For the past quarter century, no playoff matchup has produced as many memorable moments as the Green Bay Packers vs. the San Francisco 49ers.
It began with Green Bay’s stunning win as an 11-point underdog in the 1995 divisional playoffs. The Packers defeated the host 49ers, 23-10, in the 1997 NFC Championship Game.
San Francisco earned a measure of revenge with ‘The Catch: Part II’ made by Terrell Owens in the 1998 Wild Card round. And most recently, San Francisco routed the Packers in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, 37-20.
The teams have met eight times in the postseason since 1995 and both sides are 4-4. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre was 4-1 against the 49ers in the postseason, while current starter Aaron Rodgers is 0-3.
When the teams meet Saturday at Lambeau Field at 7:15 p.m. in the NFC divisional playoffs, there’s history, high stakes and countless layers of intrigue.
“Each season is different and unique in its own way, as has this one been,” Rodgers said this week. “There's four teams left on the NFC side. We're one of them. We get to host playoff games. This is a special opportunity. We're not going to make it bigger than it is. We've gotten this far being level-headed and even-keeled and not rising a roller coaster of emotions and we're going to keep on doing the same thing.”
Green Bay began the week as a 4.5-point favorite and the line has jumped to 6.0.
Game-time temperature is expected to be 12 degrees with winds between 10 and 15 miles per hour.
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Here’s a look at each positional group and which team has the edge.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is a frontrunner for his fourth regular season MVP award after a year where he led the league in passer rating (111.9), threw 37 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Rodgers led the Packers to a win in the 2010 Super Bowl. He hasn't been back, though, and is just 7-8 in the playoffs over the last 11 seasons.
“I understand that in our business, so much of it is focused on the wins and losses, especially in the playoffs, Super Bowl rings and all that stuff,” Rodgers said. “I understand that's part of my legacy I'll be judged on when I'm done playing and every year is important when it comes to furthering your legacy.”
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a solid year with a 98.7 passer rating, 3,810 passing yards and 20 touchdown passes.
Garoppolo has a 33-14 career record and led the 49ers to the 2019 Super Bowl. He’s more of a game manager than a dynamic talent, though, which is why the 49ers drafted Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in last April’s draft.
Garoppolo’s quarterback rating was 102.9 in his last 10 regular season games. He seemingly makes one boneheaded throw a week, though, which is why he had eight interceptions in that stretch — and another one last week against Dallas.
Garoppolo is fighting both shoulder and thumb injuries, and the Packers would love nothing more than to take away the run and make the 49ers beat them through the air.
“Stop the run, get after the passer, that’s the big thing,” Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark said. “Get him to force bad throws and hopefully we can get some turnovers. Definitely, that’s a huge part.”
The 49ers finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per game (127.4) and got better as the year went along.
In San Francisco’s final four regular season games, it averaged 138.8 rushing yards per game. And in the 49ers’ win at Dallas Sunday, they ran for 169 yards.
Rookie Elijah Mitchell ran for 963 yards in just 11 games during the regular season (87.5 average). Wideout Deebo Samuel is often used as a running back, too, and finished the regular season with eight rushing touchdowns.
As good as San Francisco is between the tackles, they also use multiple shifts and formations while attacking the edge of the defense.
“I think the hardest part about it is they have a lot of what I call eye candy, so a lot of jet motions, a lot of shifts, a lot of pre-snap stuff to basically get your eyes in the wrong position,” Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said. “It’s not a complicated scheme, but it’s more predicated on we’re going to try to make you mess up, you know what I mean? So I feel like as long as you play with great eyes and you read your keys, it’s not a super hard scheme to stop. It’s not like they’re doing a lot of gap schemes, like powers, counters and all that stuff. It’s a lot of stretches and a lot of misdirection, so as long as you have your eyes on the right place, you’ve just got to hit your way through the problem.”
The Packers ranked 18th in the league in rushing offense (111.8), despite having one of the better duos in football.
