The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have faced each other a total of eight times in the playoffs. While the 49ers have won the last three playoff matchups between the two teams, the Packers won the last regular season game. This occurred earlier this season in Week Three when the Packers pulled off a dramatic 30-28 victory in the closing seconds of the game. Trailing by one with no timeouts, Aaron Rodgers marched the offense down the field with 37 seconds left to play to set up the game-winning field goal.
Now the two teams will meet in the NFC Divisional round. Here, we are going to ask and answer three big questions surrounding the matchup.
What Will the Packers Offensive Line Look Like?
The Green Bay Packers offensive line is one of the best and most unlikely success stories of the NFL regular season. Despite losing all but one of their Week One starters on the offensive line to injury at some point, they put together a rather successful season. Aaron Rodgers was only sacked 30 times, among the lowest totals for regular starting quarterbacks this year. Towards the end of the season, the Packers rolled out an offensive line of Dennis Kelly, Jon Runyan Jr., Lucas Patrick, Royce Newman, and Yosh Nijman.
At the end of the regular season, however, Josh Myers and David Bakhtiari returned from their respective injuries and started in Week 18. Furthermore, Billy Turner has been activated from IR and could play in the Divisional Round as well. The question, therefore, is who will get the majority of the playing time?
Without a doubt, the Green Bay Packers are going to start their best overall linemen. Players like Yosh Nijman and Dennis Kelly. will not get the start. This is not a slight to their play at all. Having this many good linemen is a great problem to have. The Packers will likely start Bakhtiari, Turner, and Myers at their respective positions with Bakhtiari at left tackle, Turner at right tackle, and Myers at center. Jon Runyan Jr. may remain at left guard while Lucas Patrick slides over to left guard.
It will be important to note that the three players returning from injury will not be in mid-season peak form. While Yosh Nijman and Dennis Kelly may not start, they could see plenty of playing time.
Will the Packers Be Able to Stop the Run?
The greatest strength of the San Francisco 49ers offense is its running attack. In their Wild Card Round win over the Dallas Cowboys, the 49ers had 169 yards rushing. Throughout the 2021 regular season, San Francisco had the seventh best rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 127.4 rushing yards per game.
In contrast, Green Bay Packers had the 10th best defense against the run in the NFL this season. This may be surprising to many, but the Packers only gave up 109.1 rushing yards per game. In addition, Green Bay held the 49ers to just 67 yards rushing in their Week Three matchup. So, can the Packers stop the run? Yes, they are fully capable of doing it. Much of this will fall to Kenny Clark and De’Vondre Campbell, which are two fantastic players to trust in this scenario. As the best tackling team in the NFL, there should be no doubt that the Packers will be able to contain the 49ers rushing attack.
What About Special Teams?
The fact of the matter is this: if the Green Bay Packers’ special teams cannot figure out a way to at least be average, the Packers will not go very far. The onus is on Maurice Drayton and the special teams unit to play smarter. Mason Crosby, while slumping in the middle of the season, has returned to his normal accurate self (save a missed PAT against Detroit in Week 18). Corey Bojorquez is the best punter the Packers have had in years, too.
When the special teams begin to allow their opponents to return kicks, instead of downing them, trouble soon follows. Crosby has to be able to get touchbacks on his kickoffs to limit the 49ers ability to return. Additionally, the line has to be able to block cleanly for Crosby’s field goals. Too often this season was he forced to rush his kicks because of the poor blocking up front.
This all may seem like a mess, and it is. The simple truth is that no one knows what kind of Packers special teams we are going to see on Saturday night against the 49ers. This is unfortunate because it really could be the difference between a win and a loss.
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