Packers Deep Dive: An Analysis
Arguably the biggest game of the 49ers’ season to date, this will be one of the few remaining NFC matchups on the schedule for the team that will heavily determine the playoff outcome for the entire group of contending NFC teams.
In this piece, I will be analyzing the key factors regarding the Packers as a team, and how the 49ers can counter what they offer, as well as how the 49ers can come out of this matchup with a win
1. Limit the Packers’ pass rush
1a. Arguably two of the better pass rushers in the league, both Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith will be a problem for both Justin Skule and Mike McGlinchey. According to PFF, Za’Darius grades out at an 82.8 overall, while Preston Smith at a 68.2. One thing to point out is that both two rank within the top-25 of pass rush grade overall. Both men have superb bull rush moves, as the strength of their game is to simply over-power their counterpart. One thing that both Skule and McGlinchey have struggled with throughout their time as 49ers: countering the bull rush. Look for Shanahan to provide support via double-team or chip blocks with a TE, or dialing quick passes for Garoppolo to avoid pressure. One quick note: Preston Smith under Mike Pettine, Packers defensive coordinator, will drop into coverage on occasion. Out of 97 coverage snaps, he grades at a 44.6. Look for Shanahan to try an exploit this matchup by attempting to get an RB lined up on him, or coming out of a route while Preston is in coverage. The biggest takeaway from the Packers defense is that the pass rush has been able to mask some of the coverage problems the Packers have, which I will get into later.
2. Contain Aaron Jones
2a. An under-rated player who is arguably in contention for offensive player of the year, Aaron Jones is a very solid 3 down back that can make any defensive player look silly. A pass catching machine, Jones has 36 catches for 360 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jones isn’t just a check down option; Jones can line out wide and win contested catches. Averaging 10 yards per catch, Jones is also a solid receiver. Aaron Rodgers has targeted Jones the 2nd most on the team (44 times), behind only Davante Adams, and because of how integral Jones is to the offense, the ability to at least contain him in both the passing and ground game will bode well for the 49ers. Even if Jones is running behind a top-10 OL, the ability to contain him will be one of the deciding factors for stopping the Packers’ potent offense. Jones may not be an incredibly dynamic rusher (583 yards, 4.4 ypc, 11 touchdowns) he still can break out chunk runs that can gash defenses quickly. Look for Dre Greenlaw to matchup with him in coverage, as he has filled in nicely (72.7 coverage grade, PFF) for the injured Kwon Alexander.
3. Keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket
3a. This is arguably the hardest point to argue, but hear me out: Aaron Rodgers is better on the move than he is with a clean pocket (but it’s close). Rodgers still can break the pocket and make plays with his feet, a trait that he has mastered throughout time. QBs that tend to roll out can open new routes for receivers to run, and put more pressure on the secondary. Keeping Rodgers in the pocket, where the 49ers defense can matchup against their man better, will give the unit a better chance to limit Rodgers’ ability. Even with the loss of Dee Ford (hamstring) for a couple weeks, the 49ers’ pass rush is still one of the best in the league. Although the pass rush is dominant, Rodgers still stands behind one of the best OL’s in football. PFF has them graded as the 4th best pass blocking unit in football (77.8). Led by all-pro tackle David Bakhtiari, this unit is built of powerful offensive lineman who can dominate any defensive lineman. Look for this to be one of the more uncommon games from coach Robert Saleh, as he will likely dial up a heavy dose of blitzing to get after Rodgers quickly.
Overall, the Packers and 49ers are about as evenly matched as it gets. Between two budding quarterbacks, as well as a solid run game, fortifying but inconsistent defense at times, and two offensive minded and innovative coaches, this has every look of a heavyweight, high-scoring bout that will likely have multiple lead changes throughout the game. To win this game, the 49ers will need to stay consistent both on offense and defense, as Aaron Rodgers has proved time and time again, that no matter the lead you have on the Packers is, you can never count them out.