What to watch in 49ers-Packers Divisional Round playoff
These two are familiar. Thanks to an extensive partnership between head coaches and five meetings over the past three years, the 49ers and Packers know as much about each other as the division rivals.
In fact, Saturday night will mark the franchises ninth playoff matchup, tying the NFL (Cowboys-Rams) record, though only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Mason Crosby and Randall Cobb have been involved in that playoff rivalry. before the 2019 NFC title game. More relevant is their September matchup, in which the Packers built a 17-point lead before needing a miracle drive from Rodgers to earn a buzzer victory.
This one was played in the cool air of San Francisco. This one will be in the frigid Green Bay region, where there is a chance of light snow and where the Packers are undefeated this season. They’re also coming off a bye, claiming the NFC’s top seed after being the most consistent team in football.
The No. 6 seed San Francisco has been one of the hottest over the past two months, winning eight of its last 10 games, but needed last-minute heroics the previous two weeks to reach the round divisional. With Super Bowl angst hanging over every team, the pressure will be palpable at Lambeau Field.
Here are four things to look out for when the Packers host the 49ers:
- Will Rodgers dominate? The presumptive MVP often does, obviously. It gets much harder in the playoffs. Despite his detractors, Rodgers’ playoff numbers are consistent with his career regular-season ratings. Green Bay’s defense was the biggest detriment in most January losses. But that doesn’t mean Rodgers is immune to trouble. He has done so throughout this year when opposing teams have generated pressure. His 68.7-point drop in passer rating on pressure (122.6-53.9) was the largest in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. Conversely, the Packers allowed the third-least pressure on Rodgers’ comebacks (20.1%). It’s strength against strength, as the Niners rank second in the league in QB pressure ratio (31.6%), including an NFL-high 30.5% when using four or less passers. Interestingly, Rodgers cut San Francisco in Week 3 when the defense sent no more than four (20-27, 242 yards, two touchdowns), skillfully utilizing the quick play. The Niners’ pass rush made major strides in the second half of the season, and their solid run defense forced some teams to be one-dimensional. It should make for a big game of cat and mouse between Packers coach Matt LaFleur and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Of course, it’s also personal for Rodgers, a Northern California native who grew up with the Niners, was passed over by them in the 2005 NFL Draft and lost all three of his postseason meetings with San. Francis. I assume you’ve heard of it.
- How well will the Packers defend the run? They shut it down the last time these two faced off. But it’s unlikely to happen again. Standout rookie Elijah Mitchell didn’t play, and Kyle Shanahan had yet to unlock his “wide back” Deebo Samuel. The 49ers’ running game has been elite with them involved. You could say that the team as a whole has it too. San Francisco is 8-2 when Mitchell gets 18 carries, 8-1 when Samuel gets five. In addition, the Green Bay defense has been regressing since the end of November and is particularly struggling to counter the run. Only two teams are giving up more yards per carry (4.7) and no defense is giving up first downs on a higher percentage of attempts (30.4). The Packers also employ a light box (six or fewer defensemen) a league-high 61.8% of the time, per NGS. The 49ers had a lot of assists the first time around Green Bay due to personnel issues and a big deficit. Don’t expect them to make the same mistake again, even if they fall behind early (see Week 18 vs. Rams). Their success on the court often begets that of Jimmy Garoppolo, and no one on either side has forgotten how that entirely decided their final playoff fight.
- Can the Niners limit the damage of Davante Adams? They certainly didn’t contain the All-Pro wide earlier this year, let alone stop him. Four months later, the Rodgers-Adams tandem against the Niners secondary remains the biggest mismatch of the game. The Packers duo connected on 12 of 18 targets (for 132 yards and a TD), none bigger than last in regulation. With less than 40 seconds left and no timeouts in hand, Rodgers hit Adams for 25 and 17 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. San Francisco knew exactly who the ball was going to and just couldn’t stop it. His maligned defensive background has gained momentum in recent weeks against powerful passing attacks. This challenge, however, is greater. Adams is the most complete passer in the league, and he has arguably the best passer in history to throw at him. Without a clear No. 2 receiver posing a threat, look for the Niners to frame Adams. But the league’s best QB-WR combo beat that cover as well.
- Which team is the healthiest? Both teams face a myriad of injuries to key players. Most of them will be available on Saturday. Which version of them remains to be seen, and it could swing the outcome. Longtime Rodgers target Cobb, who was just activated off injured reserve and is expected to play, was a surprising contributor before dropping late in the season. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) understandably wasn’t quite the Pro Bowl himself on his 2021 debut in the regular season finale, and he’s now questionable for this weekend. The same goes for star cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder), who transforms the secondary but who incidentally last played against these Niners. LaFleur also hopes to have Za’Darius Smith (back), perhaps serving as a situational pastime weapon after missing nearly all of 2021. San Francisco survived the Cowboys’ comeback offer in the fourth quarter last week without its two best defensive players, Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. The latter avoided an ankle injury and has been training hard, while the former is questionable as he awaits concussion clearance. Bosa single-handedly changes the complexion of the 49ers defense. Mitchell, whose knee bothered him earlier in the week, is an X-factor for the offense. A struggling Garoppolo is now nursing a sprained throwing shoulder above the torn ligament and bone chip in his right thumb. It will start, but it all depends on how it ends.
Next Gen Game Stats: Deebo Samuel leads the NFL in yards after expected catch (+4.9) and in expected rushing yards per rush outside of tackles (+2.84).
NFL Search: Green Bay has allowed 26.6 PPG in playoff games with Aaron Rodgers as a starter (most PPG allowed by a defense for a starting QB in the playoffs, min. 10 starts).