This is a long one so let’s get right to it. We’re going to talk about the case for and against a Packers win this weekend.
The Case for a Packers Win
This one should be as easy as pointing out that the Packers quarterback is soon to be 4x MVP winner and best QB in the Universe Aaron Rodgers. And the 49ers quarterback is the worst quarterback left in the playoffs – Jimmy Garoppolo.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Two years ago, the 49ers murdered the Packers and Mike Pettine’s high school defense and the two QBs starting in that game were the same.
Here are a few bullet points on why the Packers should win:
- Darnell Savage, who some Packers fans may believe had a disappointing season is at his best when robbing the middle of the field in either inverted Tampa 2 or cover 1 robber. Garoppolo has thrown double digit interceptions this season to that exact spot.
- The 49ers defense is weak at corner and Davante Adams will likely be covered for much of this game by Ambry Thomas, a rookie third round pick who has graded as the 107th best corner this season per PFF.
- The 49ers defense is strongest when it can rush four and quickly create pressure to cover up for its subpar secondary — this season has been Aaron Rodgers best at getting rid of the ball quickly and on schedule. During their first matchup (when the Packers had a few injuries on the O line) Rodgers was only sacked once.
- The Packers’ run defense was bad for much of the season and the 49ers excel at the run game. However, the teams’ first matchup was easily the best the Packers have performed against the run this season and many of the Packers’ bad performances have come against teams with running QBs or when spread teams run against light boxes. Basically, the Packers’ run defense was bad against teams that didn’t want to run the ball (excepting the Browns) and fine to good against teams that did.
- An extension of that point is that the 49ers entire offense is built around great athletes who break tackles. They design runs to get to the edge and the open field. They use receivers in creative ways with screens, crossing routes, and play action (not to mention the backfield stuff) to get them the ball in space. The Packers were the best tackling team in football this season and the only team in the last three years to have fewer than 100 missed tackles on the season.
- While LaFleur teams have underwhelmed after bye weeks during the regular season over the past few years, two of the best games the Packers have had with LaFleur as head coach came in the divisional round, after a bye, in the last two playoffs. The Packers dominated the Rams and the number one defense in the NFL last year and the win over the Seahawks the year before was when the offense really started coming together and playing on schedule. I’d like to be able to say the same next year about the defense this year.
- The Packers have a few reinforcements. David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers, Billy Turner, Za’Darius Smith, Whitney Mercilus, and Jaire Alexander could all be back. I’m skeptical that they will all be back and impactful, but if even half of them are, that’s a big deal.
The Case for a Packers’ Loss
Let’s try to get this over with quickly.
- Joe Barry hasn’t had a lot of success against the 49ers. The Rams’ team that he coached on and has used the same defensive scheme this season has lost six straight to the 49ers. Light boxes and loose zone coverage doesn’t work out well against Kyle Shanahan. Barry admitted in his press conference that the game earlier this season was the first success he’s had against Shanahan and in that game, San Francisco put up 28 points.
- The Packers are cursed against the 49ers in the playoffs. Rodgers has had a good amount of success against SF during the regular season over his career, but the playoff matchups are a graveyard. If you add in the time that Kyle Shanahan was able to matchup Julio Jones against Ladarius Gunter on the way to 180 yards and two touchdowns there isn’t much hope for the Packers. Obviously, every game is different, but in this game the Packers have a great QB, multiple pro bowl level skill players, a bad run defense, and terrible special teams. Sound familiar?
- The Packers haven’t been challenged by a player like Deebo Samuel this season. If the Packers have Jaire or another corner follow him into the box when Deebo is in the backfield, SF will easily run on that front all night. If they put a linebacker on him, he’ll run flat and Texas routes all night. The only way to really stop Deebo in the backfield packages is for the front four to beat their blocks consistently and quickly.
- Trent Williams is the best player in football right now. Preston Smith has had a great comeback year after disappointing in 2020. If he lines up against Trent Williams all night, he probably won’t be able to make much of an impact. Additionally, San Francisco has been one of the best teams this season at taking advantage of the new NFL rule that players can’t take offensive linemen out below the knee on plays outside the box. Trent Williams as a lead blocker on toss plays is a problem.
- There’s been a lot made of Jimmy Garoppolo’s lack of experience playing in the cold. He grew up in Illinois. It was -1 degrees in his hometown this morning. I’ve lived in Utah for the last 15 years, but I can still handle the cold since I grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota (unfortunately). Once you spend hours upon hours standing outside waiting for the bus in negative temperature, you’re fine in the cold. That said, the cold may impact his throwing because of his injuries, and he may lose the game making stupid mistakes. But the Jimmy has no experience in the cold argument makes no sense.
I’ll just say it. I’m too chicken to make a pick. I understand each and every point in the “case for” section and each time I’ve played this game in Madden this week I’ve won handily. But until the game is over, I will be nervous that San Francisco will pull it out. Again.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.