World’s Best Preview: Packers-49ers Two-Minute Drill

Bill Huber

IS THE BYE BAD?: In theory, Green Bay getting a bye last week should be an advantage for this showdown. However, teams coming off their bye this season were a woeful 8-16 heading into this week’s games. Moreover, after winning six straight after the bye from 2009 through 2014, the undefeated Packers got whacked at Denver in 2015, the Brett Hundley-led Packers lost at home to Detroit in 2017 and the Rodgers-led Packers were edged at the Rams in 2018.

“I think our guys are locked in, they’re focused, they’re ready to go,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of the practice week. “They know what we have in front of us and we know we have a great football team we’re about to go play. So, but I like our approach, I like our mind-set. The guys were out there having fun today, which is always encouraging. But I thought there was a good level of focus, as well.”

The results notwithstanding, it’s almost impossible to believe there is no advantage for the Packers, who in consecutive weeks at midseason faced Detroit (coming off its bye), Oakland (coming off its bye) and Kansas City (coming off a Thursday game). The bye means fresh legs for the players and fresh ideas for the coaches.

“I think you just have to look at our injury report,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “That’s probably the most obvious one; just No. 1 getting our guys back. Not only physically healthy – everybody has their dings here and there – but more stepping away from it. We didn’t want them (during) their time away from here thinking about football; just be able to get away. Now, I thought it came at a perfect time for us with the stretch of games left in front of us, where we are, what lays in front of us, what that opportunity is. Not that many guys in the room have been 8-2. So, making sure these guys realize no matter what’s happened so far, here’s where we are and it’s all about moving forward, cleaning up some of our issues and having the ability to make a run.”

IS RUN DEFENSE MEANINGLESS?: Heading into Sunday’s games, these were the top 10 teams in terms of yards allowed per carry: Jets, Rams, Buccaneers, Bears, Steelers, Eagles, Broncos, Falcons, Titans and Giants.

You know what they have in common? If the playoffs were beginning at the start of the day, they’d all be watching from the comfort of their couches.

Green Bay’s run defense, which must contend with the league’s second-ranked rushing attack (149.0 yards per game) has been horrid for much of the season. It ranks 27th with 4.77 yards allowed per carry. What about that vaunted 49ers defense, which must contend with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams? It ranks 26th with 4.72 yards allowed per carry.

“I guess I'm looking from a biased standpoint, but from an efficiency standpoint, and I know this is going to sound crazy, but the run game is not as bad as it looks,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “I think (Carolina’s Christian) McCaffrey in the second half of the blowout had a 40-yard run. Cleveland had a 40-yard run. The backs the last two weeks have averaged less than 4 yards per carry. The raw numbers aren't very good but, if you look at an efficiency standpoint, are we stopping the run when they're giving it to the running back? I feel like it's not as off as it was in years past.”

BIG-GAME EXPERIENCE: The Packers entered the game with a league-high four wins over teams with winning records.

Green Bay’s eight wins have come against teams with a .500 winning percentage. Of teams that are .500 or better, the Packers have the highest opponent winning percentage in the league. San Francisco’s nine wins have come against teams with a .357 winning percentage. That’s one of the lowest in the league.

“I think that matters. It definitely matters,” Rodgers said. “That’s a confidence booster for us. That’s important stuff. We’ve won on the road in tough environments. We’ve won in Dallas, won at Kansas City. We’ve gone on the road and taken care of business, so we’ll take that with us. We’ve also had a stinker on the road. So, we’ve got to learn from that experience and get out there and get ready to rock and roll.”

BOWLED OVER BY BOSA: In Green Bay’s upset loss at the Chargers, Joey Bosa had one sack and seven total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Up next, it’s his little brother, Nick Bosa. The second pick in this year’s draft, Bosa leads all edge rushers in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.

Other than the name, school (Ohio State) and jersey number (97), they are different players, Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga said.

“For a young guy in his first year, he does a really good job of setting up pass rushes throughout a game,” Bulaga said. “He approaches that very well. He plays the run really well, too. He does a lot of good things in the run game; it’s not just his pass rushes that are good.”

The challenge for Green Bay is the 49ers’ edge-rushing depth. Even with Dee Ford inactive – a big break considering his 6.5 sacks this season and seven forced fumbles last year for the Chiefs – the 49ers have Bosa (seven sacks), Arik Armstead (eight), Ronald Blair (three) and Solomon Thomas (two) rushing off the edge.

“You’ve got to study them all,” Bulaga said. “You’ve got to get a feel for how they’re all playing. They’re all different body types. Obviously, Armstead’s 6-7 and is a really big guy, really talented player. Dee Ford has great speed off the edge. Bosa’s a bigger guy, he’s got power, he’s got speed. He does everything well. You’re going against three different body types. When you’re at practice and you’re doing individual drills and fundamentals, you’re working on different things that pass rushers do. I know offensive linemen don’t make great defensive linemen but that’s what you have to work with when you’re getting ready for a game. It’s not going to be perfect but just so you can feel it, see it.”

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