Behind Enemy Lines: Five Questions With Packers Maven
Jose Luis Sanchez III
A trip to Miami to play in the Super Bowl is on the line Sunday when the NFC championship commences between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.
These two teams are quite familiar with each other since they last faced off in week 12 on Sunday night football. It was a dominant one-sided victory for the 49ers, who look to replicate that performance in the NFC title game. However, the Packers are surely craving some revenge for their devastating loss.
What better way to serve up revenge on the 49ers than to ruin their Super Bowl hopes in front of their home crowd at Levi's Stadium. To gain better insight on the Packers, I stepped behind enemy lines to ask five questions with Bill Huber of Packers Maven to preview the NFC championship game.
Five Questions with Bill Huber
1.) The Green Bay Packers suffered their worst loss of the season against the San Francisco 49ers back in week 12. Now they are set to face off again with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Being at practice this week, do you have a sense that the Packers have an extra incentive to win this game because of their week 12 debacle? Or are they approaching it like any other week?
BH: Who needs extra incentive? There’s a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. If anyone needs extra incentive, they’re in the wrong line of work.
Honestly, it’s been business as usual this week. That’s been coach Matt LaFleur’s message, and it’s filtered down to Aaron Rodgers and everyone else. I asked Rodgers about the vibe on Friday.
Here’s what he said: “I feel like it’s been as normal of a week as you can get. Obviously, there’s more of you all in the locker room and around, which I think brings some more attention and excitement to the game. But we’re trying to approach it the same as any other week, and I think Matt’s done a good job of keeping guys focused. Guys know the importance of the game. We don’t need to be reminded about this scenario, but I think there’s an anticipation of our getting out there for sure.”
2.) One of the main reasons the Packers were dealt swiftly was because of the immense pressure on Aaron Rodgers. He was sacked six times in week 12 that factored into his worst output of his career. What will the Packers be able to do to ensure that Rodgers doesn’t take another beating? And does Dee Ford being active this time around make it a lot more complicated?
BH: Yes, on Ford. He’s a fantastic player who had an absolute monster season with the Chiefs last year. His position coach there, Mike Smith, is the outside linebackers coach here, so there’s no shortage of intel. With Ford, that’s five first-round picks on the defensive line. They all had a sack against Minnesota. That was about as thorough a butt-kicking at the line of scrimmage that I’ve seen in years.
Two things from Green Bay’s perspective. One, right tackle Bryan Bulaga is healthy. He dropped out of the first game with an injured finger. The 49ers immediately put Nick Bosa on his backup, former undrafted free agent Alex Light. The results were predictable. Two, the Packers have to run the football. They’ve run it well for most of the season – though not against the Niners – so Rodgers has third-and-4 rather than third-and-10.
3.) Flipping to the other side of the ball, the 49ers gashed the Packers on defense with the running game. Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman have been performing at a high-level along with top of the line run blocking. What do you think is the key to stopping the ground game of the 49ers? And do you believe that by stopping the run, it gives the Packers the best chance of winning?
BH: It's going to be about winning those one-on-one matchups at the line of scrimmage. If there was a formula for slowing the 49ers’ rushing attack, it would be documented by now and put into place week after week. Quality run blockers, all of the eye-candy shifting, George Kittle’s excellence and, of course, a top-flight stable of backs have combined to form a real juggernaut.
How they rammed it down the Vikings’ throats last week was impressive. Green Bay’s defensive front is going to have to play its best game of the season. It’s like with the Rodgers question you asked. On offense, the Packers have to avoid third-and-long to give the quarterback a chance. On defense, the Packers have to get to third-and-long to unleash their pass rush and perhaps force Jimmy Garoppolo to thrown them a couple passes.
4.) Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t generally viewed as a that good of a quarterback. He’s more so viewed as a game manager who shows up in moments. Do you believe that to be the case? And If the 49ers are forced to rely on Garoppolo to win the game, does that benefit the Packers?
BH: I think that’s nonsense. Ask the Packers from early in the season or the Saints in that shootout or the Seahawks in Week 17. People keep waiting for Garoppolo to crumble. Well, they’re still waiting. Is he an elite quarterback? You’d know that answer better than I would but he’ll certainly be viewed that way if the 49ers win two more games this year.
The interceptions bother me – and I’m guessing they bother Shanahan – but he’s still a young QB experience-wise and, if you have an elite defense, why not take a chance or two? To be sure, it helps that he’s surrounded by weapons everywhere. Rodgers would die for half the perimeter talent that Garoppolo enjoys.
5.) Lastly, this is the third time that Rodgers will take on his childhood team in the playoffs. He’s lost the first two matchups, both in San Francisco and in Green Bay. The Kyle Shanahan 49ers are arguably better than the Jim Harbaugh team, so it will be a tough hump to get over. What do you think is different this time around that will enable Rodgers to finally get over this hump and his NFC championship losing streak to get back to the Super Bowl?
BH: Well, I don’t think they’re going to win. Perhaps I’m stupidly clinging to 37-8 as evidence to why the 49ers are going to win this game. Of course, my opinion is irrelevant in this. Why can the Packers win? Rodgers is Rodgers. How will Garoppolo react to championship-game pressure if it’s tied in the fourth quarter? Maybe he’ll be awesome; maybe he won’t. It’s an unknown. The defense is quietly very good. In terms of points allowed, it’s almost a draw between the teams.
The pass rush is fantastic, meaning sacks and interceptions. The special teams the last five weeks have been tremendous, sparked by late-season addition Tyler Ervin at returner. Offensively, Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones will be three of the best players on the field, and the offensive line isn’t going to destroyed, like Minnesota’s was last week. That gives Green Bay a puncher’s chance. I’d say, if these teams played 10 times in San Francisco, the Niners would seven or eight. But all it takes is one.