Hey Packer Nation, snap out of it. What’s with the defeatist attitude? The notion that we need a bunch of turnovers to have a chance. That we ought to at least avoid a second rout. Forget about the first encounter, it was an aberration. The Packers are on the rise and are capable of defeating a team with such slight playoff experience and few big-play talents.
Let’s start here, as San Francisco is accurately known for its run-heavy offensive attack. Yes, they had the second best rushing yardage, averaging 144.1 per game; by comparison, the Packers came in at only 15th best, though the difference was only about 30 fewer rushing yards per game. On the other hand, the Niners ran 498 times, while the Packers had only 411 run attempts. The Packers rushing average of 4.4 yards per carry was nearly the same as the 49ers 4.6 average.
San Francisco is noted for having a “three-headed monster” at running back: Raheem Mostert, 137 carries, 772 yards, 8 TDs, 5.6 average; Tevin Coleman, 137 carries, 544 yards, 6 TDs, 4.0 average; and Matt Breida, 123 carries, 623 yards, 1 TD, 5.1 average.
The threesome had modest credentials coming into the league, and none possesses outstanding athletic traits – with the exception of Coleman’s 4.39 dash speed (2015 NFL Combine). Given this, much credit must go to the team’s offensive linemen, though none was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.
In Saturday’s easy win against the Vikings, it was speedster Coleman who did the most damage, with 105 yards on 22 carries; Mostert had 58 in a dozen tries.
Kyle Shanahan doesn’t rely on his RBs for a lot of receptions. None of the three exceeded 21 catches on the year, and none totaled more than 180 yards through the air. The threesome’s combined receiving yardage is 247 less than what Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams produced through the air – advantage Packers if they will commit to deploying it.
Comments: Shanahan will favor one or the other depending on how he views the matchups with the opponent’s defense. In the first game against the Packers, Mostert had the most success (6 for 45), while Coleman had the most carries (11 for 39), and each had a touchdown. Shanahan likely thinks the Packers are weaker at run defense than pass defense – in which case we might again see, as Minnesota just did, the three 49ers’ RBs getting close to 50 carries.
Playing in all 16 games, Jimmy Garoppolo fell just short of 4,000 passing yards on the season; at twelfth most, he ranked one spot below Rodgers. He had 29 touchdown throws and 13 interceptions. His fine 102.0 passer rating was eighth best. He was sacked 36 times, the same number as Rodgers.
Though vastly overpaid, Garoppolo is capable. His body of work is surprisingly slim, however, for all the acclaim he gets: under 7,000 passing yards in a six-year career. The past year was the first time he’s started more than 5 games in a season. Even more to the point, , Jimmy G completed his first NFL postseason pass a few days ago against the Vikings. Not only that, his performance on that day was less than mediocre: 11 for 19, for 131 yards, with 1 TD and 1 interception – and only a 74.7 passer rating.
After the Seattle game, Packers fans should be relieved to know that Garoppolo has never been a running threat. This is a quarterback unskilled at evading pass rushers.
Comments: Jimmy G is inexperienced generally, and especially on a stage as big as this NFC championship game. Attention Smiths: he’s prone to throwing interceptions when pressured. In Week 12, Jimmy’s passer rating against Pettine’s guys was 145.8 – almost surely the best ever in his brief time as a starter. Don’t worry, the Packers had their meltdown in that first encounter, and it won’t happen again. In the first meeting – which has little relevance to the upcoming affair – Garoppolo burned Green Bay with 40+ yard completions to both Kittle and Samuel. Pettine’s guys can and must do much better against a QB who normally plays second fiddle to his running backs. I don’t know the guy well enough to be sure, but isn’t it fair to give him the cursed label of “game manager”?
The tough matchup here is tight end George Kittle, who had 85 catches in only 107 throws on the year, for 1,053 yards and five TDs. Though he’s a typical size, his 4.52 speed stands out for a tight end. Despite this being only his third season, he was recently named a First Team All Pro. I’d much rather see Raven Greene than Tramon Williams assigned to Kittle, though Greene probably won’t be physically ready to go.
The wide receivers are a competent group, though no one approaches the talents of Packers ace “Tae” Adams. Rookie Deebo Samuel, the 36th over pick back in March, had several long catches on his way to a 57-reception, 802-yard season. But he’s inexperienced, just like Seattle’s DK Metcalf, who was not a factor last weekend. Samuel’s 40-yard dash time is a manageable 4.48 seconds.
Emmanuel Sanders, in his first year with the Niners, has resurrected his career at age 32: He had 32 catches for 502 yards. We saw a lot of Matt Bourne on Saturday: during the regular season, he had 30 catches for 358 yards and five TDs.
Comments: As a team, the Niners had the thirteenth most robust passing yardage. Other than for Kittle, this is a competent, but hardly a fearsome, group: average WRs being thrown to by an average QB.
I’m inclined to disregard the 37-8 whipping the 49ers administered on our guys in Week 12. In that one, LaFleur’s team fell apart when faced with its second major adversity. They’ve learned from it, team leaders have stepped forward, Rodgers just delivered one of his better performances, and Green Bay hasn’t lost since. The team’s current six-game win streak demonstrates the rapid growth and maturity of this club, both defensively and offensively.
Though the San Fran defense days ago utterly dominated the Vikes, the offense was ho-hum: 308 total yards. The 186 yards on the ground sounds scary, but it took 47 runs (4.0 average) to do it. The Packers’ run defense is no longer the embarrassment it was at mid-season.
The Packers need to hold the 49ers offense to under its 29.9 regular season average – second best in the league. Difficult, but doable. If the Packers can keep George Kittle under some restraints, it doesn’t look to me as though there are any other nightmarish mismatches for the Packers D.
Green Bay’s destruction of the Vikings offense at their place on Week 16 is additional reason to believe the Pack’s defense is ready to take on a group of San Francisco’s caliber. Keeping the 49ers scoring below 30 points should give the Packers a 50/50 chance of pulling off the upset.
Kyle Shanahan called a masterful game in the previous encounter against the Packers, who were caught off guard despite having two weeks of prep time – I’m not sure why. The play calling differences stood out: the 49ers were using deception and fakery almost every play, while LaFleur too quickly conceded, and settled for merely trying to complete short passes, against a prevent defense perfectly happy to give them such plays.
While Shanahan has had three years to get his offensive schemes clicking, LaFleur’s offensive strategies are still under development. We’ll find out on Sunday just how fast a learner, and how good a teacher, our young coach is.
My next post will assess the Packers’ chances against the NFL’s eighth stingiest defense, points-wise, over the past regular season. By the way, Green Bay gave up only three more points over that span of 16 games.