If there was any knock on the 2019 San Francisco 49ers, it was their lack of a marquee win. Sunday Night Football brought just that. The 49ers (10-1), dismantled the NFC North leading Green Bay Packers (8-3) 37-8 to earn what could be the franchise’s best win in Levi’s Stadium history.
Kittle, and Offensive Dominance, Are Back
Just like any other team in the NFL, when you remove their top weapon, there’s bound to be some regression. That was the case when 49er Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle was sidelined the past two weeks with a knee injury. Although quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo utilized his other weapons through the air, the rush-attack struggled immensely.
That all changed on Sunday when Kittle returned in grand fashion. He led the 49ers with six catches, 129 yards and a touchdown, while revitalizing the ground game. It should not be a surprise that Kittle was able to load the stat-sheet. Per Pro Football Focus, the Packers entered Sunday surrendering the third most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Just as Kittle’s return helped the running game, the success on the ground played a big part in Kittle’s touchdown.
Despite it not being exactly lethal, the rushing attack was fairly effective. Running backs Raheem Mostert (45 yards) and Tevin Coleman (39 yards) each scored a touchdown. The team totaled 112 yards on 22 carries, their first 100 yard game since Kittle was injured. This season, the 49ers average 164.56 rushing yards with Kittle and 60.5 without. There is no debating his importance.
After establishing the run their first nine drives, the 49ers unleashed their play-action to perfection. Garoppolo faked the hand off and found a wide-open Kittle streaking across the field for his first score since October 31 (the game he was injured). Kittle’s stellar day, and 61-yard touchdown, not only earned some people late fantasy wins, it restored the 49ers as a complete, top-notch offense.
The Three Ws Ruin Rodgers’ Night
The 49ers’ defense, led by linebacker Fred Warner, nickel K’Waun Williams and safety Jimmie Ward, made their presence known from the opening whistle. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back Aaron Jones, struggled to create any momentum on offense, often needing penalties to extend their drives.
Just five plays into the game, Warner stripped Rodgers and set up a quick opening score for San Francisco. The second-year MIKE linebacker did not stop there. He totaled 11 tackles, a QB hit and that forced fumble while making the calls that stifled the Packers.
Ward and Williams have both come on to the scene as of late. Williams was cut twice in 2016, but has steadily become one of the best nickel corners in the NFL. Ward has battled numerous injuries. Both saw their perseverance pay off as they heavily contributed to one of the worst games of Rodgers’ career. Williams, who is quietly having a dominant season (83.0 PFF), blanketed his assignments.
Ward had one of the best, most physical games of his career. The oft-injured defensive back had six tackles and two big pass breakups to shut down the volatile offense.
Possibly the biggest play of the game came with just under seven minutes in the second quarter when Ward was able to rip the ball out of tight end Jimmy Graham’s hands to prevent a 45+ yard catch. The catch would have put the Packers on the 30 yard line, prime position to ignite their comeback. Instead, the breakup forced a punt and the 49ers were able to score three more times before the half.
Defensive Line Cannot Be Stopped
It’s hard not to gush over this San Francisco defensive line. Although the 49ers lost edge rusher Dee Ford, who is third on the team with 6.5 sacks, the line did not miss a beat. By dominating the line of scrimmage, the 49ers’ defense was able to effectively eliminate running back Aaron Jones (and his 14 touchdowns) from the game. With no running game to be found, the offense became pretty one-dimensional, which in turn allowed the defensive line to feast on the poor pass protection.
The defense stopped two different Green Bay fourth down attempts, with linemen Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones and DeForest Buckner all playing a part. In the second quarter, Jones (two TFLs), who missed the previous game due to injury, combined with Buckner to stuff Aaron Jones on a huge fourth-and-1 on the San Francisco 28 yard line.
With a 30-8 lead in the fourth quarter, Armstead and safety Jaquiski Tartt ended Rodgers’ night when they shared a sack on 4th-and-8. The line’s success didn’t just come on fourth down. In fact, the 49ers were so efficient, they did not even allow a third down conversion until after Rodgers had been removed from the game on the final drive. The Packers finished the game 1-15 on third downs.
Not to be outdone, potential Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa came just two yards away from his first career touchdown when he recovered Warner’s strip-sack. He also added his eighth career sack and a TFL. Armstead continued his career year with a two-sack performance. The 2020 free agent extended his career-high, and team lead in sacks to 10.