It is Conference championship weekend and the San Francisco 49ers look to book the franchise’s seventh trip to the Super Bowl. Making the trek to Levi’s Stadium are the Green Bay Packers. The NFC’s two top teams are playing for the spot in the Super Bowl, two weeks away. In what will surely be a wild scene, we take a look at the three keys to a San Francisco victory.
Which Run Game Gets Going?
Both the Packer and 49ers emphasized the ground attack. San Francisco dominated the Vikings in the Divisional round due to an unstoppable ground game. It allowed the 49ers to control the tempo and the clock. The San Francisco ground game revolves around a trio of talented running back. Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert finished the regular season with 137 carries apiece. Coleman totaled 544 yards on the ground with six touchdowns. Mostert finished with 772 yards rushing with eight scores. Joining the group is Matt Brieda. The speedster finished with 623 yards on just 123 carries. It is a position group that can run between the tackles but possesses incredible speed upon finding an opening.
By comparison, the Packers’ leader on the ground was Aaron Jones. The running back carried the ball for 1,084 yards on 236 rushes with 16 touchdowns. Both teams utilize zone-run schemes and take advantage of the athleticism of their offensive lines. In the previous meeting between these teams, the Green Bay ground attack was made irrelevant as they fell behind early. On Sunday, the Packers need the running game to step up and slow down the vaunted San Francisco pass rush. If Green Bay can establish the run and stay ahead of the chains, it will be a long game for the San Francisco defense.
Protecting the Pocket
While the bulk of the media chatter has been focused on the San Francisco front four, the Green Bay pass rush is not to be ignored. The duo of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith accounted for 25.5 of the Packers’ 41 sacks. Both Smiths were brought in over the summer to rebuild a pass rush which struggled through much of 2018. Adding to the firepower in the pass rush is the man in the middle, Kenny Clark. The athletic defensive tackle accounted for six sacks and 62 total tackles. Add that to a likely already stacked box and you have a recipe for pressure.
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Against an equally tough Vikings pass rush, the 49ers surrendered just a pair of sacks. Both came on downs with eight or more yards to gain for a first down. There is little doubt that Green Bay will move people around when rushing Jimmy Garoppolo. The Packers would do wise to keep cycling guys against left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. If the Packers are to find success, it will likely come on the right side against McGlinchey. It is not a knock against the young tackle but rather an acknowledgment of how good Staley has been over the last quarter of the season. Staley has routinely graded among the best left tackles during that time. Not bad for a veteran who has contemplated retirement over the last few seasons. At the end of the day, a clean pocket gives Garoppolo time to find his weapons, something that will spell trouble for the Packers.
Play Your Game
On paper, the 49ers have the better roster. They have the better coaching staff. They also have the home-field advantage. However, it means nothing if the 49ers show up on Sunday and lay an egg. That is what it will take for the 49ers to be in the Pro Bowl rather than the Super Bowl. It will take a lackluster performance by the San Francisco 49ers. To be completely transparent here, it would take a “C” game or worse from the 49ers to fail on Sunday. Green Bay is a talented team and can knock off San Francisco. However, their best does not match up to the best that the 49ers can offer.
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San Francisco has been tested at every turn through this season. They have also passed just about every test. In their losses this season, it has been subpar games by multiple phases of the game. When examining those losses, all have come down to a last-second play that could have swung in the other direction. Green Bay will test this team. The Packers have a veteran quarterback who many consider the best of his generation. They are a talented team with a solid coaching staff. Yet they will need to play to perfection and hope to catch enough breaks against the 49ers. If San Francisco hopes to secure their sixth Super Bowl title, they will need to show up on Sunday and play their own game.
We’ve Been Here Before
Sunday is another entry in the long rivalry between the Packers and 49ers. The days of Young and Farve have become Aaron Rodgers and Garoppolo. This year the two teams will meet in the NFC Championship game, something they’ve done before. However, this has a different feel to it. In the past, it felt like two juggernauts taking the field. This time it feels like the old gunslinger is making his last stand against the new hotshot in town. Ignore the previous meeting this season, it means very little by the time the playoffs come around. This has all the makings of an exciting game at Levi’s Stadium. That said, the 49ers have this game for the taking. If they can bring the same intensity and focus that was seen against the Vikings, the 49ers will be earmarking Super Bowl tickets for friends and family.
Prediction: 49ers win, 33-17
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada