The San Francisco 49ers defense faces arguably its biggest test of the year going up against the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers in a prime-time Sunday Night Football showdown in Week 12.
Week 12’s Sunday Night Football bout between the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers and 8-2 Green Bay Packers will have a lot to do with the 2019 playoff picture, as both teams are currently the top two seeds in the NFC breakdown.
And one of the biggest matchups to watch will be how the Niners handle the future Hall of Famer, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense.
The Packers offense has shown flashes of excellence this season but has been very inconsistent. If the 49ers defense can execute the right game plan, it will shut Green Bay down.
If not, it will likely be a shootout.
Packers wide receiver Davante Adams had a breakout season last year, which firmly put him in the top tier of wide receivers. This year, he is playing at an even higher level when he hasn’t been injured and apart from one no-show against the Los Angeles Chargers a few weeks ago.
Adams was, by far, Rodgers’ favorite receivers and was targeted significantly on third downs and in the red zone. Adams is arguably the best red-zone wide receiver and one of the best third-down receivers as well.
What makes Adams so good in these critical short-yardage situations is his amazing release, which allows him to get open almost immediately, similar to how Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald sheds one-on-one blocks almost instantly. Adams has a very similar style to New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas and has the same ability to absolutely take over games.
Thomas is ranked fourth among qualifying wide receivers, according to Pro Football Focus, while Adams is ranked third.
The problem for the Packers offense is their lack of depth behind Adams. Undrafted free agent Allen Lazard has been a massive surprise. He hasn’t been on the field much (less than half, compared to other wideouts Marquez Valdez Scantling and Geronimo Allison). But when he has, Lazard has been the No. 2 receiver behind Adams.
Jimmy Graham was the best receiving tight end in the whole league only a few years ago when he was putting up big numbers playing with quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans. However, he has being one of the worst at his position over the last two years. This was partly down to former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy not using his skill set effectively, and Rodgers not being at his best. But Graham’s pass- and run-blocking skills have falling off a cliff and he has consistently struggled to get open.
This season, his blocking has improved slightly, but his receiving skills are still inadequate and the Packers will be hoping that this year’s rookie, tight end Jace Sternberger, will be able to step in next year after he recovers from an injury suffered earlier this year, as Graham is most certainly not the solution at the position.
In order to slow down Rodgers, the 49ers need to contain him, forcing him to beat the defense from the pocket, as the Packers’ most explosive plays come off script.
The key for the Packers offense is timing and rhythm. Last season, these were nonexistent and their offense was below average. The offense’s timing has certainly improved this season, but there have been some games, like the ones against the Chicago Bears in Week 1 and the Chargers three weeks ago, where the offense is completely dysfunctional. It was also like this in the second half of the game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2.
Thus, the key to stopping Green Bay’s passing offense is to keep Rodgers in the pocket and to disrupt the rhythm.
If the 49ers can do this, the Packers will fall apart.
Packers running back Aaron Jones has been very effective in his two seasons but was underused by McCarthy. The Packers ran the ball the least out of every team on first down and the second least on second down in 2018. When they ran, they were one of the most effective, ranking third in rushing success rate.
Jones is very elusive and has great acceleration, arguably the two most important factors for running backs. He is not a true receiver, like the Saints’ Alvin Kamara or Jets’ Le’Veon Bell, but is very good after the catch, so Jones is best used on screens and checkdowns. His ability to gain yards after the catch should be, and is, utilized frequently by Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, as it gives Rodgers easy, high-percentage throws which have been missing the last two seasons — throws the 49ers also use very frequently to great effect.
Jones is also one of the best pass-blocking running backs in the whole league. No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams has also acted as an effective counterpunch to Jones’ elusiveness, as he has forced a lot of missed tackles this season.
The 49ers host the Packers on Sunday Night Football this Sunday, Nov. 24 at 8:20 p.m. ET.