Kickoff is quickly approaching for the NFC Championship Game, with the Green Bay Packers taking the road for a date in San Francisco for the second time this season. The Packers will be looking to get revenge on the 49ers in the more prominent game of the season and they have plenty working in their favor.
There will be several differences in personnel available during the Super Bowl-clinching game and here are three burning questions in relation to them.
How effective will Aaron Jones be in the second meeting?
In the teams’ first meeting this season, Jones was far from an efficient ballcarrier. In fact, he was not even the team’s leading rusher. Jamaal Williams rushed for 45 yards in the game, while Jones averaged just 2.9 yards per carry en route to 38 yards. Each received about the same number of carries, but since that time, Jones has clearly emerged as the top back. Does Jones’ recent usage suggest more favorable results in Sunday’s matchup than those of Week 12?
After years of questions about Jones’ number of carries per game, including earlier this season, Green Bay has been employing the starting rusher significantly more over the past three games. Perhaps this truly was the plan the Packers had all along to keep Jones fresh for a stretch run. For the first 15 games of the 2019 season, Jones carried the ball over 20 times just once. He has carried 23, 25, and 21 times, respectively, since then with a few of his longest runs of the season in that timeframe. While Jones’ production against Seattle (62 yards on 21 carries) was not as eye-popping, he did most of his damage early on before the Seahawks made adjustments.
The Packers’ playcalling on the first few drives of the game kept Seattle off-balance and much of that had to do with Jones’ ability to pick up chunk yardage on the ground. Can they utilize Jones to the same extent against the 49ers?
Will a healthier Ibraheim Campbell, Darnell Savage, and Raven Greene make a difference against George Kittle?
The entire Packers team looked rusty and lackadaisical following the bye week and the 49ers made them pay. Kittle’s 61-yard scoring reception was the pinnacle of a defensive night to forget and it came on a play in which Kevin King made mistakes in coverage. It did not help that Darnell Savage was out of the game during that play, as well as a 42-yard touchdown from Deebo Samuel in the first half — the very first play after Savage left the game with a head injury. Hopefully, Savage’s return for this game, and King’s improvements over the second half of the season, will help limit the same big-play opportunities.
The same can be said for the possible return of Greene, who looked to have a big role as a nickel and dime linebacker in 2019 before suffering an injury in mid-September. Greene has practiced with the team the past two weeks and could play a significant role in guarding Kittle in the NFC Championship Game, along with Campbell who struggled against San Francisco in just his second game back from injury himself in Week 12.
If all three players find themselves on the field this time around, each should figure prominently into defending the dangerous tight end, who only had 16 yards against the Vikings last week but gained at least 79 receiving yards in the prior three games.
Will the healthy return of Bryan Bulaga - in more ways than one - be the difference for the offense?
Bulaga has had one of his healthier seasons overall in a Packers uniform, which makes his health a rather peculiar topic for this Sunday’s game. But it certainly is relevant.
Earlier this season, Bulaga was lost on the third offensive series of the game against San Francisco with a knee injury and did not return. In his absence, the offense and Bulaga’s replacement Alex Light struggled mightily. The Packers allowed five sacks and Rodgers looked like a deer in the headlights the rest of the game, passing for just 104 yards and rarely throwing beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. Depth at tackle was a serious issue for the Packers heading into the game and it revealed itself when Bulaga went down.
Depth is a bit more promising this Sunday with Jared Veldheer on the roster. Veldheer was a bit of an unsung hero in last week’s performance after coming into the game when Bulaga’s physical illness was too much of a burden to take the field against Seattle. His presence in the event of another offensive tackle injury is valuable when playing against Nick Bosa and company.
However, Bulaga should be ready and cleared for action on Sunday and his pass-blocking talent should be an asset the Packers did not have for long last time in San Francisco.