Stopping the Green Bay Packers’ offense is no easy task but its one that the San Francisco 49ers must be up for. While quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams garner most of the attention, running back Aaron Jones is the locomotive that makes the train move.
While Jones was neither an All-Pro nor Pro Bowl selection, he certainly tops the list as one of the many snubs. The offensive weapon finished the year with over 1,000 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns to go along with 474 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. His 19 total touchdowns tied Christian McCaffrey for the most during the regular season, and Jones’ yards from scrimmage mark ranked eighth in the league.
As for how the dynamic play maker’s production impacts the offense as a whole? In losses against Philadelphia, the Chargers, and San Francisco, he touched the ball 36 times for 125 total yards and one touchdown, and the team averaged 15.3 points per game. For comparison’s sake, Green Bay averaged 23.5 points per contest during the regular season. This also means Jones collected 1,433 total yards and 18 touchdowns while the Packers averaged 25.4 points in their 13 victories.
Clearly stopping Jones is a key component to slowing down the Cheeseheads’ offense which puts a lot of pressure on the 49ers’ linebacking corps. While San Francisco’s linebackers are back to full strength, the question of how they stack up against the running back has to remain at the forefront of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s mind.
Beyond the playoff win, last week was a big one for the Red and Gold because the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition returned to the field. Throughout his career, Alexander has been known for his speed and coverage ability. Taking care of players like Jones is exactly why the team brought the former Buccaneer in.
Alexander should be up for the task in the passing game as he has allowed a passer rating of 56.4 when targeted and 5.4 yards per target this season, but most of that was pre-injury. It’s hard to say how close he is to 100 percent because last week was his first game back and he only took 25 snaps. A torn pectoral shouldn’t effect his legs meaning he should still be able to stick with Jones stride for stride in coverage, but if the range of motion in Alexander’s arms isn’t quite there, that will certainly affect his ability to make a play on the ball.
As far as the rushing attack goes, the veteran can certainly help but that’s never really been his forte. The former LSU Tiger has one of the lowest PFF run-defense grades among linebackers (minimum 227 snaps) and averages about one missed tackle per game. When it comes to stopping Jones on the ground, other guys will need to step up.
As a fifth-round pick and the 148th selection overall, no one saw Greenlaw’s impressive year coming. When Alexander went down, the first-year player was thrust into the starting lineup and made the most of the opportunity. He would easily be the team’s defensive rookie of the year if it weren’t for the amazing season Nick Bosa put together.
With zero receiving touchdowns allowed, a passer rating of 83.0 when picked on, and 6.3 yards per target allowed, Greenlaw can certainly contribute to the team’s efforts in stopping Jones as a pass-catcher. After all, the Arkansas product has fulfilled that role since week nine of the regular season. However, with Alexander back, Greenlaw’s biggest contribution might be in the running game.
The rookie is second among the team’s linebackers in stops for loss despite only starting for about half of the season and is an extremely sure tackler with only two misses on the year. If he can continue to outplay his draft selection and show off his versatility, that will go a long way towards slowing down the Packers’ offense.
The Red and Gold are really blessed with a lot of young talent in their linebacker room. Warner, a second-year player, is another swiss army knife type of player meaning there is a wide array of things he can do well. At this point, it might be stating the obvious but that versatility will come in handy this Sunday.
Against the pass, Warner surrenders 6.1 yards per target and a passer rating of 86.2 when thrown at. Also, his PFF coverage grade ranks just outside the top 10 among linebackers (minimum 227 snaps). As great as the former BYU Cougar is in coverage, much like Alexander, he’ll need to step it up against the run.
While Warner led the team in tackles with 118, he also missed 17 and posted one of the lowest PFF tackling grades on the team. If he’s unable to correct this issue by the weekend, Jones could break a few long runs. Hopefully, wrapping up and bringing down ball carriers was a point of emphasis in practice this week for the young backer.
Between the three linebackers, San Francisco should have no problem limiting the Jones’ production in the passing game. Greenlaw and Warner certainly were able to get the job done back in week 12 and adding Alexander into the mix should make it easier to replicate that effort. The ground game should really be the primary concern for Saleh but that’s where the 49ers fantastic front four can pitch in and help out their teammates. Also, the coach can likely rely on Greenlaw for some run support.
It was a dominating effort the last time these teams met up so the Red and Gold should have plenty of confidence heading into the weekend.