on recent performances big
concerns in trusting Mason Crosby to deliver in the clutch

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Leatherhead's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:21 pm

If our offense scores on our possessions, SF will be forced to try to pass to keep up. If we don’t put points on the board, or we turn it over, then SF can stay on the ground. That’s what they’d like.

I continue to see this as simply as 12, 33 and 28, and 17. That’s 80% of our offense. For three years they’ve been good at protecting the ball and scoring points, except in our playoff losses. We will win or lose based on their play

Some guys will play well, and some won’t, and we’ll make mistakes, but it’ll be the Big 7 on offense that wins or loses this game, Rodgers, Jones, Adams, Dillon, Lazard, Lewis, MVS.

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Since'61's picture

January 20, 2022 at 03:18 pm

Our offense will go(score) as far as our OL takes them. We need to win the LOS to win the game. Thanks, Since ‘61

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Leatherhead's picture

January 20, 2022 at 03:33 pm

100% correct.

But oddly, I’m not worried about the line. They have answered the challenge over and over this year. Minus Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Myers, and Turner. And these guys like Nijman and Newman and Runyon and Patrick have gotten it done. All props to CoachSten.

Every game in the last 3years, I’ve always felt if we got blocking, we’d put enough points on the board to win. As long as we don’t burn ourselves with turnovers. Maybe I’m just psychologically scarred from the Favre years😖

4 points
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Since'61's picture

January 20, 2022 at 04:28 pm

We need to stop the SF ground game and keep our ground game going effectively. Hopefully we can play with a lead and make the SF offense one dimensional. A lead by halftime could be huge because the temperature will probably drop down to single digits. That will impact the receivers and the kicking game. It will become difficult to mount a comeback as the temperature drops late in the game. GPG! Thanks, Since '61

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:10 pm

In the Playoffs, there has to be the key contribution from the least expected "hero"; Bush with the pick on Ben, but really the Dominance of Tramon turning the momentum vs Atlanta and Icing Philly. If he doesn't elevate to snag the INT in the end zone, Vick hits the WR for the Score. I am very anxious for the return of Jaire. I truly hope Savage will see the light and bring it. Like I said before, a prop bet on Deguara.

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Leatherhead's picture

January 20, 2022 at 03:34 pm

Double

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ImFubared's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:23 pm

I can see the 9ers run game being very effective because we lack speed on the outside and have all year. Garys ass is wider then my snow shovel now and he really never possessed great speed to begin with.
One analyst was saying if the 9ers run game is effective it keeps Rodgers on the bench and may costs him two series where he could have done damage. I agree.
Gutt is a terrible Gm. Doesnt draft speed and when he does, that speed aint to bright (Stokes).

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SterlingSharpe's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:53 pm

Gute is a terrible GM?
And you call Stokes not "too bright", yet you spelled "too" wrong?

Put the bong down son

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dobber's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:05 pm

They do things diff'rnt-like in Minnesota.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:23 pm

Or Alabama.

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Bear's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:56 pm

4.57-second
Gary's 4.57-second 40-yard dash is preposterous, and he was accordingly named college football's second-biggest freak athlete by NFL.com prior to the 2018 season.Sep 23, 2021

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 21, 2022 at 12:53 pm

@ 275 LBS, Very comparable to Bruce Smith's. Gary needs to watch his film. If OLB coach, Smith does not have
his group ready to rumble and control this Game, he should be moved out of Pro Football. Andy Reid was not satisfied, nor should Pack Fans.

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Coldworld's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:44 pm

Who lacks speed?

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dobber's picture

January 21, 2022 at 05:15 am

<< raises hand >>

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Coldworld's picture

January 21, 2022 at 09:03 am

Too many Cookies!

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mnbadger's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:30 pm

I'm more excited about getting WMercilus back than ZSmith. Z may create more big plays, but W is more likely to stuff the run and contain the edge, IMO.
Unfortunately, some of Z's big plays may be for the other team if he tries too hard to splash.
Stop the run. Run the ball, control the clock, take care of the ball, NET Zero on special teams and we win comfortably.
Pack 30-20. GPG!

