In a week dominated by less than appetising matchups (Broncos-Bills or Lions-Redskins anyone?), the Sunday night game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara stood out as one of the premier clashes of not just this week, but the season so far.
What did the Niners’ obliteration of Aaron Rodgers’ Packers tell us?
Packers offence struggles
Up until just after the 2-minute warning in the first half it appeared this would be a matchup characterised by two brick wall defensive units.
With the exception of a touchdown run from the Green Bay 2-yard line after a forced fumble on Rodgers’ first drive of the game, these two offenses traded punts for much of the first half, though that was punctuated by a Niners field goal midway through the first quarter.
For two teams with much ballyhooed offenses, the first half belonged to the players on the other side of the ball.
As a Bears fan it obviously gives me no pleasure to write this…but under the lights of Levis Stadium, Matt LaFleur’s offense failed to show up. This was as ineffective a performance as I’ve seen from a Rodgers led offense.
At halftime the Packers went in losing 20-0, having given up a fumble on their first drive of the game, punting 6 times and running 34 plays for 40 offensive yards. That is absolutely remarkable for an offense led by the future Hall of Famer and you could see the quiet rage emanating from Rodgers’ face after each failed drive.
The Niners defense simply swarmed the line of scrimmage racking up 5 sacks of the usually elusive Rodgers as well as 12 tackles for a loss, neutering the effectiveness of Packers’ running back Aaron Jones who has set the NFL on fire the past few weeks. All in all, Rodgers was kept to 104 passing yards for an average of 3.2 yards.
Packers need to continue to invest in free agency
The change in approach to free agency under new general manager Brian Gutekunst has paid off for Green Bay with the immediate impact of pass rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith this season. The latter was a frequent presence in the Niners’ backfield, racking up 5 solo tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and 3 QB hits.
The Packers’ front office should continue that approach with the offence next season. The team’s top receiver Davante Adams put up just 43 receiving yards Sunday night, with running back Jamaal Williams following him with 35 yards. Whilst much of that can be put down to the disruption created by San Francisco’s top tier D line, its clear that Adams and Rodgers need help. Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling haven’t really stepped up as a WR2 and Jimmy Graham isn’t getting any younger.
George Kittle is the best tight end in the league
Okay so its less controversial to make that statement now Rob Gronkowski is retired, but Kittle returned from injury in a big way against the Packers. He put up 129 yards on 6 receptions, including a 61-yard touchdown in which Kyle Shanahan’s play call sent the front seven one way and Kittle turned Kevin King the wrong way before rumbling into the end zone.
Despite the addition of receivers like Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders via the draft and a mid-season trade, Kittle is Garoppolo’s go-to-target. His run after the catch ability makes him near unstoppable for opposing linebackers and safeties.
In other offensive news, Garoppolo look assured, if not quite dominating, against Mike Pettine’s defense. That will help provide reassurance for Niners’ fans that their quarterback can mix it with the top defenses in the league when the postseason comes around.
It will be a shock to many that this game wasn’t as close as many were expecting, and whilst San Francisco will be feeling even more confident as they move towards the NFC’s top seed, could Titletown start to become somewhat nervous in the ability of their team to make a deep playoff run with their rookie head coach?