While a 9-1 record is nothing to sneeze at, there is still a debate over just how good Green Bay’s next opponent is. The primary reason is the favorable schedule the Niners have enjoyed up to now. All nine of the 49ers’ wins have come against teams with no better than a .500 record. In contrast, the Packers are the only NFL team with four wins over teams with winning records: Vikings, Cowboys, Raiders, and Chiefs.
The rest of the way, San Francisco will face tougher opposition — including the Packers, Ravens, Saints, Rams, and Seahawks. The Ravens, Saints, and Seahawks are away games for the Niners.
One can also debate the skill of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s being paid a king’s ransom: $137.5 million over five years. Yet the 28-year-old has a very thin record of NFL experience: only ten starts prior to 2019, though his record in those games (two as Tom Brady’s replacement) is eight and two. As for the nine wins this season, San Francisco is well known to be a run-heavy team, so how much credit Jimmy G should get for this season’s early success is open to discussion.
Statistics to date suggest he’s a mid-level talent at this stage of his development. He ranks 17th in passing yardage (Rodgers is 11th). His passer rating of 97.7 is 13th best (Rodgers’ is tenth) – in his sole loss of the season, to Seattle at home on November 11 by a 27 to 24 score, Garoppolo’s passer rating was a dismal 66.2.
His completion percentage of 68.8 is sixth best (Rodgers’ is 64.8). He and Rodgers are neck and neck in average yards per attempt, tied for ninth. His 18 touchdowns versus ten interceptions is below average – the Packers will surely be drooling to add to his interception total.
Garoppolo has been sacked 19 times, three less than A-Rod. He is not a run threat, as he’s only rushed for 34 yards on the year. Though Aaron has only run for 109 yards so far, it remains a powerful weapon that he likes to can call upon when it’s most needed.
49ers’ Ground Game
As for that ground attack, the Niners are averaging 149 yards on the ground, good for first in the conference, and second to the Ravens in the NFL. Matt Breida leads the way, with 542 yards on the ground and a 5.0 average; Tevin Coleman has 409 yards and a 3.9 average; Raheem Mostert has 342 yards and a 5.2 average. None of the three is highly pedigreed, but each has found success in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system.
The three RBs have combined for 41 catches for 353 yards, one yard less than Aaron Jones has totaled on his 35 receptions.
San Francisco has the home-field advantage. Green Bay is coming off a bye week, while the 49ers last Sunday outscored the Cardinals 19-7 in the fourth quarter to eke out a win – a fourth running back, Jeff Wilson, was left unguarded and provided the margin of victory with his 25-yard TD reception with a half minute left in the game.
NFL’s Top Pass Defense
While the 49ers fancy the run, they absolutely rely upon their defensive prowess. They have only yielded 253 yards per game this year, second only to the Patriots. A scary thought: that’s 131.7 fewer yards that the Packers allow on average.
In breaking down their defensive stats, their pass defense is tops in the league while the run defense is only 19th best. Like LaFleur, Coach Kyle Shanahan must believe it’s smarter to concentrate on defending pass plays rather than runs. Maybe the challenge will add some motivation for Aaron Rodgers. A Packers win would put them in prime position to be the NFC’s top seed heading into the playoffs.
All of this leads one to wonder: will LaFleur feature his rushers, Jones and Williams, over quarterback Rodgers and the air game? Shanahan can pick his poison, as the Pack has the 10th worst pass defense and the 8th worst run defense.
As for scoring, SF is cruising along at 29.5 per game, second best in the league; Grean Bay, at 25.0 is in a respectable ninth place. Points allowed by the two teams is more worrisome. The 49ers are allowing 15.5 points per game, again second best in the league; the Packers rank 14th, having given up 20.5 points per game. Once again though, the great disparity in strengths of their previous opposing teams ought to alleviate much of the concern.
Injury-wise, the Packers have virtually a clean slate. The 49ers are less fortunate. Super tight end George Kittle is recovering from a knee injury and is questionable to play. RB Matt Breida’s sore ankle renders him also uncertain to play, which could factor into the outcome greatly. Tackle Joe Staley (finger) and kicker Robbie Gould (quad) are also dealing with injuries. As I write this another likely absentee is disruptive edge rusher Dee Ford, who had 13 sacks last year when with the Kansas City Chiefs. His hamstring injury might cause him to miss multiple games.
Shanahan vs. LaFleur
Lending intrigue to the contest, from 2010 through 2013, the Washington Redskins, coached by Mike Shanahan, had his son Kyle as offensive coordinator, and LaFleur served as quarterbacks coach. Additionally, Matt’s younger broker, Mike LaFleur, this season was named the 49ers’ passing game coordinator. The rumor is that Matt wanted his brother to join him in Green Bay, but that Kyle blocked any such move. It seems likely that the two LaFleurs will pair up eventually in Green Bay.
More importantly, both espouse the same general offensive philosophy. Kyle was first to become a head coach, moving on to San Francisco in 2017. Though he’s already considered to be a rising star in his profession, his current record with the 49ers is but 19-23. LaFleur appears on a faster track, with his nine wins, whereas Kyle had only 10 wins after his first two full seasons.
Matt LaFleur just celebrated his 40th birthday on November 14. Kyle Shanahan is exactly one month younger. They are best of friends and, except perhaps over the past week or so, the two correspond with regularity.
And the Winner Will Be . . .
Most of the experts have the 49ers as a slight favorite. SPORTSBOOKWIRE, a USA Today outfit, however, is concerned about San Francisco’s recent struggles, and especially its lackluster home performance against the 3-7-1 Cardinals. In making the below prediction, they like the fact the Packers are so healthy and should be well rested after their bye week:
“Bet the PACKERS (+145) to win this one outright, despite being the underdogs. They have the offensive line to neutralize the 49ers’ pass rush at least slightly and give Rodgers time.”
This shapes up to be a dandy confrontation. What are your thoughts on the outcome?