The Packers are an Improved team from Week 12

As ugly as the first game was between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, in the six games since, the Packers are a much improved team heading into the NFC Championship. 

Despite what the analytics say, the Green Bay Packers are playing in the NFC Championship game in a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers. And not to conjure up any bad memories, but I'm sure most of you can recall how ugly that first meeting between the two teams was.

On the opening possession, Aaron Rodgers fumbled the ball which eventually led to an easy score for the 49ers' offense, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams couldn't get anything going, and my biggest takeaway was that the Niners simply dominated the Packers in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the Green Bay defense gave up nearly six yards per carry and allowed a number of big plays in what turned out to be an incredibly efficient night for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Now with the NFC Championship game on the horizon, just about everyone is picking the 49ers to win the game and I can definitely understand why. However, this is a much improved Green Bay Packers football team from what San Francisco saw in Week 12. Keep in mind that this is still going to be a difficult game for the Packers to win and the purpose of this article isn't to make it sound like they should be favored. Yet with that said, as we've seen this is a very resilient group who can beat any team on any day. I mean they did go 13-3 after all. And as I just mentioned, they've gotten much better over the last six weeks. 

Davante Adams is healthy & playing at a high level

In Week 12, it was Davante Adams' third game back after missing four games with a turf-toe injury and to put it simply, I just don't think he was 100 percent at that point. Of course, the 49ers' pass defense is one of, if not the best in the NFL and they limited Adams to just 43 yards on 7 receptions, but as many of you know, turf-toe injuries can linger. And I do believe it played a factor in that game.

However over the Packers' last four games, Adams has been nearly unstoppable. During that stretch he has caught 66 percent of his passes for 472 yards with four touchdowns. Not to mention that he is coming off of a performance in the divisional round where he had 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Seattle. Adams is hot right now and playing at a level that the Niners just didn't see their previous matchup. 

Allen Lazard has emerged

Prior to Week 12, Allen Lazard had some big moments here and there but he still wasn't Aaron Rodgers' second receiving target. Instead we still saw plenty of Geronimo Allison - which as you all are aware, hasn't gone well - and Marquez Valdes-Scantling was still getting regular opportunities as well. But finally over the last month of the season, Lazard starting seeing more snaps and targets like a true No. 2 wide receiver should.

During Green Bay's final five games, Lazard caught 61 percent of his passes at nearly 16 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Now in their upcoming game with San Francisco, the Niners will have to account for a reliable second option for Rodgers, which they really didn't have to do the first time around.  

Aaron Rodgers is slinging it

A big story line this season has been the inconsistency of the passing game and that included Rodgers. Even in the final two games against Minnesota and Detorit, we saw him miss some easy throws that we expect him to make in his sleep. But I will say, in the second half of both games he came up huge when the Packers needed him most with some big drives and throws that helped secure the wins.

Then just last week in the dvisional round, he put together what I'm sure most will consider his best game of the season as he made great adjustments at the line of scrimage, was in rhythm, and we saw a number of vintage Rodgers' throws as well. San Francisco may be the more talented team but the Packers have the ultimate equalizer in Aaron Rodgers, and it looks like he is peaking at just the right time. 

Tyler Ervin

The great Tyler Ervin wasn't claimed off waivers by Green Bay until after the previous 49ers game and he has provided a spark both on special teams and on offense. Prior to Ervin landing in Green Bay, the Packers had -8 punt return yards for the season and the kick return unit wasn't very good either. Now, Ervin has turned what was at one time a huge liabilitly into a potential weapon. 

And I can't mention Ervin without also discussing what he's added to this offense as an explosive weapon out of the backfield, as well as another receiving threat. Although limited to just three carries so far, he does have 35 yards and it looked like he was going to break off a long run against Seatlle. Meanwhile in the passing game he has 11 yards on two receptions but was very close to scoring a touchdown in Detroit if he hadn't been overthrown. Not only is he a weapon on special teams but the Niner defense has to prepare for him as well on offense. 

Likely no Alex Light this time around

Earlier in the week this was an aspect of the Week 12 meeting that had slipped my mind. Alex Light had to play a majority of the game at right tackle in place of Bryan Bulaga. And if you're wondering how he fared against Nick Bosa, it was exactly what you'd expect. However in the NFC Championship game, Bulaga should be good to go but even if something happens to him, Green Bay can once again lean on Jared Veldheer. 

