The 49ers this week travel to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.
The Packers are off to a slow start, but boast the NFL's fourth-best defense in terms of yardage allowed per game (313.8 YPG). Aaron Rodgers is playing at an all-world level. He has a 10-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and came off a game last week where he threw for 442 yards. The first-half schedule for the 49ers is no joke, but they have been finding ways to keep games close with a depleted roster.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard has been doing a great job at making his reads and getting the ball downfield to his receivers, and if he can limit his turnovers, the 49ers can come away with an upset win in front of a national audience. Luckily for Beathard, the 49ers currently have the league’s fourth-best rushing attack in terms of yardage per game, and head coach and play-caller Kyle Shanahan will look to keep his ground game going.
With Matt Breida most likely missing Monday night's game, the 49ers will rely on Alfred Morris, Raheem Mostert, and the interchangeable Kyle Juszczyk to carry the load on offense. While Breida’s explosiveness will be missed, the three other running backs should have opportunities to break open some big runs against the Green Bay defense.
While the Packers’ defense ranks fourth in total yards allowed per game, they are tied for 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (105.0 rushing YPG). This is where the 49ers will have an opportunity to gash them, and keep the ball away from Rodgers.
The Packers’ defense is talented, but sometimes they get caught playing the run too aggressively. In this play, the Green Bay defensive line did its job by taking up blockers, but the rest of the defense didn’t cover the cutback lane, which led to a big play on second down.
Pay attention to the safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#21) when Jordan Howard (#24) takes the handoff. He plays the gap and moves up to cover it. The Packers’ safety overshoots the gap, which allowed Howard to cut into opening and take off for an 11-yard gain.
Earlier in the game, Howard took advantage of Clay Matthews (#52) in a similar fashion. Matthews was too aggressive in his pursuit of Howard, so he took a bad angle and missed the tackle. This allowed Howard to get into the open field and gain a big chunk of yardage.
The 49ers can take advantage of the Packers’ aggressiveness in more ways than one. Defensive backs being out of position to make a play against the run can only mean one thing: a thriving play action game.
Early in the Pack's Week 3 game, Washington calls a play-action pass and finds Paul Richardson (#10) open downfield for a touchdown. In the second angle of this play, you can see that the play-action fake causes Kentrell Brice (#29) to hesitate and leave just enough of a cushion for Richardson to make a play on the ball. It’s not much of a hesitation, but a millisecond in the NFL is enough to hurt you.
This is a way the 49ers can help Beathard push the ball downfield, keeping the Packers' defense honest.
If San Francisco can get into goal-line situations, it can then take advantage of the Packers’ interior defensive linemen. Throughout this season, the Packers have struggled to hold running backs from pounding the ball up the middle and scoring touchdowns. On these next two plays, the offenses are lined up in a goal-line situation against the Packers and run the ball up the middle for touchdowns.
These last two plays show that the 49ers need to avoid trying to look “cute” by calling passes that close to the goal in the red zone. Just hand the ball off to any of the running backs and let the big boys up front do the work, just like they have been doing all season.
It's going be another difficult game for the 49ers to win, but they have plenty of opportunities to move the ball by using the team's potent rushing attack. Just keep running the ball to Mike Person and Mike McGlinchey's side, take time off the clock, and keep the ball out of Rodgers' hands.
Media courtesy AP Images, NFL