Second-year man A.J. Dillon actually led the Packers with 803 rushing yards and Aaron Jones finished second (799). Dillon is a bull who’s built for cold weather games, while Jones is one of the more explosive backs in football.
Jones could have additional motivation after his critical fumble in last year’s NFC Championship Game set up a Tampa Bay touchdown and put the Packers in a 28-10 hole.
“I mean, I’ve moved on from that,” Jones said. “I’ve played a lot of football after that, so I think I’ve made up for it, but it keeps me hungry, you know? We were right there, so it keeps me hungry. Got to get it.”
Green Bay’s Davante Adams has dominated the 49ers throughout his career. In his last three meetings against San Francisco, Adams is averaging 10.3 receptions, 148 receiving yards and has two touchdown catches.
Adams set Green Bay single season records for catches (123) and yards (1,553) this year. And when the Packers met the 49ers in Week 3, Adams had a career-high 18 targets, 12 receptions and 132 yards.
“He doesn’t stay in one spot,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said Wednesday. “He can move into the slot, he can play outside. He’s all over the place. We know that he’s the top guy.”
Green Bay will have slot receiver Randall Cobb back from a core muscle injury, but speedster Marquez Valdes-Scantling is doubtful with a back injury.
The dynamic Deebo Samuel led the 49ers in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,405) and receiving touchdowns (six). He also averaged an eye-popping 18.2 yards per catch.
The 49ers move Samuel all over the field, and also began using him as a running back this season. Samuel finished the year with eight rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his 59 rushing attempts.
“Deebo’s a dangerous guy with the ball in his hands, obviously, whether it’s down the field and they’re throwing it to him, screen game, he’s always been a huge weapon in their fly sweeps, when they’ve handed the ball to him,” Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “He’s done a ton of damage over the years.
“Deebo’s a 220-pound receiver. People don’t realize how big and thick he is. He’s got unbelievable balance and he’s an angry runner – he always has been – even down the field when they’ve thrown the ball to him.”
George Kittle remains one of the NFL’s elite tight ends (71 catches, 910 yards, six TDs), while ascending wideout Brandon Aiyuk had a solid second season (56-826-5)
Will Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari play? How will right tackle Billy Turner perform after missing four games with a knee injury?
Who’s playing center? Who’s the right guard?
The Packers have a deep stable of offensive linemen, but some are returning from injury which has led to these questions.
The most important comes at left tackle, where the Pro Bowler Bakhtiari returned in Week 18 against Detroit. It was Bakhtiari’s first action in more than a year after he suffered an ACL tear on Dec. 31, 2020.
Bakhtiari lasted 27 snaps, that asked to come out due to fatigue. Bakhtiari has participated in just three of six practices since then, and is listed as questionable for this game.
“I think Dave’s in really good shape, obviously,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “He puts a lot of time in now, not, and you don’t have to be necessarily in great shape by going play after play after play out there on the field. I definitely think there is a difference to it just in terms of some of the movements you make as a player as opposed to in a controlled environment. But he’s working his tail off, and like I said, we’ll see where he’s at.”
The 49ers have one of the NFL’s elite offensive lines.
Left tackle Trent Williams graded out as the league’s ‘Best Overall Player’ according to Pro Football Focus. The rest of the unit — which includes veteran center Alex Mack, guards Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill, and right tackle Tom Compton — is terrific, as well.
Defensive end Nick Bosa, the second pick in the 2019 draft, finished fourth in the league this season with 15.5 sacks, then suffered a concussion against Dallas last week. The 49ers cleared Bosa from the concussion protocol on Friday, though, meaning he’s good to go.
“Nick is a formidable player, as formidable as you’re going to see in the league,” Rodgers said of Bosa. “He demands attention, he’s strong at the point of attack, he’s good against the run, … smart player, instinctual player.”
End Arik Armstead, a first round draft pick in 2015, takes advantage of the attention Bosa draws and added six sacks and seven tackles for loss this season.