Veldheer stepped in for Bulaga during the Detroit game and played the entire game against Seattle. In his 58 pass-blocking attempts this season, Veldheer hasn't allowed a single sack or quarterback pressure. This is a healthy Packers' offensive line that has been especially good in pass-protection this season and they also have some added depth this time around, which should make life easier for Rodgers and the passing game. 

Better run defense and less big plays

The Niners torched the Packer defense in these two areas during their first meeting. As I mentioned above, they allowed nearly six yards per rush and San Francisco also had plays of 25 yards, 61 yards, 42 yards, and 22 yards. Run defense and the big play had been major issues for the defense up to that point in the season. But credit where credit is due, they've been very good since.

For much of the year, the Packers had been giving up an average of 125 to 130 rushing yards per game, but over the last six, running backs are totaling under 95 rushing yards per game. Naturally, Kenny Clark is a big reason for this but he's also had a lot of help from some excellent play from Dean Lowry and Blake Martinez in the middle of the field. When it comes to the big play, Green Bay was near the top of the list when it came to the most 20 yard and 40 yard plays given up. But over the same six game span, they have allowed just 10 passing plays over 20 yards and of those 10, just two have been over 40. 

Matt LaFleur is dialed in

Everyone talks about players peaking at the right time, I even referenced it above when talking about Aaron Rodgers, but as a play-caller Matt LaFleur is peaking right now. Although during the Minnesota and Detroit games the execution wasn't always there from the offense, I thought the plays LaFleur dialed up with the motion, play-action, and run-pass mix were excellent. He would continue that in the divisional round against Seattle and I expect much of the same in San Francisco, also with some new added wrinkles that we haven't seen yet.  

Unexpected performances

Since Week 12 we have really seen the emergence of Chandon Sullivan who has put together a breakout season. According to Pro Football Focus, Sullivan has been targeted 36 times and has allowed a completion percentage of just 41.7 percent with no touchdowns and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of only 43.1 when targeting him. I also have to mention Jimmy Graham who has disappointed during his time in Green Bay but I can't emphasize how important he was in the divisional round as he caught three passes, all on third downs, and all went for first downs. Let's hope he carries that momentum over to this week. 

So I've said all of that to say this, of course this is going to be a very challenging game and it's one that Green Bay could very well lose. However, as ugly as their last performance was, this team has improved over the last two months and like I've already said, they can beat anybody. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (39)

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

January 16, 2020 at 06:43 am

I would put the Packers "talent" up against any team.
QB- check
Left tackle- check
WR- ditto
RB- absolutely
D lineman- rising superstar
Pass Rushers- are you kidding?
DB's- rising young talent!
Where do we not measure up with our talent at key positions? We are the envy of the league. Coaching is the thing that truly separates great teams from the rest. The right scheme, the right play calls, the best preparation. Then it comes down to effort, heart and the bounce of the ball or a referee's call. That's how football goes and it's why we love it.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 16, 2020 at 09:41 am

Where don't we match up with talent?

ILB. 5 Tech (ok, not great). WR 2,3,4 - Ours are subpar. TE.

I'm not saying we can't win. But the 9ers are certainly a more talented team with less holes than we have.

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packerbackerjim's picture

January 16, 2020 at 06:50 am

Bakh also was sub-par that game; against that D line it was a recipe for disaster. I expect a much tighter, much more anxiety provoking moments and a much better result.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 16, 2020 at 01:28 pm

It comes down to Lindsley and Turner handling the stunts and inside blitzers.

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dobber's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:23 am

At this stage the Packers have 60 minutes of first-hand film footage on how to NOT beat San Fran. That, alone, puts them ahead of where they were going into week 12.

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NickPerry's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:25 am

I can't remember a team that was getting ready to play in the NFCCG being so disrespected before the game as the Packers have been. Some of the stuff I've read and heard spoken makes me wonder why the Packers should even show up. Hell one of the latest was a comments I heard about Kyle Shanahan's offense taking Pettine to school every singe time they play.

By the time the Packers will take the field Sunday, they'll have heard a constant stream of shit talked about them for 8 straight days if you include last Sunday night. That's an awful lot of bulletin board material or whatever you'd like to call it. I don't know about you but when anyone tells me I can't do something as much as the Packers have heard they can't beat the 49ers this weekend, it makes me want to do that very thing that much more. It makes me that much more focused to make sure you were wrong and I'd imagine it's that way for most men.

