GREEN BAY, Wis. – On the opening drive last week, the Detroit Lions faced a third-and-1 from the 34. Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry sent inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell to make it a five-man rush against a six-man protection.
The results could hardly have been worse.
Running back Jamaal Williams picked up Campbell. The other four rushers – defensive linemen Kenny Clark, Kingsley Keke and Dean Lowry and outside linebacker Rashan Gary – went nowhere fast. About halfway through the play, Detroit’s left guard Jonah Jackson just stood there with nobody to block.
With Detroit’s blockers manhandling Green Bay’s pass rushers, Lions quarterback Jared Goff had a month of Sundays to throw the ball. Or, more accurately, 5.16 seconds. Finally, with Gary coming free but three of Green Bay’s other rushers an incredible 8 to 10 yards away, Goff stepped into an immaculately clean pocket and hit Quintez Cephus for a big gain against Kevin King.
That play is the backdrop for the biggest mismatch of Sunday night’s showdown at the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers have allowed one sack, a sack rate of 1.79 percent that is the best in the NFL.
The Packers have only one sack, a sack rate of 1.75 percent that is the worst in the NFL.
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San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might not be the best in the NFL but any legit NFL quarterback can thrive when given time. According to Pro Football Focus, Garoppolo’s adjusted completion percentage – a stat that turns drops into completions – from a clean pocket is 86.0 percent, seventh best in the NFL.
While it’s true that King has given up a couple huge plays and Eric Stokes has played like a rookie at times, it’s also true they’ve been given little help from the pass rush. That’s why coach Matt LaFleur and Barry agreed to be more aggressive during the second half against Detroit.
From a clean pocket, Goff was 19-of-25 passing for 161 yards, two touchdowns and a 118.9 passer rating. When pressured, he was 7-of-11 passing for 85 yards with one interception (and one fumble) and a 49.4 rating.
To state the obvious, the Packers miss the presence of Za’Darius Smith, who had 26 sacks the past two seasons. When he’s on the field, he commands attention from the opposing offense. So, if Smith isn’t getting home because he’s facing an additional blocker, perhaps Preston Smith or Gary or someone else will have a better opportunity. Without Za’Darius Smith, that advantage is gone. Moreover, Preston Smith and Gary can’t play every snap, so that puts lesser players such as Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers on the field more often.
The Packers got their only sack of the season last week, a team sack on Goff’s fumble with about 9 minutes remaining. Detroit’s offensive tackles in that game were touted rookie Penei Sewell at left tackle and former collegiate defensive lineman Matt Nelson at right tackle. The 49ers have Trent Williams, an eight-time Pro Bowler and in the running with Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari for best left tackle in the game, and Mike McGlinchey, the No. 9 pick of the 2018 draft, at right tackle.
“Trent's rare in that he is a freak athlete at the position,” 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel told reporters this week. “Has been a freak athlete at the position for over a decade. But what people don't realize is how much Trent loves football. So, he continues to get better at little nuances. How to cut a defender off, how to set in pass pro. There's a lot of things that and his working relationship with [offensive line coach] Chris Foerster, I think all of that is leading him to play some of his best football he's ever played.”
The Niners help their line with a lot of quick passes. According to PFF, Garoppolo’s average time to throw of 2.50 seconds is the sixth-fastest in the NFL. He's thrown only 10 passes while under pressure.
“It is what it is,” outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said. “Affect the quarterback, do your job. Because you know what’s going to happen. There’s going to be about five, six, seven plays a game where you’re going to get that opportunity. And you’ve got to take advantage of that opportunity one-on-one. And so, we’ve just got to stay on course and do our thing. That’s what we do.”