Packers' next opponent: 49ers present problems on both sides of the ball

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led a comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to keep the 49ers atop the NFC.

The Green Bay Packers head back west to take on the San Francisco 49ers in a Sunday night game that has major NFC playoff implications, most notably deciding the tiebreaker in a potential home-field situation.

Basics on the 49ers

Last week

The 49ers rallied from a 16-0 deficit to beat the Arizona Cardinals 36-26. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns – but was also intercepted twice – for the 49ers. The Cardinals kept it close despite gaining just 266 yards of offense and going 3-for-10 on third down.


49ers head coach and play caller Kyle Shanahan runs – you guessed it – a version of his father Mike’s offense established in the mid-1990s in Denver. A longtime offensive coordinator and now in his third year as head coach, Kyle Shanahan likes to use multiple tight ends and a fullback to run similar-looking plays and keep the defense guessing.

The 49ers' defense is run by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who employs a base 4-3 scheme that likes to get after the quarterback. A disciple of Gus Bradley’s in Seattle, Saleh likes pressuring the quarterback and will split his edges out in the “Wide-9” alignment.

Key numbers


49ers’ defensive rank against the pass.


49ers league rank in scoring offense and defense, rushing and total defense.


Sacks by defensive end Arik Armstead, a team high.


Interceptions by Jimmy Garoppolo.


Rush attempts by Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.

Players to watch

Matt Breida, RB

Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will remember Breida, who rushed 14 times for 61 yards and a score at Lambeau Field last year. The 24-year-old undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern has become a dependable option for Kyle Shanahan in the run game, and he is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He also has breakaway speed (although he's battling on ankle injury), with a long of 83 this season after a rush of 66 yards last year.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

Seemingly famous forever, the 28-year-old sixth-year quarterback is actually in his first full campaign as a starting NFL quarterback. Last year was supposed to be his first, but a knee injury cut his season short after three games. Garoppolo is mobile, but has turned the ball over and displayed questionable accuracy at times.

Nick Bosa, EDGE

The second Bosa brother gets his shot at the Packers' offensive line Sunday, a few weeks after older brother Joey caused all sorts of problems for Green Bay with the Chargers. Nick, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, has lived up to the hype and the family name with seven sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception.

Reasons to worry

The 49ers do all of the things offensively that have given the Packers fits through 10 games: They run the ball consistently, and they run it well. They utilize big, athletic tight ends in the passing game. Teams with far less cohesion and/or talent across those positions have been able to chew up yardage against Pettine’s unit – and the 49ers have been doing it to everyone they’ve played to date.

Defensively, the 49ers are able to create pressure and drop the opposing quarterback with multiple rushers. Four players along the defensive line have at least five sacks and five quarterback hits. They even dropped Seattle's Russell Wilson five times. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t throw interceptions, but the 49ers have caused 16 fumbles as well.

Reasons to relax

The 49ers lost their last prime-time, big-game test to Seattle in overtime at home Nov. 11. Garoppolo threw a pick, was sacked five times and posted a 66.2 passer rating. He followed that up with two red-zone interceptions against the Cardinals in a comeback victory Sunday. It’s fair to wonder if San Francisco is ready to take command of the NFC.

Green Bay is coming off a bye and has had a chance to see the 49ers play two games since the Packers beat Carolina on Nov. 10. One would think after a week of self-scouting and two weeks to devise a game plan against a team and coaches they know very well – along with a mostly healthy 53-man roster – the Packers should be in good mental and physical shape to head west.

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