The Packers CAN beat the 49ers Sunday. They have the better O-Line, the better #1 WR, the better #1 RB, and the better QB. They' have the Smiths, Clark, and a defense that's MUCH improved. The Packers also don't have any of the stress or pressure to win on them. I mean they aren't even supposed to be here right? And that better QB I spoke about just served up a vintage performance, something GREAT QB's are able to do this time of year. This years Packers are special. They're 14-3 under MLF and if you listen to the "Experts" or some of the jackasses who write for Bleacher Report, the Packers shouldn't have won their 14th game under MLF until sometime in the middle of the 2020 season.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be so longwinded with this comment. It's just I'm getting sick and frankly pissed about all the things I've read and listened to about the Packers this year. I can only imagine how sick and tired the Players and Coaches are by this time themselves which I'm hoping they channel into a victory on Sunday. Hell lets shock the world, or at least everyone who AREN'T giving the Packers a chance!

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Tarynfor12's picture

January 16, 2020 at 09:15 am

Being sick and tired of hearing stuff about your team/player comes from having to digest what you know rings true no matter the level of truth or intended false narrative.

The Packers obviously have a couple/few players that analytically match up well with a couple/few on SF. The much larger difference is the total package and that's where the Packers become inferior and to deny such is what makes one sick and tired.

The Packers can win this game if they're not sitting around crying how sick and tired they are of hearing what they know to be true, but by having learned and prepared to not allow or do what they did last time they played. Even Rodgers mentioned how they learned how good SF was/is and will likely look again.

We will all hope for a win but it won't come simply because you, others and especially the Packers are sick and tired of hearing what was and is still true. The Packers will need to outplay the better opponent and they know it and so should you.

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LASVEGAS-TOM's picture

January 16, 2020 at 06:52 pm

Hey Tarynfor12, The other day you sort of Down Played the Money Line. Don't you think $280 or$290 is worth a little?? I might give it a shot.
LVT

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Tarynfor12's picture

January 16, 2020 at 09:54 pm

If this were a regular season Divisional rematch, I would differently make a play with Packers money line. It isn't though and the match ups are not good for GB, no matter how one reads the stats or analytics as a team or individually. Betting the Packers that way is a pure homer bet or one puts a small,what the heck, amount on it. That does't mean they can't win, but if you really believe they can win, the safer bet is to ensure you collect by taking the points. You may collect less but you're more guaranteed to collect.

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LASVEGAS-TOM's picture

January 16, 2020 at 11:21 pm

Hey Tarynfor 12, Can't argu with your thinking. I'm definitely not a Homer. I just hate missing "The Last Train To Clarksville" As I see it, it could be a trap, but when is the next time you'll see numbers like +$280 again. On the other side of the coin, are there that many people ready to lay down $350?? As I've said, I am not a Handicapper. I'm trying to see the $$$. I can't remember ever Betting GB getting 7 1/2.
LVT

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NickPerry's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:15 pm

If you read my comment I never said the 49ers weren't a good team or said they were better than the 49ers nor did I imply it. I did mention a few positions where in my opinion the Packers are better but that's it. Any given Sunday Taryn, any given Sunday.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 16, 2020 at 09:28 am

I'm sick and tired of seeing it as well.

And there are a couple of guys I'm hoping they see it and eating it up. Za'Darius and Rodgers.

The Packers can absolutely beat the 49ers. Lets not forget that the 49ers got beat by the Falcons at home. They won by a GW FG as time expired.

The offense is better, and the Defense is better. Ohh and we actually have a returner now.
I'm ready for this game!

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Archie's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:24 am

Great article - very fair and balanced.

I too expect the Pack to be much more competitive this time around, for all the reasons you gave. After all, what's the chances the Pack will lay 3 eggs in a row on west coast visits?

Will we win? Tune in to see. It's a definite possibility though the 7 point spread seems fair.

What will it take to win?

1 - Great performance from Rodgers, Adams and Jones;

2 - Win the TO battle;

3 - Play great defense; and,

4 - Luck with the bounces and with the calls.

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murf7777's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:27 am

How will the packers win? “Ugly”. It’s going to feel so beautiful thou!

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murf7777's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:47 am

Seriously, we win if we stop the run and Aaron Jones has 20+ touches. The reason is because if the game comes down to Rodgers vs. Jimmy G., especially if we get Aaron Jones 20+ touches, it is a big advantage for the Packers. Jimmy G has shown a propensity to throw INT’s in his career. Since being a starter he is 2-1 TD - INT.