8 points
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dobber's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:06 pm

Both Z and Mercilus are good rushing the passer from the interior, too. The Packers used Mercilus as a stand-up interior rusher early in the season. DIfferent looks that they weren't getting so much when they weren't in the lineup.

3 points
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BradHTX's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:01 pm

I said when the news broke that Mercilus might be back, a front six of…

Smith - Clark - Mercilus
Smith - Campbell - Gary

…on passing downs could be downright scary. There’s no way one of Smith - Smith - Clark - Mercilus - Gary isn’t beating his man and pummeling the opposing QB.

1 points
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blacke00's picture

January 21, 2022 at 07:27 am

If they line up these guys on passing downs as I think you are proposing, then I think the 49ers can't double team anyone which certainly opens up opportunities for someone....or the 49ers will turn to the quick passing game. Can the Pack handle that...we'll see.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:16 pm

Mercilus will hold the Edge. He's a Pro.

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gkarl's picture

January 20, 2022 at 12:49 pm

Z is a very good player and glad to have him back, but in his time with GBP he's been much better at rushing the QB than containing the run. I'm looking for the other OLB & DL to do that more than him.

4 points
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Coldworld's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:47 pm

Some of it depends what he’s being asked to do. Under Pettine he was our primary rush threat. At times he’s held the edge very well.

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splitpea1's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:09 pm

I'm glad we're playing this team, because it almost serves as a report card as to how well the Packers organization has addressed the defensive weaknesses, particularly inside in this case, from a couple of seasons ago.

SF has to look no further than the film from Christmas day vs. the Browns for a blueprint on how to succeed against the Packers defense and control the clock.

I'm sure Samuel will have an impact, but if we can do a reasonably good job on Mitchell and keep Kittle (he hasn't been much of a receiving factor lately, but certainly don't fall asleep on him!) under control, that will keep Rodgers on the field marching our way toward points.

The SF run defense has been very stingy since moving Armstead inside; so expect some tough sledding there. We'll probably need to beat them through the air. This may be a game where Cobb really comes in handy.

Despite the fact that this game looks like a tough match-up on paper, I think we'll be ready for business for four quarters.

6 points
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Coldworld's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:50 pm

True, but actually I see it as likely more enlightening about whether LaFleur and his team have learnt from last year’s championship demonstration of how to shoot ourselves in the foot before we call the first play and whether those that matter have really bought into the idea of Dillon when it matters.

4 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:20 pm

Will the Fans show Up?

1 points
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mrj007's picture

January 20, 2022 at 02:35 pm

Too bad Baker Mayfield won’t be throwing 4 interceptions for the 49ers Saturday……

1 points
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canadapacker's picture

January 20, 2022 at 01:50 pm

Offensively we need to have Jones earn his contract. Big contracts need to be packaged with big games. He has been hurt and slowed a bit this year but last game broke off a few 20+ yarders. We need him to take it to the house either on a screen or a run. Then we can have Dillon hurt them up the middle pounding the ball at - 5 F - that has got to hurt. And 12 needs to hit those short quick passes to guys other than Adams if he is doubled. Lazard and Cobb will be key to keep the drives going and and shortening 3rd down.
Defensively we need to stay in our lanes and not have any loafs. That is especially going to be important with both MItchell ( on draws ) and Samual on sweeps and cut backs. Going to wide around the end will allow those two to get to the linebackers too quickly. I also hate it when we drop too deep too fast with the linebackers and allow those guys like Aiyuk and Kittle to catch the ball uncontested - they always get the first down as their YAK and moves are just too much for our linebackers.

4 points
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Coldworld's picture

January 21, 2022 at 09:13 am

I would not be shocked to see King on the field as a sort of quasi ILB, especially if we get ahead. We experimented with that recently. That may cause fan conniptions, but it’s better than Barnes if the pass is in play.

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Lphill's picture

January 20, 2022 at 02:43 pm

If the Packers let the 49 ers push them around Saturday night and beat them then this Packers team is a fraud , the Packers need to decimate the 49 ers for coming into Lambeau , no close score ,if they win a close game against the niners , season is over again in the nfccg . Super Bowl or bust .

