49ers Rounding back Into Week 12 Form Ahead of NFC Championship
When the San Francisco 49ers take the field to face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday, they will do so on the back of their most complete performance since their 37-8 demolition of the same opposition in Week 12.
San Francisco is on the brink of a seventh Super Bowl appearance and, if the Niners produce a repeat of the display they delivered in the Divisional Round win over the Minnesota Vikings, they will be playing in Miami on February 2.
The 27-10 victory was a game in which the 49ers rediscovered the identity that defined their dominant first half of the campaign when San Francisco consistently bullied teams on both sides of the ball.
Not since the blowout of the Packers had the 49ers exerted such domination, with injuries taking their toll on the defense and forcing San Francisco to win in a variety of ways, primarily by putting the team on the back of Jimmy Garoppolo.
However, in the regular season, the 49ers were most effective when the pressure was taken off Garoppolo by an efficient running game and swarming defense, and both rose to the occasion against the Vikings.
The 49ers had 186 yards on the ground in the Divisional Round, their most since Week 8, when they racked up 232. They only averaged 3.9 yards per carry, but it was the way the 49ers wore down the Vikings, most notably on a touchdown drive that featured eight straight runs after Richard Sherman intercepted Kirk Cousins in the third quarter, that stood out in the second half.
Green Bay wilted in the face of San Francisco's diverse and superbly designed ground attack in markedly similar fashion back in November. That game also marked the last of the regular season where the 49ers' pass rush was truly firing on all cylinders.
Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times, hurried once and hit twice more in the regular-season matchup as he was limited to 1.7 net yards per drop back, per The Athletic's David Lombardi.
Yet without Dee Ford and with so much of their defensive line depth lost to injury, the 49ers only had three sacks the rest of the way.
Ford's return last week saw normal service resumed for the 49ers pass rush. Per Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, San Francisco pressured Cousins 17 times on 35 dropbacks. Cousins was sacked six times, an ominous sign for a Packers team hoping Bryan Bulaga's presence – the left tackle missed most of the regular-season game through injury – will give Rodgers time to make this encounter more competitive.
The consensus is that the Packers will put up a much better fight than they did nearly two months ago. However, the Niners cruised to victory in that game without left tackle Joe Staley and minus the services of Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander.
Each member of that trio was on the field last Saturday as the running game and the pass rush both clicked in an even more devastating manner than they did in Week 12. Green Bay may be expected to keep it closer but, if the 49ers perform to the same level in those two elements of the game, any improvements the Packers make on their previous visit to Levi's Stadium may be immaterial.