Packers vs 49ers: Gameday Preview - 2021 Divisional Round

The Packers are rested and as healthy as they've been since week 1, and they're hosting a team that has beat them in their last 3 playoff matchups. History doesn't matter, tonight, though. Playoff football is back in Green Bay!

The last time these teams met was in Week 3. The Packers went on the road on a short week and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Then, slowly but surely, they let the 49ers creep back up and eventually take the lead with 37 seconds left. I don't know why they left the Packers so much time. Rodgers threw a few balls to Adams, then Crosby kicked the game-winner as time ran out.

Last year, the Packers also travelled to San Francisco and spanked them 34-17.

Now the 49ers, who needed an overtime win against the Rams in the last week of the season to sneak into the playoffs, and then barely beat the Cowboys, who bumbled the game away and let time run out on themselves, come to Green Bay for what is expected to be a very cold divisional playoff.

The Packers are almost a touchdown favorite, but fans of the home team seem worried, while fans of the visiting team are confident.

One thing is certain, though - the Packers two game win streak against this team means about as much as the 49ers three game playoff win streak against them: absolutely nothing.

It's time to play ball.

 

WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL

Jimmy Garoppolo is a solid quarterback. He's not in the upper tier, he's a game-manager in the top half of the league and, as evidenced by the 49ers success this season, is good enough to win with. But he's also the kind of quarterback that can slow an offense down and he's dealing with thumb and shoulder injuries that have noticeably hindered the team. Up 13 with 9 minutes left against Dallas, he scrambled and forced a pass that he didn't need (it was 2nd down and they were near midfield) and sailed it high, resulting in an interception that gave the Cowboys new life and almost lost the game for San Francisco. that was one of a number of passes that he sailed over the head of his open receivers.

If his thumb is anything less than 100% in the cold, when the ball gets slick, Garoppolo (who has never thrown a pass in the NFL when the temperature was under 40 degrees), will give the Packers opportunities for interceptions. Savage and Amos should keep their eyes open for balls sailing high. 

Jaire Alexander could also see some action for the first time in months as he is listed as questionable. If he plays, it would probably only be in nickel packages as Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes have been just fine holding down the fort and the 49ers are now a run-first team.

Former Packers nightmare, running back Raheem Mostert has been out this year, but the 49ers have still built a formidable rushing attack. They've rushed for the 7th most yards in the league and have at least 135 yards rushing in 4 of their last 5 games. Elijah Mitchell has been their top back (963 yards and 4.7 ypc in the regular season), but Deebo Samuel has emerged as a rushing threat this year. When the Packers last saw Samuel, he had 2 carries for 0 yards. In the first 8 games of the season, Samuel had a total of 6 carries for 22 yards.

But things have changed.

In the last 8 games, he's had at least 5 carries per game and is averaging over 7 yards per carry. At that pace, he'd have over 1,000 yards rushing in a season. At the same time, his receiving production has dipped from a volume perspective. Either way, he's established himself as an all-around dynamic threat and earned his spot on the All Pro First Team.

He's the heart of the offense (who, I just want to point out, was one of my draft crushes in 2019). He can catch anything, run out of the backfield, and, no matter where he gets the ball, he can run past, around, or over anyone.

Lost in all the attention that Deebo gets is tight end George Kittle, who, people seem to have forgot, is an absolute monster.

A devastating blocker and prolific receiver, Kittle's receiving numbers have been on the downturn recently. He hasn't even hit 30 yards in his last 4 games, but still had over 900 on the year. As the 49ers have leaned more on their rushing attack, they've leaned more on Kilttle's blocking. He's a bit of a forgotten man, but he's a huge receiving threat. I'd expect the 49ers to work him back into the game plan on short routes that let him rack up yards after the catch with his physical running ability.

Brandon Aiyuk is strong number 2 receiver who is also a good blocker. With a physical offensive line, Samuel, Kittle, and Aiyuk bring even more of an edge to an offense built around power. The 49ers, with Pro Bowl full back Kyle Juszczyk, use a lead block more than most teams as well. 

All in all, it's a physical offense whether they're running or passing.

The Packers can expect a heavy dose of Mitchell and Samuel out of the backfield along with a lot short passes by their injured quarterback to physical receivers who are great after the catch. The Packers tend to play a lot of nickel packages with deep safeties, but may want to switch that up this week given that the 49ers probably won't  be able to go deep much. They could make use of their deep edge group (that is expected to have Za'Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus back) to play with a heavier box and fill the run gaps while getting in the way of the short passing lanes. 

The crowd will also be a factor, because the Packers defense will need to keep the intensity up for four full quarters (maybe longer) or the 49ers will beat them down.

 

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

If you thought the 49ers offense was physical, you should see their defense!

They thrive on playing tough up front and winning the line of scrimmage to make up for an average secondary that has some banged up starters.

The Packers are getting heathy, but there are still some question marks.