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Razer's picture

January 16, 2020 at 07:45 am

Good article Paul. To echo the other posters - all the pieces are there to win this game. Let's hope that the players play up to there potential and the coaches don't miss the bus. Ultimately, we need Aaron Rodgers to play well and for his Oline to out-perform the 49er Dline. These two factors will make everything possible. Another thing we need to happen is a Packers fast start. Our fast start against Seattle was the difference between winning and losing. Quick out of the blocks will put even more pressure on San Fran to win the game that everybody has them favored to win

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albert999's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:06 am

Interesting stat
Rodgers is 19-31-1 when attempting more than 40 passes
WE NEED TO RUN THE BALL

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HankScorpio's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:32 am

Raw numbers in pass/run are more often a result of the score than the cause of it. Teams run more when they are winning and pass more when they are losing. Take last week for example. The Packers maintained a comfortable margin for most of the game and the run/pass mix was quite balanced, even though the run was getting stuffed and Rodgers was on fire. They did not pass 40 times but given how they performed, maybe they would have been better off doing so.

Having said that, as Aaron Jones is a primary weapon, it is important that he produces. If they get him 8-10 touches in the pass game on screens, dumps or by sending him downfield, the results can be the same as if Rodgers turns and hands it off.

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fordguy's picture

January 16, 2020 at 02:16 pm

If you want to keep Rodgers number of attempts low, then the best way is too keep the completion percentage high.

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ricky's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:13 am

The Packers will have a good chance of winning if the offense plays at a high level for the entire game. And if the defense plays at a high level the entire game. In brief, getting an early lead and building on it on offense, and keeping the 49ers from getting those big plays on defense will mean a win.

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Lphill's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:14 am

Packers have to be perfect ,no turnovers no stupid mistakes , don’t give up on the run and keep pressure on Jimmy G , if you have to double team Kittle then that’s what you do.

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HankScorpio's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:23 am

Sometimes, football can be a simple game. Winning in the trenches, turnover margin and 3rd down efficiency can be very predictive of the final score. The Packers lost all three of those games within the game in week 12. Turning that around will be important if they want to pull the upset.

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4zone's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:29 am

All good points, but in the end, the Pack has to execute to their level of talent. If they do, and get a favorable bounce or two, they have a legit shot at this one.

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Philarod's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:44 am

I'm trying to find my optimism, and admittedly, it's a tough task, as I think - outside of QB - it's hard to find anywhere we hold an advantage.

Examples: The Pack rushes the passer well, but the 49ers can wreck opposing linemen with just 4 rushers. We have good, developing corners and one experienced guy back there, but nobody as physical (who also still gets away with lots of holding) like old nemesis Sherman and his complements in the defensive backfield are good as well.

AJ may be the single best RB on the field Sunday, but as a group, I'm not sure our RBs are better, or as good. Davante is probably the single best WR, but as a group, the 49ers have more overall speed and talent, and when you factor in TE, its no contest.

MLF deserves lots of votes for Coach of the Year, but he's less experienced than KS, and Shanahan has had more time to figure out what works with his unit.

After all that, the only thing(s) I may point to are: 1. the revenge factor and possible overconfidence among the Niners, and, and... 2. AR being transcendent, and Jimmy G possibly getting tight.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 16, 2020 at 01:33 pm

Let Lazard body up on Sherman.

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Tundraboy's picture

January 16, 2020 at 11:05 pm

oh I hope to see that.

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RCPackerFan's picture

January 16, 2020 at 08:54 am

Lets face it. Week 12 was a disaster for GB. They played their worst game of the year that game. Some of it was due to 49ers. I will give them credit. Against a weaker team they maybe would have came back on. Like they did against the Lions in week 17. But it was just a bad game. They have improved since that game.

Since that game they have the emergence of Lazard and Sullivan. The went out and brought in Ervin. Adams has gotten healthier, The OL has played much better. The defense has cut down on big plays, and has stuffed the run much better.

Since this game one thing they really did do differently was they have moved Za'Darius around. Especially over the OC. He has created a lot of pressure when lining up over the OC. He has created a mismatch in both the run game and the passing game. They have cut down on big plays as well.

I think the defense can get pressure on Jimmy G. The Smith Brothers were really good at getting pressure on Wilson. But he was tough to bring down. Jimmy G isn't as hard to bring down as Wilson is. The key here is get a lead. Put pressure on Jimmy G to try and come behind or make a big play late in the game.

