49ers can exploit Packers run defense to advance to NFC Championship

The 49ers love to run the ball, and the Packers would love anything but to defend the run. It's an exploitable mismatch that the Niners will absolutely love.

San Francisco 49ers running back Jordan Mason (41)
San Francisco 49ers running back Jordan Mason (41) / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

The 49ers will dust off the old rivalry against the Packers on Saturday night, and their biggest strength happens to correspond with the Packers' biggest weakness.

The San Francisco 49ers will open their playoff campaign against the Green Bay Packers, who produced the biggest shock during Wild Card weekend with their comprehensive 48-32 win on the road against the Dallas Cowboys in a contest that was not nearly as close as the scoreline suggests.

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The Packers shocked the Dallas crowd on the back of their sizzling-hot offense, led by first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love, who looks like yet again another franchise signal-caller for the folks over at Lambeau.

The Niners defense will have its hands full with Love and the Packers offense, although reinforcements have returned in that regard as the 49ers are looking as healthy as they've been in a while.

But while the Packers offense has been humming along nicely, the defense is still questionable and has been the subject of a lot of chatter including criticism of defensive coordinator Joe Barry after some poor performances over the season despite significant investment:

"Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry has been given three seasons to turn one of the most talented defenses in the NFL into one of the league’s best defenses. With his group getting progressively worse each year, it’s time to start evaluating Packers defensive coordinator candidates for 2024.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has invested significant resources into this defense. Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary and De’Vondre Campbell are some of the highest-paid players at their position. Meanwhile, Green Bay has spent first-round picks on Lukas Van Ness, Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Eric Stokes in the last three years. These are the results:

Green Bay Packers defense stats 2023: 22.1 PPG allowed (17th in NFL), 352.9 total yards per game allowed (23rd), 5.5 yards per play allowed (24th), 42.36% third-down conversion rate allowed (26th)"

Matt Johnson, Sportsnaut

In addition to their poor general defensive performances, the Packers have shown themselves especially susceptible to defending against the run. The 49ers, of course, possess the best running back in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey along with two capable backups in Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason, and they'll be licking their lips at this particular stat:

The added advantage of forcing the Packers to focus on the run is to open things up in the passing game and allow quarterback Brock Purdy to show why he was snubbed as a potential All-Pro option while leading the 49ers to their second NFC Championship game in as many seasons.

The Packers are a feisty opponent who will be playing like a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain, but the Niners know they'll be able to exploit the Packers' biggest weakness and control both the clock and the scoring.

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