Billy Turner and Josh Myers are back, but David Bakhtiari and MVS both missed practice time this week. LaFleur claims Bakhtiari is just out for load management, but that will impact his preparation even if he plays. MVS is dealing with a back issue and, given the cold temperatures, is doubtful to play. That could change the game plan for the Packers as he is the one player on this team that can truly open up the top of a defense.

The Packers passing game will be a bit limited without MVS and will have to work around the lack of a true deep threat. Green Bay called a lot of aggressive downfield passes in their first game San Francisco, played a lot spread coverage concepts. The 49ers secondary couldn't contain this and ended up with some big pass interference calls. I would expect the Packers to be aggressive again tonight.

Rodgers also got the ball out quick in the first matchup to neutralize the pass rush. He's carried a good passing rhythm throughout the season and that should be something he leans on tonight. With 49ers starting cornerback Ambry Thomas limited with a knee injury, Rodgers may find some matchups to exploit. Adams, Lazard, and Cobb are all more than capable of finding space and Rodgers has full trust in all of them. 

But the Packers can't win without running the ball. And San Francisco will probably make that difficult.

After giving up at least 94 yards rushing in the first 8 games, the 49ers have only given up more than 90 yards rushing one time in their last 10 games.

It's no fluke, either. San Francisco made changes since these teams met earlier in the season.

After Javon Kinlaw hurt his ACL, Arik Armstead moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, and the result has been a much more formidable run defense. Armstead and fellow defensive tackle DJ Jones form what is easily the best interior run-stuffing combo in the league. AJ Dillon up the middle in short yardage will be tougher than usual tonight. 

The Packers need to use both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to mix up how they attack the 49ers run defense. Those two can also be weapons in the short passing game, along with Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara, to take pressure off a less-than-complete wide receiver group and slow the 49ers aggressive pass rush.

Nick Bosa sustained a concussion last week, but looks likely to play. He is an elite talent off the edge and if complemented by solid pass rushers like Samson Ebukam and Arden Key.

The Packers will need to have a good balance of run and passing, while using the full route tree, to keep the 49ers defense from finding patterns or teeing off on tendencies. San Francisco has a very good defense and the Packers will need to be balanced and efficient if they want to move the ball.

The good new is: they are more than capable.

 

OTHER NOTES

The Packers have the worst special teams in the league, but the 49ers aren't far behind.

49ers cornerback Josh Norman has 7 forced fumbles this year, which is something to watch for in the cold with a slick ball.

Did you know that Matt LaFleur knows Kyle Shanahan?

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The 49ers are hot, coming off a big road win at Dallas in the wild card round after ending the season with an exciting overtime road win on the road against the Rams. The Packers have had a week to rest after a listless loss to the Lions to end the season. Momentum could definitely play a role in this game.

Unfortunately, the Packers haven't been starting fast. I'm sure LaFleur has a great early script called, but the team hasn't been executing it with the results they want to see.

After starting slow, the Packers usually find their groove, but they've also had a bad habit of letting off the gas when they get a lead. It's been especially problematic over the last couple of months. It's time to knock that nonsense off. The 49ers aren't here to chew bubblegum. The Packers need to match their intensity and not let up.

I'm expecting a very physical battle against two tough teams in very cold temperatures.

I think the home crowd will make a difference and the opposing quarterback's injury will limit the visitors.

In the end, the better team will prevail.

Packers 27, 49ers 17

 

 

Bruce Irons has played, coached, and studied football for decades. Best-selling author of books such as A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Draft, A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Salary Cap, and A Fan's Guide To NFL Free Agency Hits And Misses, Bruce contributes to CheeseHeadTV and PackersForTheWin.com.

Follow Bruce Irons on Twitter at @BruceIronsNFL.

 

NFL Categories: 
3 points

Comments (8)

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

January 22, 2022 at 03:42 pm

Nice work, Bruce!

0 points
0
0
Leatherhead's picture

January 22, 2022 at 04:22 pm

Two teams in the Divisional round that have “bad” special teams??🤔

A reasonable person might wonder how important special teams are😎🤔

4 points
4
0
mbpacker's picture

January 22, 2022 at 04:25 pm

So many factors that play into any game. You make many good points. One thing I'm wondering- we may be at our healthiest all year, but that depends on what level those players who haven't played most of the year can play at. GPG!

1 points
1
0
Since'61's picture

January 22, 2022 at 04:39 pm

Nothing left to say. Go out and win the game.
No excuses, block better, tackle better, execute better.
Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ‘61

4 points
4
0
White92's picture

January 22, 2022 at 05:53 pm

Interesting. 69 inactive

0 points
0
0
Leatherhead's picture

January 22, 2022 at 06:14 pm

Nijman starting?

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

January 22, 2022 at 06:43 pm

I would expect. Turner is active, though.

0 points
0
0
packer132's picture

January 22, 2022 at 06:45 pm

Bakhtiari only had one practice this week, and maybe had a setback. I don't think the cold is a factor for him not playing. Packers were 13-4 without him, but still would have preferred to see David for some snaps again.

1 points
1
0