Focus on Green Bay: Can Rodgers avenge worst career game vs. 49ers in NFC Championship?

NFC Championship Game: Packers' Aaron Rodgers looked mortal in loss to 49ers this season, will need help from Davante Adams

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – JANUARY 12: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-23 in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 12, 2020 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Barely a minute after leading the Packers past the Seahawks Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers was asked about their upcoming rematch with the 49ers in the NFC Championship.

Not so fast, said Rodgers, who admitted he first needed a drink before dealing with the sobering reality of facing the 49ers again.

“I’m just going to enjoy a nice glass of scotch tonight and get onto the film on San Fran and get ready for a tough opponent,” Rodgers told NBC’s Erin Andrews following Green Bay’s 28-23 NFC Divisional Playoff victory.

The former Cal quarterback couldn’t be faulted had he made that drink a double.

Rodgers and the Packers don’t need much reminding about what happened when they came to Santa Clara and were dealt a 37-8 beatdown by the 49ers. Embarrassing losses like that tend to linger. For Rodgers, a proud man, it was probably the worst game out of the 199 he’s played in during his decorated 15-year career.

Just in case the Nov. 24 loss or the details surrounding it escaped anyone’s mind, Packers rookie head coach Matt LaFleur delivered a reminder in their jubilant locker room Sunday night. Just 20 seconds into his postgame speech to his team, LaFleur already had the 49ers on his mind.

“Guess what? We got a little redemption on our hands,” LaFleur told his players in an emotional scene captured by cameras. “We’re going back to the West Coast. And we got a little payback. But it’s gonna start (Monday). It’s gonna start all week with preparation.

“We know this: We need everybody at their best,” he added.

A peak-Packer performance may make for cute alliteration, but does Green Bay have what it takes to deny the 49ers their first Super Bowl berth in nearly seven years?

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Take a closer look and decide for yourself as we break down some matchups to look at when the Packers and 49ers meet in the NFC Championship:

GAME ESSENTIALS: 49ers (14-3) vs. Packers (14-3) at Levi’s Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3:40 p.m. (PT) on FOX-TV (Ch. 2). ODDS: 49ers -7.5.

THREE REASONS FOR 49ERS’ OPTIMISM:

Proven plan to neutralize Rodgers

Even at age 36, Rodgers does his best work while roaming outside the pocket. He completes 71 percent of his passes and has a 99.4 QB rating when spending less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket this year. When forced to navigate a defense from within the pocket, Rodgers’ completion percentage is just 53 percent and his QBR dips to 92.9. The 49ers already figured out a way to keep him in the pocket and make him less effective — Rodgers went 20-of-33 passing for just 104 yards in Week 12, the lowest passing yards for an NFL quarterback with 20 of more attempts in nearly 50 years. His 3.2 yards per completion were also the lowest in his career. When he wasn’t struggling to get passes off against the 49ers, Rodgers was getting sacked five times and absorbing seven other blows. Rodgers was a career-worst 0-for-13 on third downs before he was mercifully benched with five minutes left in the game. The 49ers obviously know how to get to Rodgers, but can the Packers figure out a way to combat San Francisco’s second-ranked defense this time?

Packers lacking playmakers

Speedy receiver Davante Adams and dynamic running back Aaron Jones are Green Bay’s only true playmakers. If a team can limit Adams’ damage — like the 49ers did while holding him to 43 yards on seven catches — the Packers aren’t much of a threat to a good pass defense, and Rodgers knows this. He’s targeted Adams 127 times and thrown the ball to his other four receivers (Allen Lazard, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow) a combined 184 times — even though Adams missed four games with an ankle injury. Former All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham also doesn’t offer much hope for the Packers. His 38 catches for just 448 yards are his lowest receiving numbers since he was mostly a backup in his rookie season in 2010. Of course, not all fingers can be pointed at those around Rodgers since he’s no longer among the league’s elite — he was 13th in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders.com and 21st in ESPN’s QBR.

Another chance to impose their will?

The 49ers demoralized the Vikings during their 27-10 victory on Saturday, in large part, with a relentless running attack that produced a whopping 186 yards on an equally eye-popping 47 rushing attempts. The 49ers were going to run it on Minnesota, the Vikings knew it, and were essentially helpless to stop it. There is a strong reason to believe the 49ers can execute a similar plan on Sunday against Green Bay as the Packers are the second-worst team in the league while defending the run — they allow 4.96 yards per adjusted line yardage, per Football Outsiders. When the 49ers get to third-and-short and fourth-and-short situations, there seems to be little reason not to keep running the ball right at the Packers’ line, which allows a 71 percent success rate in those spots (seventh-worst in the league).

THREE REASONS FOR 49ERS’ PESSIMISM:

A sack-master on a mission

Ex-Ravens edge rusher Za’Darius Smith was good enough to earn a four-year, $66 million deal from the Packers in free agency, but his 13.5 sacks weren’t impressive enough to warrant a spot in the Pro Bowl. After initially downplaying his All-Star snub, Smith used the slight to send a strong message in the Packers’ win on Sunday night. After taking down Russell Wilson for another sack, Smith pulled up his jersey to reveal an undershirt with the word “Snubbed” written on it. 49ers left tackle Joe Staley will have the responsibility of making sure Smith doesn’t wreak havoc on Jimmy Garoppolo like like he did in November when he had 1.5 sacks. If the 49ers can contain Smith, they’ll still have another Smith to deal with as fellow edge rusher Preston Smith has 12 sacks this season.

A worrisome deep threat

During the Packers illustrious postseason history — totaling 57 games, including nine championship games and five Super Bowls — no Green Bay receiver has done what Davante Adams accomplished Sunday. The former Palo Alto High star caught eight passes for a franchise-record 160 yards and two touchdowns to spark the victory. Now he’ll likely get to face 49ers backup cornerback Emmanuel Moseley on Sunday, who is expected to replace slumping Ahkello Witherspoon at right corner. Because the 49ers’ defensive scheme doesn’t generally include having their best cornerback (Richard Sherman) follow receivers, San Francisco will need to use other defensive backs to roll its coverage toward Adams, who had a team-leading 83 catches for team-best totals of 997 yards and five touchdowns.

When going gets rough, defense gets tough

Overall, the Packers defense doesn’t seem to be anything special … that is until the fourth quarter rolls around. Although the Packers had the ninth-stingiest defense under coordinator Mike Pettine, his unit was ranked just 15th in the league in DVOA. The defense grows much more potent when the game’s on the line, though. Opposing quarterbacks have a paltry 20.9 QBR in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN, which is the lowest in the league. Green Bay also waits until late to take the ball away as eight of its 17 interceptions have come in the fourth, including a game-saving interception against the Vikings by ex-Bishop O’Dowd standout Kevin King. So, if we’re looking at a one-score game in the fourth quarter, it’s definitely time for 49ers fans to worry.

Packers running back Aaron Jones (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

PROBABLE DIFFERENCE-MAKER: Aaron Jones.

Aaron Jones, with 1,084 rushing yards and an NFL-best 19 touchdowns in the regular season, was the most talented Packers offensive player. ESPN’s stats certainly back up that assertion — with him on the field Green Bay has the league’s third-most dominant offense as his presence added 90.4 more expected points over the course of the season. With Jones, only the Ravens and Chiefs were better statistically on offense. Generally, he needs to have a big game in order for Green Bay to win. Before Sunday’s playoff game, the Packers were 10-0 when Jones’ rushing average was more than 3.75 yards per carry. And, before Sunday, Green Bay was 6-1 during games Jones had at least 30 receiving yards. However, against the Seahawks, Jones averaged just 3.0 yards per carry — 62 yards on 21 carries — and caught just one pass for four yards. And the Packers still won. The chances are that if Jones finishes with numbers like that against the 49ers it’s not going to produce a victory this time around. The bad news for Green Bay is San Francisco has already shown it can deal with Jones as he finished with just 38 yards rushing on 13 carries (2.9 per rush) and no catches against them in Week 12.

blog comments powered by Disqus