Packers-49ers: Keys to Victory in the Divisional Round

Green Bay fans likely have some lingering doubts from previous Packers-49ers match-ups. But there is reason to believe that this game will be different than many of the prior playoff games in the Rodgers era. The Packers come in off the bye arguably the healthiest they will be all season. Rodgers is playing at an MVP yet again, and will be close to 100% after dealing with a fractured toe for the past 2 months. Despite that, the 49ers are one of the hotter teams in football. In order to make it back to a third straight NFC championship game, watch for these keys to a Packers victory.

Play In Rhythm

With the return of David Bakhtiari and Josh Myers, the offensive line will be in a much better place compared to their Week 3 matchup. It will be imperative that Aaron Rodgers continue to play within the structure of the offense, as he has all season. 2021 marked the quickest time to throw throughout Rodgers’ career. It shows his trust in his receiving options as much as his trust in Matt LaFleur to scheme guys open.

The last few years of the McCarthy era were all about Rodgers holding onto the ball and trying to make the big play, and despite their success the last 3 years he has still shown flashes where he will fall back into those bad habits. The Packers offense is at it’s best when it is run on schedule, and Rodgers needs to continue this trend. 

Win On Early Downs

This goes for both sides of the ball. On offense, the Packers need to avoid playing to the strength of this 49ers defense and getting into obvious passing situations. Even with the status of Nick Bosa up in the air, they have gotten solid contributions from Arden Key and Arik Armstead. Matt LaFleur did a great job of this in their first match-up, which was Yosh Nijman’s first start at left tackle. The Packers averaged 6 yards per play on first down, and resulted in converting 8/14 third downs. 

Defensively, the early downs will be just as important. The 49ers have as diverse of a running game as anybody in the league. Their offense is predicated on success in the run game, creating manageable situations for Jimmy Garoppolo. If the Packers are able to force third and long situations, they can limit play-action opportunities and allow their pass rush to force Garoppolo into mistakes. 

Limit Explosive Plays

One of the more unnerving trends for the Packers towards the end of the season was the increase in big plays allowed. For much of the season they were one of the best teams in the league limiting explosive plays. The return of Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith should help. But with the ways that Kyle Shanahan has been able to unleash Deebo Samuel, they have the ability to gash a defense at any time. Samuel has generated explosive plays on 18% of his receiving targets and 22% of his rushing attempts.

Meanwhile, the Packers have allowed explosive rushes on 14% of plays, which is 28th in the NFL. Joe Barry has played lighter boxes than anyone all year, and that likely won’t change much. But the Packers have been the #2 ranked tackling defense per PFF, and they will have to play gap sound and tackle well to not let Samuel run wild.

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Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.

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