It’s been a while since the Green Bay Packers have played a meaningful football game. After clinching the number 1 seed and a first-round bye in Week 17, Matt LaFleur rested his starters for the majority of Week 18 at Detroit. Could the Packers come out rusty against a red-hot 49ers team? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, here are, in my opinion, the Packers’ keys to success in tonight’s Divisional Round matchup.
Getting Healthy at the Right Time
The Packers are getting a number of key contributors back from injury, many of whom missed the majority of the season. On offense, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari is currently listed as questionable, but could return after suffering a torn ACL in last year’s postseason. Starting center Josh Myers and starting right tackle Billy Turner also return after missing significant time. Wide receiver Randall Cobb also returns, which should take some pressure off Davante Adams.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers welcome back their two best defensive players over the last couple seasons in corner Jaire Alexander and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus is back after suffering a torn bicep in mid-November. Smith and Mercilus were recently activated from IR, while Alexander is listed as questionable but has a good chance to play.
If the Packers end up getting the win tonight and going on a postseason run, one of the main factors could be the resurgence of these key starters.
Stopping Shanahan’s Ground Game
This is a physical Niners team that wants to run it down your throat every possession. San Francisco finished 7th in the league in rushing yards per game, while Green Bay gave up 4.7 rushing yards per attempt, 30th in the NFL. After rushing for 169 yards last week at Dallas, Kyle Shanahan would love to have similar success in Lambeau tonight.
For Matt LaFleur’s Packers, getting an early lead is critical, as that could force Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball more than the Niners want. The last thing the Packers want is the Niners to jump out to an early lead and control the tempo of the game. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a lot of 8-man-boxes from this Green Bay defense, especially with the likely return of Jaire Alexander.
Believe it or not, it’s a wide receiver that has been the key to a successful rushing attack for the Niners. While Elijah Mitchell is a superb running back and the offensive line creates gaping holes, Deebo Samuel is the X-factor. Samuel averaged over 6 yards per carry and finished 3rd in the NFL in regular season scrimmage yards. If the Packers want to avoid an upset, containing Samuel is crucial.
Let Rodgers Cook
Obviously, establishing the run with A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones is key, and it’s a big part of Matt LaFleur’s offense. That said, I think Aaron Rodgers is coming in to this game with a chip on his shoulder for multiple reasons. That’s bad news for any opponent. Of course, San Francisco is the team that passed up on Rodgers to take Alex Smith in the 2005 draft. That led to this famous quote:
Despite his illustrious career, Aaron Rodgers is 0-3 against the 49ers in the playoffs. Rodgers knows this, and there’s no doubt this will give him some extra motivation. Lastly, and most importantly, Aaron Rodgers wants another Super Bowl, and this could be his best chance at getting ring number two. After losing at Lambeau in the NFC Championship last year, I’d be surprised if #12 doesn’t come out firing on all cylinders tonight.
There’s no denying the fact that the Packers have one of the best rosters in the NFL, top to bottom. There’s also no denying the fact that the Packers will go as far as Aaron Rodgers can take them. If he continues to play at an MVP-caliber level, the Lombardi trophy could be coming back to Green Bay in a few weeks. If he takes a step back, Green Bay’s season could be over just like that.
Follow us on Twitter!
Check out our shop!
Check out SidelineSwap for great deals on sports gear and apparel!