The last game they got the lead very early and never had anything to worry about. If we can get out to a fast start, I think we will have a really good chance in this one.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

January 16, 2020 at 09:07 am

" Matt LaFleur is dialed in"

There was an interesting segment on "The Fan" this AM about how the Monday after the 49ers game the defense had a players only film review. When looking at the big plays they realized their communication was wrong and different units where not aware of each other responsibilities. This stuff apparently has been fixed and now we are seeing much better play from the defense over the past 6 weeks or so.

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Packer_Fan's picture

January 16, 2020 at 09:52 am

I totally agree. Go Pack!

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Bearmeat's picture

January 16, 2020 at 10:44 am

Yeah, we're an improved team from week 12. So are the 9ers.

We're going to have to steal a possession via turnover or STs play. We're going to have to not turn it over ourselves. We're going to have to run the ball and limit the explosives.

We're dogs for a reason. Any given Sunday. But this feels like it is the end of the line for a team that has overachieved.

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cheesehead1's picture

January 16, 2020 at 10:49 am

Any team can be beaten, but we must play mistake free ball. Their D line dominated us last time so I’m sure LaFleur will make some adjustments. We must limit their run game, (easier said than done). Look at what they did to Minnesota. Go Pack!

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stockholder's picture

January 16, 2020 at 11:21 am

The Odds makers are Turning it into a talent show. IS it Rigged? HAS America voted? Where’s the RESPECT? Shooting for the moon has no guarantees. But The Packers have the ability to beat Frisco! The Packers must do it their way. 1. Possession 2. Competence 3. Proficiency 4. Experience etc. Skill and execution will put San Fran down. The Defense has this.

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Packers0808's picture

January 16, 2020 at 12:11 pm

As is often said, "Any given Sunday"! And have the feeling this IS ONE!

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Packers0808's picture

January 16, 2020 at 12:21 pm

As is often said, "Any given Sunday"! And have the feeling this IS ONE!

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PatrickGB's picture

January 16, 2020 at 03:24 pm

My mind tells me we lose, my heart tells me we win.

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Bohj's picture

January 16, 2020 at 03:41 pm

I want to add two other pieces that are sort of being addressed but not really. We were 0-15 on third downs. Statistically......I don’t really care how good the other defense is.....even the hapless Blough led Lions would accidentally convert three of those. That is a statistical anomaly. The last game probably doesn’t look like such a beat down if we convert even one or two of those. Not just in offensive production, but the amount of time our defense was on the field. No wonder they averaged six yards per carry on us. Tired. Defense.

Second point. Anyone else feel like their gameplan last week against the vikings very much took advantage of the short week (sun vs saints overtime to sat) traveling west and time zone change. The vikings were in that game 10-14 at the half. And then the two-week-rested SF ran and ran and ran.....and wore the eff out of the already tired vikings in the second half. We will be on more equal footing. And we are better than to vikings. I hope the niners have a false sense of confidence. Let’s go punch them in the mouth!

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splitpea1's picture

January 16, 2020 at 04:05 pm

We should reserve judgement on how improved the Packers are until we see what they can do in this game, which is hopefully a WHOLE lot better than last time. My layman's analysis:

On defense, they should try to pressure Garoppolo and do the best they can to take the middle of the field away from him, where he does the majority of his damage. I would really hope the secondary is going to play tighter than they did against Seattle; there's not much opportunity to get the ball back or create a turnover when you're playing that far off the receivers. We need to keep Kittle in check, and as always, stop the run.

On offense, we're going to need to utilize all our weapons. Trying to force the ball to one or two players is a recipe for disaster. And the "hit 'em in the mouth early" strategy is no good unless followed up by successful drives. The Vikings got a quick early touchdown and managed a grand total of three points the rest of the game, partly because they kept feeding the ball to Cook to no avail. So we need to get some of our other receivers involved and go against some of the tendencies we've shown so far this season. MLF will have to come up with his best game plan of the season for us to win.

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carlos's picture

January 16, 2020 at 04:53 pm

Do the Packers play this weekend? I’m retired. I check sports always with my coffee. All I see on the sports channels are the Chiefs, basketball and a little on the Titans. Am I missing something? Go Pack!!!!

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flackcatcher's picture

January 16, 2020 at 06:11 pm

In the words of a great american. R.E.L.A.X....

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