GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are 3-point underdogs for Sunday night’s game at the San Francisco 49ers. Here are three reasons to worry that the Packers will return home with a 1-2 record.
1. The Obvious: Nick Bosa vs. Packers’ Left Tackle
This is the obvious problem for Green Bay. Most teams are lucky to have one good left tackle. The Packers were fortunate to have two. But with Elgton Jenkins out of the lineup with an injured ankle, do the Packers have anyone capable of stopping Nick Bosa? Or will the Packers have to dedicate an extra blocker on every important down, which means one fewer target in the passing game?
Bosa has three sacks this season after missing most of 2020 with a torn ACL. In 2019, when he won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he had nine sacks and was sixth in the NFL with 80 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Billy Turner has played winning football at left tackle but couldn’t handle the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. Moving Turner would mean a new right tackle, which isn’t ideal, either. Dennis Kelly played well at left tackle for the Titans in four games in 2019. Yosh Nijman had a strong preseason against quality competition but that’s the preseason and not the bright lights of Sunday Night Football.
“In 2019, obviously we made (Rodgers) uncomfortable,” Bosa told reporters this week. “And if he’s comfortable, it’s going to be a long day for everybody. So, we just want to close the pocket on him and make him get off his normal routine and drop. And once you start taking him down, you just want to make him pick himself up as many times as you can.”
It is early, but Rodgers has been really uncomfortable under pressure. Of 34 quarterbacks to face pressure at least 10 times, Rodgers is just 31st in completion percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.
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2. 49ers’ Run Game vs. Packers Defense
It’s impossible to forget the 2019 NFC Championship Game, when Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns as the 49ers demolished the Packers.
Plenty has changed since then – Mostert’s on injured reserve and the Packers have a new defensive coordinator among the differences. Nonetheless, can the Packers contend with rookie Trey Sermon or whoever carries the ball for the Niners?
It’s interesting to look at the teams’ first-down run games. San Francisco ranks 27th with 3.3 yards per carry on first down. Green Bay ranks 25th with 4.7 yards allowed per first-down carry. First down obviously sets up everything else. The Packers’ best shot at winning this game is getting the 49ers into third-and-long and letting defensive coordinator Joe Barry open up his bag of tricks. That’s because Green Bay’s pass rush vs. the 49ers’ pass protection is the biggest mismatch on the field.
3. George Kittle
George Kittle, the 49ers’ All-Pro tight end, is off to a slow start – by his standards, anyway, with eight catches for 95 yards. In 2018, he set a tight ends record with 1,377 receiving yards. He topped 1,000 yards again in 2019 and was on his way to doing it again in 2020 until missing half the season due to injury.
Where Kittle is a menace is after the catch. Of his 95 yards this season, 80 have come after the catch.
“There’s really nothing that he does bad,” Barry said. “If I had to say one phrase, I think just his demeanor, the way he approaches the game, the way he plays the game, it is full-speed nasty all the time. He does everything violent, he does everything physical, he does everything full speed. George is absolutely violent. He is looking to run through you, run over you. He’s not a glorified wideout by any means. They put him in three-point stances and ask him to base block the best defensive end on the field. They’ll put him in the backfield and ask him to chip and help tackles in protection. A lot of great tight ends won’t do that because they want to catch the ball and make yards. I’ve got a ton of respect for him because he’s a hell of a player.”
It took Kittle 47 games to reach 3,000 career receiving yards. Only Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Kellen Winslow (45 games) reached that milestone faster among tight ends. The Packers, meanwhile, have not fared well against tight ends at this early stage of the season. After giving up two touchdowns to the Saints’ Juwan Johnson in the opener, Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson caught eight passes for 66 yards last week. Thus, the Packers enter Sunday’s games having allowed the fifth-most catches (14) and most touchdowns (three) to tight ends. On a per-game basis, Green Bay is allowing 7.0 catches, 52.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns. Green Bay was one of the best teams at defending against tight ends last year with 4.2 receptions, 44.5 yards and 0.3 touchdowns.