Green Bay fans will never admit it (or maybe they will), but they must hate having their Packers play the 49ers.
San Francisco has a rich history of success just like Green Bay, although the Packers have been around much longer and have won 13 NFL championships in their 101-year history. The Niners have five titles in their 76 seasons, all coming in the Super Bowl era and one more Lombardi Trophy than Green Bay’s four.
When the two storied franchises clash in a prime-time divisional playoff on Saturday night, the Red and Gold will enter Lambeau Field with confidence, having gone 7-3 in the teams’ last 10 meetings, including three postseason wins.
In 2012, Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore ran wild against the Pack in a 45-31 divisional-round victory. In 2014, Kaep and company went to work again, escaping the frozen tundra with a 23-20 win on Phil Dawson’s field goal as time expired. And in the 2019 NFC championship game, Raheem Mostert obliterated the Green Bay defense for 220 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-20 stomping.
Do you think Aaron Rodgers is craving his first postseason win over the franchise that passed on him in the 2005 NFL Draft? Sounds like a safe bet.
To the Packers’ credit, they’re 38-32-1 all time against the Niners and won the last two regular-season matchups. The most recent was a 30-28 thriller in Week 3, when Rodgers led Green Bay down the field in 37 seconds to set up Mason Crosby’s walk-off 51-yard field goal. But in that Sunday night slugfest, the Packers blew a 17-0 lead. Also, the San Francisco defense has improved significantly since the teams’ September showdown.
The 49ers have the formula to upset the top-seeded Packers. This is how Kyle Shanahan’s troops can do it.
Can 49ers sack the Pack?
Run the ball
If there’s one thing Shanahan does consistently, it’s running the football. So expect to see a lot of San Francisco’s ground game on Saturday.
The Niners had the seventh-best running attack in the league, averaging 127.4 yards per game and scoring 22 rushing TDs, tied for fifth. Green Bay ranked 11th in the NFL in stopping the run but still allowed 109.1 rushing yards per game. The Packers defense also struggled late in the season against the run, yielding 166.3 yards per game, and it struggled to contain mobile QBs in Justin Fields (74 yards on nine carries) and Tyler Huntley (73 yards, two TDs). Committing to the run — and maybe deploying Trey Lance in the red zone like they did in Week 3 — will be a recipe for 49ers success.
Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell exceeded expectations this season, finishing eighth in the league with 963 rushing yards and averaging the fourth-most yards with 87.5. The sixth-round pick missed six games during the regular season but still managed to set a franchise rookie rushing record.
The emergence of wideout Deebo Samuel as a running back further elevated San Francisco’s rushing attack. The first-team All-Pro selection became the first wide receiver in NFL history to total 1,000 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns in a season. Samuel also is the lone wide receiver with a rushing TD this postseason.
The Packers must limit San Francisco’s running game and force quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball if they hope to win the time-of-possession battle and keep the 49ers offense off the field.
Take care of the ball
Garoppolo is experienced and serviceable, but his inaccuracy can be a problem because it often results in turnovers.
The eight-year veteran has 13 interceptions in 16 games this season, including a fourth-quarter INT against the Cowboys in last weekend’s wild-card win. In Week 16, he threw two interceptions in a 20-17 loss to the Titans, and he had another two-INT game in Week 18 against the Rams. However, the Niners managed to win the regular-season finale and qualify for the postseason.
The further you go in the playoffs, the harder it is to win. That’s why it’s so important for Garoppolo to be extra careful when he drops back to pass on Saturday. The Packers defense had 18 interceptions, sixth-most in the NFL, with cornerback Rasul Douglas leading the team with five INTs.
Despite hearing all the criticism from the fans and the media, Garoppolo has never doubted his quarterbacking ability.
“I think a big part of it is just knowing who you are — as a player and a person, really,” Garoppolo said after San Francisco’s 23-17 victory in Dallas. “That will take you a long way. It’s kind of a big part of just my mental game. I know what type of quarterback I am. I know what type of player I am in this league and where I stand. All the noise out there and everything, keep it coming. It fuels me, and it keeps me going. It’s a good thing when people are talking about you.”
The confidence is certainly there for Garoppolo, who’s only two years removed from starting in the Super Bowl. Still, he can’t help out Green Bay by committing turnovers.
Despite all the drama and controversy, Rodgers has been phenomenal this season, following up his 2020 MVP season with 4,115 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s the presumptive favorite to win a second-straight MVP award (and fourth overall) after leading the Packers to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Rodgers will definitely be a problem for the 49ers if he’s given time to stand in the pocket.
Nick Bosa (concussion) is questionable for Saturday’s game, and his absence would be a big blow to the San Francisco pass rush. The two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher had 15.5 sacks in the regular season, but the 49ers fared well without Bosa in the second half against Dallas, sacking Cowboys QB Dak Prescott four times.
Rodgers is different, however. He’s the most-talented quarterback the NFL has ever seen and only needs a few seconds to find openings in opposing secondaries and shred them to pieces. The 49ers have had an especially difficult time stopping Rodgers’ favorite target, five-time Pro Bowl wideout Davante Adams.
If the Niners can get to Rodgers early with pressures or knockdowns, they’ll have a good chance of limiting Green Bay’s top-10 scoring offense (26.5 points per game). For the record, the Cowboys were No. 1 in that department.
Saturday’s game could come down to the final seconds just like it did in Week 3 in a coaching duel between Shanahan and Matt LaFleur. Can you say instant classic?