The Green Bay Packers will face the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round on Saturday Night Football. This matchup, the ninth between the two teams, will be played at Lambeau Field in single-digit temperatures. Since losing to the 49ers in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, the Packers are 2-0 against them in the regular season. If Green Bay is to continue that winning streak, while erasing the ghosts of 2019, these players need to step up to be x-factors in the game.
Yesterday, news broke that the Green Bay Packers had waived defensive lineman Kingsley Keke. While the reasoning behind this decision is not known to the public, it was clear that there was something going on behind the scenes for weeks. Keke was a healthy scratch and did not play in the Packers’ last three games.
Whatever the reason, the door is now open for rookie defensive lineman TJ Slaton to step up. This season, Slaton played in all 17 games, but was on the field for just 24% of the defensive snaps. Over the last three games, his snap count did go up in the absence of Keke. Slaton played 30%, 37%, and 36% of defensive snaps in the last three games respectively.
The San Francisco 49ers have a great dynamic weapon in Deebo Samuel. However, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is fighting a thumb and shoulder injuries that could limit the San Francisco passing attack. That combined with the forecasted freezing temperatures could mean that the 49ers will feature the run a great deal. As an interior defensive lineman, Slaton will be tasked will slowing down that attack at the line of scrimmage. Slaton did not record a tackle for loss at all this season, but Saturday night would be a good time to start chalking them up. If the Packers are going to slow down the rushing attack, Slaton needs to elevate his game and be a force in the middle.
As good and exciting as Darnell Savage was in 2020, he was just as disappointing in 2021. The third-year safety saw all his numbers go in the wrong direction. Despite playing in all 17 games, Savage recorded fewer interceptions, fewer pass deflections, and fewer tackles. Additionally, his missed tackle percentage jumped from 10.7% in 2020 to 13.7% this season. Even more telling, however, is the quarterbacks had a 117.4 passer rating when targeting Savage this season, compared to 67.3 in 2020.
To put it plainly, Darnell Savage needs to play better. Despite the injuries Jimmy Garoppolo may have, the 49ers still have dangerous receiving weapons in Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. The Packers will be fortunate to have Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes, and Jaire Alexander (hopefully) in the secondary, but Savage needs to be reliable for support, especially against Kittle. What better time than the playoffs to recapture his dominance of 2020?
The Green Bay Packers Special Teams Unit
All year long, the Green Bay Packers’ special teams unit has been terrible. There have been few decent kick returns by Packers’ returners while other teams torch our kicking units for large gains. Mason Crosby went through a period of inconsistency in the middle of the season, but has since righted the ship. That all being said, this game, being played in the elements, could very well be determined by special teams play. The Packers HAVE to be better now that the Divisional Round is upon them. Special teams cannot be the reason why the Packers fail to advance. What a poor reflection of coaching and roster management that would be.
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