Tackle Kentavius Street stepped into the lineup when 2020 first rounder Javon Kinlaw tore an ACL three months ago. Street is a powerful player, but lacks length and struggles to disengage from linemen. Nose tackle D.J. Jones has a blend of burst and power.
The 49ers typically rush with just four and finished the year ranked fifth in sacks (48.0).
“It’s a major concern. You’re talking about one of the elite pass rushes in the National Football League,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of the 49ers’ pass rush. “And these guys, they fly off the football, and they do a great job. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
Green Bay finished the year a respectable 11th in rushing defense, allowing 109.1 yards per game. But Green Bay was a dreadful 30th in yards allowed per carry (4.7).
Two years ago when these teams met for the NFC Championship, Green Bay’s soft defensive front was a huge reason the 49ers ran for 285 yards and had four rushing touchdowns.
Fixing the run defense has been a major point of emphasis ever since.
“I think the emphasis, I would say, is there,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Green Bay’s run defense. “Even last year, I thought our run defense improved quite a bit. But ultimately you’ve got to go out there and do it, and certainly their run game presents a number of different challenges, not only from scheme and how they coach it and the players they have, but just the different looks they give you. So it’s going to be absolutely imperative that our guys understand gap responsibility and playing disciplined football.”
Green Bay activated Za’Darius Smith Friday giving them arguably the finest trio of outside linebackers in football.
Smith, who hasn't played since Week 1, had 26.0 sacks during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. With Smith out most of this season, Rashan Gary (9.5 sacks) had a breakout year, while Preston Smith (9.0 sacks) had a terrific season after a quiet 2020.
“You can never have too many pass rushers,” Preston Smith said. “The more weapons we have on defense, the better outcome, the better we can help the outcome be for us as a team and as a unit.”
Packers inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was named first team all-Pro this week after a sensational season in which he led the team in tackles (146), had two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, six tackles for loss and five passes defensed.
“We put a lot of hats on him and have a bunch of different roles for him,” Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry said of Campbell. “And he’s been able not only to handle it and do it, he’s done it at a high level obviously with the recognition that he obviously got earlier in the week. But yeah, of course, we as coaches and then obviously (Campbell) individually takes a lot of pride in the different things that we ask him to do, and we’ll continue to have him wear a bunch of different hats for us.”
San Francisco has a standout middle linebacker of its own in Fred Warner, who finished the year with 137 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. Warner suffered an ankle injury against Dallas last week, but is expected to play.
“I’ve known Fred since he was coming into the league, a lot of respect for him, how he plays, the way he goes about his business, his exceptional talent with great instincts as well,” Rodgers said of Warner.
Strongside linebacker Dre Greenlaw (5-11, 237) is an undersized, run and chase player who has battled back from a Week 1 groin injury. Weakside linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who went undrafted in 2019, stepped up with Greenlaw sidelined and ranks second on the team in tackles (102), has nine tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries.
Green Bay’s secondary ranked 13th by Pro Football Focus, despite not having Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander since early October. Alexander is expected to play, although he’s likely to be on a snap count.
PFF rated rookie Eric Stokes a top-10 cornerback in the league from Week 12 until the end of the season. Rasul Douglas, signed off Arizona’s practice squad in early-October, led the Packers in interceptions (five), returned two of those for scores and had 13 passes defensed.
“I think everyone in the league is talented, gifted, in some kind of way,” Douglas said. “I think the best players are usually the smarter ones, the ones who know film inside and out, and understand what other guys are doing before they do it. I think the game is really mental. Physically, everyone can do the same thing. I just take on that and try to make sure I’m on the top of my game, mentally. I know physically I can do it.”
Packers strong safety Adrian Amos had another terrific year, but third-year free safety Darnell Savage didn't make the gains many believed he would.
The 49ers ranked sixth in passing yards allowed per game (206.5), four spots ahead of Green Bay (209.1). But the 49ers have had plenty of issues in back and led the NFL in pass interference penalties (20), nearly twice the league average.
Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley had his finest season and ranked ninth in the league in forced incompletion rate (17.6%). Rookie third round pick Ambry Thomas replaced veteran Josh Norman in the lineup down the stretch. Thomas suffered a bone bruise in his knee last week and is listed as questionable.
“I'm hoping he'll go,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of Thomas. “That's why we've got him as 'questionable.' I think he'll be alright, but that will come down to seeing how he is on game day.”
Safety Jimmie Ward, a first round pick in 2014 who’s from Racine, Wis., had arguably his best season yet. Ward was the 49ers’ highest-graded defensive back in coverage (73.7).
Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt played near a Pro Bowl level in 2019, but hasn’t been as good since.
Green Bay’s special teams finished dead last in annual rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin.
Green Bay has now finished dead last in special teams rankings three times since 2014 and five times since 2005. The Packers have also been 26th, or worse, four straight years and 11 of the last 15 seasons.
Among the low points this season were a 32nd place finish in punt coverage and kickoff starting point, a 31st place ranking in field goal percentage, a 30th place finish in kick return average and a 28th place showing in punts inside the 20-yard line.
“That third quarter of the season is when we really hit a slump and we started having things happen to us on the regular that quite frankly can’t happen,” Green Bay special teams coach Mo Drayton said. “But over the last three weeks, we’re definitely trending up.”
The 49ers weren’t dramatically better and finished 25th overall in Gosselin’s rankings.
Kicker Robbie Gould, now in his 17th season, remains as good as gold and has made 23-of-26 field goals this season (88.5%). Gould spent his first 11 years kicking in Chicago, so the frigid temperatures Saturday shouldn't bother him.
The 49ers used reserve running back JaMycal Hasty on kick returns and wide receiver Travis Benjamin on punts in their wild card win over Dallas. Hasty ran a 4.55 40-yard dash coming out of Baylor in 2020, while Benjamin ran a blazing 4.36 40 coming out of Miami in 2011.
“Schematically it doesn’t matter the who or who that returner is because schematically he’s doing the same things,” Drayton said. “But the returner himself does make a difference. They have some different returning styles, so that may affect a few ways on how we may attack the returner.”
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan became close when they worked together in Houston, Washington and Atlanta.
Shanahan, the son of two-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, was the offensive coordinator in Houston in 2008-‘09. LaFleur was an offensive assistant with the Texans those same years.
Shanahan became the offensive coordinator for his father in Washington from 2010-’13, then held that same position on Dan Quinn’s staff in Atlanta from 2015-’16. Each time, LaFleur was on the staff as the quarterbacks coach.
“We’re very close friends, certainly a guy that I respect as much as anybody in this profession,” LaFleur said of Shanahan. “Not only just for the opportunities that he provided for myself, my family … he’s a guy that we learned a lot of ball from and I think that’s the thing that I respect the most from him is not only how he treated us, but how he educated us in the game of football.
“He is a savant in that regard. I think it’s a little bittersweet when you’re playing guys that you have a lot of respect for, certainly when you’re playing against them you want to beat anybody, doesn’t matter who it is across the sidelines. But, yeah, it is a little bittersweet because you want your friends and people that are close to you to do well in this profession, but unfortunately it just can’t ever be at your demise.”
The two have split their first four meetings, with Shanahan winning a pair off games in 2019 and LaFleur winning the last two. Much was made after the two men had an icy handshake after the Packers defeated the 49ers, 30-28, in Week 3.
Shanahan said the two coaches are as friendly as ever, though.
“Matt’s my guy,” Shanahan said this week. “Matt and I are totally good.
“I was pissed after that game because of how the game just ended That was a tough one. It took a while to get over. But we’re good. I talk to Matt a lot. (He’s) done a hell of a job this year — been real happy for him but that stops this week.”
Packers 31, 49ers 20
Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/robreischel/2022/01/22/green-bay-packers-vs-san-francisco-49ers-who-has-the-edge/3980