Matt LaFleur's mentor the X-factor in Packers' matchup vs. 49ers
Eleventh in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2019 regular season.
GREEN BAY – Almost every year, there’s a game that looks like an easy win when the schedule is released, but becomes much more daunting once the season begins.
Among the games last season that initially appeared easy only for the Packers to eventually lose included matchups against the Arizona Cardinals and Washington. The Packers also needed overtime to beat the New York Jets, something few could have anticipated.
If you’re looking for this year’s sneaky-tough-game candidates, a good place to start is Week 12 at the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers tied for the NFL’s second-worst record last season at 4-12, their fifth straight season without a winning record. In that stretch, they have had four head coaches and have been a model of inconsistency and dysfunction. In short, the 49ers are a team the Packers should beat — especially considering they’ll have an extra week to rest and prepare with a Week 11 bye.
But, consider the 49ers had starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for only three games last year before a torn ACL ended his season. And 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was among Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s mentors. With a healthy quarterback and a opposing coach who will know the Packers’ scheme well, there are ingredients for an upset on the West Coast.
The Packers would do well to avoid a letdown.
Jimmy G’s rebound
Even before tearing his ACL, Garoppolo was off to a sluggish start last season. His 59.6 completion percentage was almost eight points lower than his 67.4 from 2017. His 90 passer rating had dropped off from the 96.2 he posted the previous year. But Garoppolo had given the 49ers life in 2017, winning all five games he started after being acquired from New England. If he’s healthy, the 49ers believe they have a potential playoff-caliber team. Given the importance of quarterback play in the NFL, they might not be wrong. To reach the postseason, Garoppolo will have to show he’s fully recovered from the knee injury, and that he’s the quarterback who took the West Coast by storm in 2017, not the slumping passer he was in three games last year.
Mentor hosts the pupil
Schematically, the Packers and 49ers will be staring at mirror images of each other. LaFleur first worked with Shanahan, son of two-time Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, on his first NFL team. He was an offensive quality control coach for the 2008 Houston Texans, while Shanahan a receivers coach. Shanahan brought LaFleur almost everywhere he went. When he was the offensive coordinator under his father in Washington, LaFleur was quarterbacks coach. Ditto in Atlanta when Shanahan was offensive coordinator under coach Dan Quinn. Usually, the edge goes to the teacher of the student, but there might be a catch. Shanahan and LaFleur are both offensive-oriented, meaning they won’t coach their primary units against each other. When the 49ers offense is on the field, Shanahan will coach against Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Back in 2014, Pettine was the head coach in Cleveland when he hired a new offensive coordinator named … Kyle Shanahan.
For most of his 13 seasons, former Packers coach Mike McCarthy excelled in preparing his team during the bye week. Under McCarthy, the Packers were 9-4 in their game following the bye, a record made even more impressive when considering his teams struggled to a 1-3 post-bye record the past four seasons. (The Packers won immediately following the bye in nine of McCarthy’s first 10 years.) This will be the first test to see how well LaFleur can handle the bye week. The best guess is a premium will be placed on rest, given the late-season location of this year’s bye. It will be imperative the Packers establish the type of post-bye success under LaFleur that they long had under McCarthy.
Packers schedule glimpse
Nov. 24 at San Francisco 49ers, 3:25 p.m., FOX
Week before: Bye
Week after: at New York Giants, Dec. 1
On the horizon: vs. Washington, Dec. 8
San Francisco 49ers
Coach: Kyle Shanahan (10-22, third season with 49ers).
2018 record: 4-12, third in NFC West.
Scoring offense: 21.4 points per game (21st in NFL).
Total offense: 360.6 yards per game (16th in NFL).
Scoring defense: 27.2 points allowed per game (28th in NFL).
Total defense: 346.6 yards allowed per game (13th in NFL).
Series: Packers lead, 22-15.
Last meeting: Mason Crosby had a rough 2018, but he put one win on his right foot. His 27-yard field goal as time expired broke a stunning tie, leading the Packers to a 33-30 win inside Lambeau Field. The game came on Monday Night Football, with ESPN no doubt expecting a matchup between Aaron Rodgers and hot newcomer Garoppolo. That didn’t materialize after Garoppolo’s season-ending torn ACL, and expectations were for the Packers to roll over replacement C.J. Beathard. Instead, the Packers trailed 24-20 at halftime, 27-23 entering the fourth quarter, and 30-23 at the two-minute warning. Rodgers helped the Packers offense score 10 points in the final two minutes, staving off an embarrassing loss. He finished 25-for-46 with 425 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 100.4 rating.