It has been a frustrating season for Green Bay Packers fans, who weathered a serious injury scare to Aaron Rodgers in week one and have watched their team fail to put together a complete game so far this season. But if any fan base has felt more agony over the past couple of months, it would be that of the Packers’ opponent this week.
A five-game winning streak to close the 2017 regular season behind new quarterback Jimmy Garappolo heightened expectations in the Bay Area heading into this season. Unfortunately, the 2018 campaign quickly came crashing down on the San Francisco 49ers, one impact offensive player at a time.
It started with newly added running back Jerick McKinnon suffering a torn ACL during practice in early September. McKinnon’s absence led to an opportunity for veteran Alfred Morris to have another chance at a lead back role in the NFL, but he has provided just a 3.7-yard per carry average so far. Then came another torn ACL that would sideline the team’s new franchise quarterback in Garoppolo after just three games. The following week, the 49ers temporarily lost deep threat wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who led San Francisco with 105 targets last season. Also injured in that timeframe was young wideout Dante Pettis, leaving the wide receiving corps thin. Pettis will be out again this week against Green Bay, while running back Matt Breida will be doubtful following an ankle injury against Arizona last Sunday.
Factor in additional knee injuries that have lingered for Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey, and Weston Richburg along the offensive line and it has been a difficult and disappointing season in San Francisco. The trials and tribulations, however, create a phenomenal opportunity for the Packers’ defense to execute at a higher level this week and regain its swagger before a bye week.
Second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard has taken the reigns for San Francisco, and he has been serviceable through three appearances this season. While owning a decent 62% completion rate, he is averaging just 7.1 yards per attempt and was forced to attempt 54 passes last week with the 49ers trailing the Cardinals. If the Packers create a sizable early lead, they will be in a good position to stunt the 49ers’ offense, which has seen Beathard throw two interceptions in each of the past two games. While the Packers will have a test in matching up with tight end George Kittle, who leads the team in both receptions and yards, Kittle too has been banged up this season and the Packers should have players like Oren Burks, Josh Jones, and Kentrell Brice take on coverage responsibilities. With a 49ers offensive line that is largely less than 100 percent, Green Bay’s pass rushers will have an opportunity to make an impact early and often.
As will the Green Bay offense. Despite Richard Sherman allowing just one reception in 146 coverage snaps this season, the 49ers defense is middle-of-the-road when it comes to defending the pass. San Francisco has allowed a 99.0 opponent passer rating according to ESPN, while posting just one interception this season. Rodgers, who was optimistic about getting back on track this week during his post-game press conference, should be able to feast on a defense that has struggled with pass rush. The 49ers have logged just nine sacks this season and are coming off an especially rough showing against Arizona. Rodgers’ ball security and accuracy issues should be vastly improved with more comfort in the pocket and give the offense a chance at some explosive plays, as Arizona pulled off a 75-yard touchdown pass last week. Potential returns for Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison should also help Rodgers and the passing game, while safety Jimmie Ward is questionable for the 49ers after missing last week’s action.
On Monday night in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, Green Bay will have as good a chance as any to correct the myriad issues affecting each side of the ball, not to mention the special teams and penalty blunders of the past few weeks. Facing an injury-riddled team with a 1-4 record, including a three-game losing streak, should not only favor the Packers but provide them an ability to pull away quickly. While Green Bay has had troubles closing games, doing so this week would give this Packers team a two-week break with plenty of positive vibes.