The San Francisco 49ers are in for a fight to finish out the 2020 season. Through the first half of the season, the 49ers have battled to a 4-4 record, amidst a plethora of injuries. San Francisco enters Week 9 bruised and battered following a tough fight in Seattle. Next on the card for the 49ers are the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. It is the first matchup between last year’s NFC Championship game contestants. However, the 49ers are from fully equipped for the fight. Today we take a look at the Thursday night matchup and break down the keys to a San Francisco victory.
Just Nick-le and Dime It
The 49ers are likely without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for an extended period of time. In his place, San Francisco looks to Nick Mullens for the second time this season. Mullens’ last start did not go well as he effectively threw away the game against the Eagles. This time the game plan will look different. San Francisco is without Deebo Samuel and George Kittle on Thursday night. Kittle’s injury could be a multi-week absence while Samuel would have been available if not for the short week. As a result, look for Kyle Shanahan to simplify the gameplan by focusing on the ground game. The key for Mullens will be to avoid the big mistakes, something he struggled to do against the Eagles.
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Expect Shanahan to favor the short passing game and test the linebackers for Green Bay. The Packers have a solid pass rush which will cause problems for the San Francisco offensive line. As a result, the passing game should revolve around quick and easy throws early on to get Mullens into a rhythm. A favorite of Shanahan is to leak Kyle Juszczyk out into the flats then run him on a wheel route to catch the secondary sleeping. An early hit on a throw by Mullens would do well to pull numbers out of the box for Green Bay and put a belief in the offense that it can be effective. If Mullens and the offense can stay within themselves, they should do well to put pressure on a struggling Green Bay defense.
Run it Back
The NFC Championship game from January started tight but quickly deteriorating as the 49ers ran away with the contest. Leading the way was running back Raheem Mostert who finished with 220 yards on 29 attempts, adding four touchdowns. Mostert was the star of the show and the game’s most valuable player. However, Mostert is part of more than a dozen players currently on the injured reserve list for the 49ers. San Franciso will roll with Jamycal Hasty and Jerick McKinnon on Thursday night. Tevin Coleman started Sunday against the Seahawks but left the game early due to a knee issue. Hasty is a promising rookie who has shown signs of being the next star running back for Kyle Shanahan.
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2020
For the offense to work on Thursday, the ground game must get going. Green Bay’s defense comes in surrendering 4.7 yards per attempt on the ground, placing them in the bottom-10 in the league. Shanahan has had his success against defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The 49ers have rushed for 571 yards in their last three matchups against Pettine’s Green Bay defense. San Francisco is averaging 6.7 yards per attempt against the Packers. A run-heavy offense is expected. However, the matchup to watch will be Green Bay’s defensive tackle Kenny Clark, against the interior of the San Francisco offensive line. The 49ers held their own against Aaron Donald a few weeks ago but struggled against Seattle. Clark presents quite the fight ahead. The main culprit was the interior of the line. If the 49ers can neutralize Clark’s ability to work upfield, they will find success.
House of Horrors
The last pair of meetings between the two teams have been a harrowing experience for the Packers. San Francisco’s defense haunted quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The pass rush was relentless and Rodgers struggled to remain upright. Expectations for this matchup are drastically different. The San Francisco pass rush has been nearly non-existent this season. Injuries to multiple members of the defensive line have only made matters worse. Against a below-average Seahawks offensive line, the 49ers struggled to make Russell Wilson even slightly uncomfortable. Without Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, the 49ers have been anemic with their pass rush. This needs to change against the Packers and Rodgers.
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While the 2019 gameplan focused on playing coverage behind a determined pass rush, expect Robert Saleh to bring additional rushers to the party. San Francisco uses cornerback K’Waun Williams to bring pressure from the slot. Williams collected a sack against Seattle on a blitz. The pressure will be needed as the 49ers face another talented wide receiver in Davante Adams. San Francisco’s scheme keeps the cornerbacks on one side of the field. This can create issues with assignments. Against Seattle, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley found himself paired with D.K. Metcalf. Seattle kept Metcalf on that side of the field as they held the advantage. Expect Adams to be used in the same format. This is where the pass rush can help lighten the load.
— KNBR (@KNBR) January 20, 2020
Survive the Fight
The trade deadline came and went with minimal movement from the 49ers. San Francisco needs a victory if there is any hope for a playoff spot. With nearly half of their starting opening day lineup on the injured list, the 49ers will be playing at a disadvantage. It will be a tough fight against an opponent itching for even an ounce of revenge for last season. Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers have their work cut out for them on Thursday night. If they can avoid turnovers, their remaining talent will keep them in striking distance. The fight for a playoff spot continues on Thursday night and the 49ers are up against the wall.
Prediction: Injuries are too much to overcome, 49ers fall, 27-23.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada