Packers present stiff challenge for 49ers
SANTA CLARA - The Packers can’t compete with the 49ers on paper.
The standings favor the 49ers - they’re 9-1. The Packers are 8-2. And the statistics favor the Niners as well. They have outscored opponents by 140 points this season, while the Packers have outscored teams by only 45.
But the Packers have reasons to feel confident this Sunday night against the 49ers. The Packers are battle tested. They already have beaten four teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Those teams are the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys, the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers have played only one team that’s on track to make the playoffs - the Seattle Seahawks. And the 49ers lost.
Sunday night’s game against the Packers will be the biggest test of the season for the 49ers.
Here are five legitimate concerns the 49ers should have.
1. The 49ers have lots of injuries and the Packers don’t: The Packers are coming off a bye week. They’re prepared, rested and remarkably healthy for late November. All 22 of their starters are on track to play against the 49ers.
Meanwhile, the 49ers won’t have starting left tackle Joe Staley (finger), or pass-rush specialist Dee Ford (quadriceps and hamstring). The 49ers also probably won’t have starting running back Matt Breida (ankle), or starting kicker Robbie Gould (quad). The 49ers list them as “doubtful” to play.
And the 49ers may not have Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle (knee and ankle), plus both starting wide receivers - Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) and Deebo Samuel (shoulder). The 49ers list those three as “questionable.” Even if all three play, they may not make their usual impact because they’re not fully healthy.
“If it was a normal person, I’d probably make him doubtful,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Kittle. “But Kittle’s different than most people, and he won’t allow me to rule him out too early because he keeps telling me he’s going to surprise me by game day.”
The 49ers need a big surprise from Kittle.
2. Richard Sherman doesn’t match up well against ?Davante Adams: Adams is 27 - just entering his prime. He averages 89.5 receiving yards per game and is one of the five best receivers in the NFL.
Sherman is 31 - no longer in his prime. He was the best cornerback of his generation, but now he’s the weak link in the 49ers secondary and opponents have started to attack him.
Last week, the Cardinals tested Sherman’s coverage frequently and he committed three penalties in the first half alone. Their strategy paid off. And they didn’t have a receiver as good as Adams.
“I play my game regardless, so it doesn’t really matter who’s out there,” Adams said, courtesy of Packers.com. “Obviously, (Sherman) has been doing this for a really long time. I have a lot of respect for him as an athlete. It will be a good test.”
A good test for Sherman.
3. The Packers’ defensive backs match up quite well with the 49ers wide receivers: Last week, Samuel caught eight passes for 134 yards against the Cardinals. He torched them. But everyone torches the Cardinals secondary. It has allowed an average opponent passer rating of 113 - by far the highest in the NFL. The Cardinals can’t cover anybody.
The Packers defense has given up an average opponent passer rating of 88.3 - 13th-lowest in the league. And when opponents target wide receivers, the Packers defense has allowed a miniscule quarterback rating of just 72.6.
The Packers have two excellent cornerbacks - Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. They can cover the 49ers’ wounded, inconsistent wide receivers man-to-man without help from the safeties. Meaning, in theory, the Packers can defend the 49ers wide receivers one on one while loading the box to slow down the 49ers run game.
That’s how the Seahawks beat the 49ers.
The 49ers may need a big game from their tight end, Kittle. And if he’s not healthy enough, they might need a big game from backup tight end Ross Dwelley.
“He had two touchdown catches against Arizona when we needed them,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said of Dwelley. “He has done a great job making our offense continue to go without too much of a miss.”
4. The Packers currently may have a better run game than the 49ers: A few weeks ago, the 49ers had the best run game in the NFL. Then, Kittle injured his knee on the first play against the Cardinals on Halloween. Now, the run game doesn’t work so well.
The past three weeks, since Kittle initially injured his knee, running back Tevin Coleman has averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. And he is the 49ers’ best healthy running back.
Meaning the 49ers may not run for many yards. They ran for only 34 last week.
The Packers ran for 164 yards in their most recent game. Their running back, Aaron Jones, is a legitimate MVP candidate. “I don’t know where he came from, but he’s a heck of a back,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “Very underrated.”
People won’t underrate Jones much longer if he plays well against the 49ers. He already has 14 touchdowns this season - tied for the league lead with Carolina Panthers running back ?Christian McCaffrey.
“Didn’t know a lot about him,” Shanahan said. “Now I do.”
5. The Packers’ offense makes fewer mistakes than the 49ers offense: The Packers have committed only seven turnovers this season - second-fewest behind the Patriots. Good company.
The 49ers have committed?17 turnovers.
The Packers haven’t committed many turnovers because they have Aaron Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He has just two interceptions and two lost fumbles this season.
“His pocket presence is why he keeps the interceptions down,” Saleh said. “He doesn’t panic under the pressure. He has great pocket awareness, so he can buy himself time. If you can buy yourself time and keep yourself under control, you can make the right decisions all the way throughout the play. When a quarterback feels rushed and feels like he needs to get rid of the ball faster than he wants to, that’s when all those mistakes happen.”
Jimmy Garoppolo sometimes feels rushed and plays out of control. That’s why he has 10 picks and four lost fumbles this season. Only four quarterbacks have committed more turnovers than Garoppolo, and they are Jameis Winston (22), Daniel Jones (17), Philip Rivers (16) and Jared Goff (15) - four quarterbacks on teams not currently in line to make the playoffs. Garoppolo is the exception.
The 49ers can overcome Garoppolo’s mistakes against non-playoff teams. But against the Packers, one mistake could cost the 49ers the game.
Garoppolo almost always makes at least one mistake.
Final score: Packers 24, 49ers 23.