Assessing the Opponent is a weekly series where we take a look the schemes, tendencies and matchups regarding the Green Bay Packers upcoming opponent.
It’s been hard to derive anything from the Packers first two games. Squaring off with the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night in Primetime should serve as a litmus test for Green Bay, as we try to figure out who they truly are.
I suppose you could say there’s a little bit of bad blood between these two teams. I’m sure the Packers haven’t forgotten what happened in 2019. Last year’s Thursday night game against a skeleton squad was far from anything that resembles ‘revenge’. This game should be a lot more competitive.
Part 1: San Francisco 49ers Offense
Getting Deebo Samuel to the ground
Usually when you’re up against a team that has a bona fide WR1 on their roster, your goal is to deny him getting the ball altogether.
That’s not exactly how it works when you play San Francisco. You can’t just deny Deebo from getting the ball because Kyle Shanahan is too good at manufacturing touches for him.
What you can control however, is how you respond when Deebo has the ball in his hands. Samuel leads the league in receiving yards through two weeks, as well as yards after the catch.
Last year, Deebo had more YAC than he had total receiving yards! That’s how frequently the Niners utilize him behind the line of scrimmage.
They’ve also emphasized getting him down the field more often this year and he’s came up with major field flipping plays in both Weeks 1 and 2.
The Packers have tackled excellently through two weeks. They’ve got the lowest missed tackle rate in the league. It’s imperative that they get the crafty Samuel to ground effectively. He’s a threat to take it to the house on almost every touch.
How many more blows can the Niners running game take?
When at full health, the San Francisco 49ers boast one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.
Kyle Shanahan mixes in both gap and zone running schemes, while maintaining a heavy dosage of play action. This keeps defenses on their toes, and makes it a running back’s dream to play in this offense.
Shanahan has never been overly fussy with who he has toting the rock. The amount of yards that can be generated before contact make the running back himself virtually redundant. But how far can these limits be pushed?
It took just two carries into the season for RB1 Raheem Mostert to suffer a season-ending injury. The next man up — Elijah Mitchell — is listed as doubtful to play this Sunday with a shoulder injury.
Another acceptable option for San Francisco was JaMycal Hasty. He’s now out a few weeks with an ankle sprain.
Ohio State rookie Trey Sermon is the man we all thought would take over in Mostert’s absence, but it took him until the third quarter to see a touch last week, before suffering a concussion on his very first NFL carry. Sermon practiced in a non-contact jersey all week, but is a full-go to play on Sunday. It’s a tough spot to be in for the rookie, all things considered.
The 49ers are extremely depleted at the position. Yet the scheme and the blocking is so good that it may not even matter.
Play Action Success
The 49ers have one of the highest play action usage rates in the NFL. They do a terrific job building it off of their running game.
But they aren’t exactly taking deep shots off play action à la the Tennessee Titans. Instead Jimmy Garoppolo is just popping passes over the top of the linebackers who’ve bit on the run fake. Jimmy’s 5.4 average depth of target on play action is currently 29th in the NFL.
Interestingly, Garoppolo’s passer rating is significantly higher when he’s NOT using play action. His current play action rating is 94.7, while his rating on all other dropbacks is 122.5 — good enough for fourth best in the league.
The Lance Package
Don’t forget about Trey Lance. After playing only four snaps in the season opener, Lance didn’t see the field whatsoever in week 2.
Some of the 49ers players mentioned throughout the week in interviews that Kyle Shanahan likes getting creative under the lights, and Lance is his ultimate chess piece.
During preseason, the 49ers exhibited some of the things Lance can bring to the table in a part-time role while Garoppolo still has the reins.
Lance adds yet another wrinkle to this already awesome rushing attack. He also has the arm talent to completely change the course of a game with just one throw.
If Jared Goff can gash the Packers on read option on two separate occasions, I can’t imagine the wreckage Trey Lance could cause!
Oh yea, they’ve got George Kittle too
Just in case you forgot! Kittle has been relatively quiet so far this season, but that can all change at a moment’s notice.
On 29 routes against the Eagles, Kittle was held to just 4 targets, accumulating only 17 yards in the game. It was the second lowest receiving total for Kittle since October of his rookie season in 2017.
TJ Hockenson, who is built in the same vein as Kittle (and went to the same college as well), had a solid game against the Packers on Monday night, gathering 8 receptions including a touchdown.
The Niners offense simply hasn’t ran through Kittle yet this season. But when they do, they’re going to be extremely difficult to stop.
Part 2: San Francisco 49ers Defense
San Francisco have the advantage in the trenches
The 49ers defense looks like an entirely different unit with superstar edge rusher Nick Bosa back on the field. Bosa is one of those players who must be identified before every single snap.
It’s not all just him though, on the other side of the line, Arik Armstead has gotten off to a terrific start this season. His 15 pressures through two games are the second most in the league.
Another man on that defensive line — the monstrous 320lb DJ Jones — has the highest PFF grade on the team at 81.8. Armstead and Bosa are second and third respectively. 2020 first round pick Javon Kinlaw rounds out a stacked front four.
With Elgton Jenkins out, the Packers will turn to either Yosh Nijman or Dennis Kelly to fill in and play tackle. Neither are attractive options against Bosa and Armstead. This is a major mismatch for Green Bay that could end up deciding the game.
Fred Warner carries this unit
Fred Warner is the best linebacker in football. It’s high time we gave him that crown.
Stick on any 49ers game and you’ll see Warner forcing stops against the run, running up the seam stride for stride with wide receivers, and everything in between.
The Uber talented Warner is coming off an excellent performance against the Eagles where he registered 6 stops against the run, the kind of numbers that give Kenny Clark a run for his money.
Maybe they win without Garoppolo… Maybe without Bosa…
The 49ers do not win today without Fred Warner.
— Eric Davis (@_ericdavis_) September 19, 2021
The Packers shredded the Lions by forcing big slow linebacker Jamie Collins to race Aaron Jones to the sideline. Just look at Jones’ receiving chart from this game.
Look at Aaron Jones’ receiving chart against the Lions!
Very clear what the offensive gameplan was:
Make Jamie Collins race Jones to the sideline. There’s only gonna be one winner. pic.twitter.com/Akz359nppW
— Daire Carragher (@DaireCarragher) September 23, 2021
This isn’t going to work against a player with Fred Warner’s instincts and athleticism. He snuffs out these efforts week in and week out.
WLB Dre Greenlaw had some impressive performances against the Packers in the past, but he’s out for about another month after core muscle surgery. He’s be replaced by Azeez Al-Shaair, an athletic linebacker who excels in pass coverage. Where do the Niners keep finding these guys?
49ers Pass Coverage
The Niners play a good mix of both man and zone that sits just about league average in usage right now.
We mentioned how good their linebackers are in coverage. As for their secondary unit, it regresses a little more toward the NFL average.
Jimmy Ward and Jaquiski Tartt form a good not great safety duo. Tartt will frequently play down in the box next to Warner on passing downs.
At cornerback, K’Wuan Williams is one of the most underrated nickels in the league. However boundary CB is probably their weakest position overall.
Their CB1 is Deommodore Lenoir, a rookie 5th round pick out of Oregon. Going up against Davante Adams three games into your career is asking an awful lot of a prospect who wasn’t too highly touted.
Coming off one of the only healthy seasons of his career, the super talented Jason Verrett tore his ACL in week 1. The next man up for San Francisco is Josh Norman. Despite being a big name player, the 33-year-old Norman is well… not great, and I highly doubt his ability to match MVS on a nine route.
This 49ers team possesses so much talent across the board. This game will put into question the idea that games are won and lost in the trenches, as San Francisco have a clear advantage over Green Bay on both the offensive and defensive lines.
The 49ers haven’t looked as dominant as many would’ve thought in their first two games, but you could definitely say the same for Green Bay.
The Niners have all the Jimmy’s and Joe’s (and Fred’s) you could ask for when it comes to defending the run. The best way to beat this team is through the air. It’s going to take a big time Aaron Rodgers performance for the Packers to win this one on the road.