With the Green Bay Packers playing at the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, let’s go behind enemy lines with Grant Cohn, a beat writer for SI.com’s All 49ers.
1. Obviously, Trey Lance is the quarterbacking future but Jimmy Garoppolo is the present. Statistically speaking, he’s off to a good start. What’s your evaluation of the most important position on the field?
Jimmy Garoppolo is playing an extremely conservative style of football in order to keep his job. It’s as if he thinks his first interception will clear the way for Trey Lance to replace him. So, through two games, Garoppolo has thrown most of his passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, with the occasional 14- to 17-yard throw between the hashes to Deebo Samuel. Of 33 qualifying quarterbacks, he is 31st in average pass length. This conservative style has led to just 27 points in the past six quarters and may not be enough to beat the Packers.
2. George Kittle might be the best tight end in football. He had a great game against the Packers in 2019. How about the rest of the skill-position players, ranging from an injury-plagued backfield to the Deebo Samuel-led receiver corps. Is that group good enough not just for this game but for a team that I’d think has championship hopes?
Samuel currently is the 49ers’ offense. He has 15 receptions for a league-leading 282 yards and one touchdown. The other receivers, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Aiyuk, have combined for merely five receptions for 49 yards.
The top five running backs are injured and it’s unclear which one will start. George Kittle finished the previous game with just 17 receiving yards and hasn’t been the same player he was in 2019. And Brandon Aiyuk is missing in action. The best part about the 49ers’ offense other than Samuel is their run blocking and their cutting-edge offensive system.
3. Green Bay’s got new starters at four of the five offensive line positions. At Monday’s kickoff, their interior trio had made a combined two NFL starts. That seems like an issue given the power of the NIners’ defensive front. Is that group as good as it seems on paper?
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“It’s good having him back. He’s a stud. He’s a future Hall of Famer,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
The 49ers pass rush isn’t as good as it was two years ago, but it’s still excellent. DeForest Buckner is gone, and his replacement, Javon Kinlaw, is more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher. But Nick Bosa has three sacks in two games, Arik Armstead had 12 sacks in 2019 (including three in the two games against Green Bay) and Dee Ford appears healthy. Those four players are all first-round picks.
“I see a lot of studs,” was Aaron Rodgers’ assessment. “You know, having Bosa back obviously helps. He’s a game changer. Looks like he’s moving well. He’s been involved in a lot of plays on defense, as he was a couple years ago. Armstead is a long, stout defender who can play inside and outside for them. He’s a stud. You know, I think DJ Jones is a real talented player inside. He’s been really active for them the first couple week. Fred (Warner, the middle linebacker), you know I’ve talked about Fred, they caught me on the mic’d-up last year telling him how talented I think he is and he got the recognition he deserves from the voting in the postseason voting and also contract-wise; it legitimizes his ability on the field. So, obviously they’ve got a really good front.”
4. I know a decent number Packers fans have been clamoring for Richard Sherman but the Niners needed a corner and signed Josh Norman instead. Can you run us through the secondary that Aaron Rodgers will be facing?
Josh Norman injured his ankle Sunday against the Eagles and it’s unclear if he’ll play against the Packers. Starting corner Emmanuel Moseley has missed the first two games with a knee injury. So, the starting cornerbacks will be Deommodore Lenoir, a rookie who has played well so far, although he gave up a 91-yard catch last week, plus someone we don’t know yet. Maybe Dre Kirkpatrick if Norman and Moseley can’t go. The safeties, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, are among the best tandems in the league.
It's early, but the 49ers are ninth in opponent passer rating, fifth in completion percentage and eighth in yards per attempt.
5. Who wins and why?
I can’t pick a winner on Wednesday before I see the injury reports, but the 49ers should be able to put the Packers away early with a strong pass rush and a strong run game. If the run game doesn’t work, and it might not because so many running backs are injured, then the 49ers offense won’t score many points. If that’s the case, the Packers will hang around and Aaron Rodgers could pull out the win in the end.