Before the Green Bay Packers take the field against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, these are five burning questions that we want answered.
There is no way to sugarcoat it, the last meeting between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers was certainly an ugly one. However, this is a very resilient Packers team who has improved since their last trip out west, and they have the ability to beat any team. So I wouldn’t quite count them out just yet, like so many have.
Anyways, I digress, with the NFC Championship game slowly getting closer, as always, I have my five burning questions about the upcoming matchup. And the answers will very likely determine the winner on Sunday.
Can the passing game have success?
Inconsistent. I’m sure that’s the word that many would use to describe the Green Bay Packers’ passing attack in 2019. However, just last week against Seattle, we saw Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham all have their best games of the season.
Rodgers was in rhythm for most of the game and we saw a few of those vintage Aaron Rodgers passes from years past. Meanwhile, Adams hauled in 160 receiving yards with two touchdowns, and Graham had three crucial 3rd down receptions that all went for 1st downs.
But the big question is: can they duplicate that performance against what many would consider the best pass defense in the NFL?
This is a Niners pass-defense that ranks second by DVOA in 2019 and is allowing a league low 169.2 passing yards per game, including a whopping six games where their opponents have less than 105 total passing yards. And yes, the Green Bay Packers are a part of that group. It won’t be easy by any means, but for the Packers to pull off the upset, they must have some success through the air.
Will they limit the big plays this time?
For roughly the first two-thirds of the season this was a major issue for the Green Bay Packers’ defense as they were near the top of the league in both 20 yard and 40 yard passes given up. So naturally, we saw the Niners take advantage of this in Week 12 with plays of 22, 42, and 61 yards through the air.
However, to the Packers’ credit, since then they have been much better and have only given up 10 plays of 20 yards or more and two over 40. It goes without saying, but they can’t allow these big plays and quick scores on Sunday or this game could end in a similar fashion to the previous one.
Will Aaron Jones play a bigger role?
This may seem like an odd question but despite Aaron Jones’ success this season there have been times here and there, where for whatever reason, he’s been forgotten about. And one of those times was during the last 49ers’ game.
Jones would still get 13 carries, which considering that they were playing from behind so much, I can understand. But where he needs more opportunities this time around is in the passing game. When Davante Adams was out with his turf-toe injury, Jones was Rodgers’ favorite receiving target and included a 159 yard performance against Kansas City.
Yet in their previous matchup with the Niners, he had no receptions on just one target. For whatever reason, Jamaal Williams, however, had eight targets and seven receptions. This isn’t meant to be a knock on Williams, but those are the kind of opportunities that need to be going Jones’ way instead.
Can they perform better in the trenches?
It wasn’t just on the scoreboard that the Green Bay Packers got whooped last time, but it was also in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Niner running backs totaled nearly six yards per rush and although the Packers’ defensive front was able to put some pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo early on, they weren’t able to sustain it and Garoppolo put up big numbers in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Packer offensive line gave up five sacks and we also saw Rodgers fumble on the opening possession. Not to mention that the run game went nowhere as well.
Fortunately this time around, the Green Bay Packers likely won’t have to rely on Alex Light at right tackle but that 49er defensive front is still going to be a problem. Most NFL games are won and lost in the trenches and Green Bay must be better there on Sunday.
Will they slow the 49ers’ run game?
I just discussed the success that San Francisco had on the ground the last time these two teams played, but leaning on their run game is what they’ve done all season long. During the regular season they would average 144.1 rushing yards per game which was the second most in the NFL.
The good news for the Green Bay Packers is that since they played the 49ers, they’ve been much better overall against the run. In their last six games, running backs are averaging just over 94 yards per game on the ground. A big reason for their success over the last two months is one, Kenny Clark of course, but also the elevated play of Dean Lowry and Blake Martinez.
The recipe for the Packer defense to be successful is to limit San Francisco’s effectiveness in the running game and put the ball in Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands. This will give the Green Bay defensive front the opportunity to pressure him and also, Garoppolo has an interception rate of 2.7 percent this season which is the seventh highest. Meaning this opportunistic Packers’ secondary could very well have an interception opportunity.