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mrj007's picture

January 20, 2022 at 02:45 pm

If Garapalo can’t throw - why even play him? I would plan on T Lance and a lot of un- scouter run trickery from Shanahan. This is why I worry about the D. They have not played well against the run. I will be a bad day if the 49ers enjoy the success the Browns did on the ground or Baltimore had using the TE (Andrews). And there’s a tendency for the edge rushers of GB to lose containment. I hope this coaching staff addresses theses shortcomings. My hope is they have a few wrinkles in the game plan on defense that we haven’t seen yet. We’ll see on Saturday

1 points
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murf7777's picture

January 20, 2022 at 04:29 pm

Nobody here knows whether he can or can’t. He has been playing with the thumb for quite sometime now. The shoulder issue may be something or it may not. SF isn’t going to be telling us anything that is for sure. Stop the run and we have a blow out…If we don’t it will be a close game to the end. I don’t see a repeat of 2019, NOT in our house!!

0 points
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Leatherhead's picture

January 20, 2022 at 05:47 pm

How many RBs gained 100 yards on the Packers this year.?

We lost the opener. We lost a game without Rodgers. We narrowly lost to the Vikings. We lost a meaningless game in December rit.

Did we lose any games because of poor run defense? It was a factor at Minnesota, but in the other losses? Not really.

We have to come out of the gate and block and execute and score. If we do that, we’re in business. If we don’t, then SF is going to keep running the ball. Last time, we held them to 67 on the ground, but we scored 17 points on our first three possessions.

2 points
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canadapacker's picture

January 20, 2022 at 06:40 pm

Be careful - Chubb got 126 - plus 40 on a pass - If Douglass hadnt intercepted the pass at the end - things could have been different - we NEED to play better now than then.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

January 20, 2022 at 08:31 pm

One guy in 17 games.

-1 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:28 pm

Old School, best you include movement to the ball, and Gang Tackling. Wrap 'em and drop 'em.

3 points
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Packers0808's picture

January 20, 2022 at 06:46 pm

Sounds simple enough, Stop the Run, Stops the 49ers! Go Pack get it done!

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:30 pm

Shanahan will challenge Savage and Amos with the deep ball. Stokes is now a veteran. I want Jaire on the field Saturday taking Aiyuk out of the picture. Double Deebo 100% and let Douglas affect Kittle.

1 points
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jont's picture

January 20, 2022 at 06:57 pm

SF doesn't really have the weapons of a truly good offense. Mitchell is a decent RB but he's not going to break a game the way Aaron Jones can nor can he wear out a defense like AJ, and Garapolo is a completely average QB who cannot carry a team as Rodgers can.

Their success comes from an offense with both the illusion of complexity and actual complexity, and it's Deebo that makes the 49er offense go. He might not have the ball all the time, but with his versatility they can move him around and get him motion to really draw the attention of a defense because he's a real threat on every play.

For the playoffs every team has to do better, and for Shanahan this means increased misdirection. We'll see Trey Lance a lot, I suspect, and it won't just be wildcat stuff. I expect him to throw as often as run when he's in there. They've got to keep the GB defense off balance.

The key to the Packers' defense will be discipline: keep your eyes open, recognize the play, and execute your assignment. Be where you're supposed to be and don't get fooled.

0 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:34 pm

Jones fumbled twice last NFC CH Game. He should not be put in a position to be the Targeted guy. Play more two-back Pro Sets with Dillon and keep Taylor in the rotation. Put a beat down on the 49r front. Their LBs are not as dominant as 2019.

2 points
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Lphill's picture

January 20, 2022 at 07:13 pm

Troy Aikman is a genius he said at the end of the game the team will the most points is usually the winner.

2 points
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BradHTX's picture

January 20, 2022 at 10:10 pm

John Madden would like a word.

1 points
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jyros's picture

January 21, 2022 at 12:09 pm

I can see SF come out fast and hot with gimmick plays and off tackle runs much like the ‘19 playoff game.
Joe Barry better have the ‘D’ sealing the edges and wrapping up on tackles… elbows up and nasty!!

2 points
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