(WLAX/WEUX) – From the perspective of players, tonight’s rematch will have little resemblance to the 2019 NFC Championship game.
On that mid-January afternoon, San Francisco bolted out to a 27-0 halftime lead on the strength of a relentless rushing attack that overwhelmed the Green Bay defense in a 37-20 victory at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. That final score did not do justice to the 49ers’ dominance and brilliance of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s game plan.
How bad was it?
In the game’s first 30 minutes, Raheem Mostert and company racked up 185 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. That’s 8.4 yards a crack. A game Packers’ second-half comeback was thwarted, and the team’s major weakness exposed.
What a difference 10 months can make.
San Francisco’s roster has been decimated by injury and also impacted by COVID 19, as stars Nick Bosa (IR), Richard Sherman (IR), George Kittle (foot), Deebo Samuel (hamstring), Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle), Mostert (ankle), and Tevin Coleman (knee) will not play.
Receivers Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk are sidelined in COVID-19 protocol.
For Green Bay, it may be a fortuitous time to face their nemesis from the West, though the Packers have concerns of their own—especially in their running backs stable.
Aaron Jones (calf) is questionable and may be a game-time decision. Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon are out with COVID-19 concerns, leaving Tyler Ervin and Dexter Williams to carry the load.
Challenging circumstances may provide an opportunity for Williams, a sixth-round pick in 2019 from Notre Dame, to showcase his skills as a lead back. Williams has just five NFL carries under his belt, but his size and explosiveness is the balance Green Bay needs tonight to complement the passing game.
“You don’t want to be one-dimensional,” former Bears head coach Mike Ditka said Thursday morning. “In my opinion, Aaron Rodgers is the best in the game, but that offense has to be able to run the ball to keep the 49ers honest. All the injuries and the COVID for San Francisco is a nightmare for a head coach, but you have to deal with it.”
“As for the Packers, they have to prove they can stop the run. Stop somebody. The Vikings ran all over them last week and the 49ers have in the past. It will be interesting to see how the Green Bay defense shows up Thursday night.”
Nick Mullens will start for the 49ers, and he’s shown flashes of his potential and inconsistency in earlier starts in Garoppolo’s absence this season. Minus Jones, Rodgers will shoulder an even greater load of the offense featuring Davante Adams, but still, without No. 2 receiver Allen Lazard and possibly left tackle David Bakhtiari (chest) for another week.
The Green Bay secondary is banged up, as safety Raven Green (oblique) is questionable and shoulder injuries have sidelined safeties, Will Redmond and Vernon Scott.
“I think as a competitor you’re always excited about the challenges,” Rodgers said. “You’d love having our guys in there at full strength, for sure, but there is that fun challenge of going in there without some of those guys and trying to find a way to win.”
Late this afternoon, the Packers elevated safety Henry Black, cornerback Stanford Samuels, guard Ben Braden, and Williams from the practice squad to the active roster for this contest.
Week 9 NFL Picks
The blueprint to beat Green Bay is clear. Decimated San Francisco will pound the ball, but Rodgers and their maligned defense find a way to win in their house of horrors.
Packers 27, 49ers 21.