Trips to the West Coast have been a scary ordeal over the past several years, and this weekend’s trip for the Green Bay Packers will be no different.
On a short week, much like in 2018 against the Los Angeles Rams, the Packers will head to San Francisco. At 2-0, the 49ers are undefeated but coming off two separate offensive games. After scoring 41 points against Detroit, San Francisco put up just 17 points in a dogfight at Philadelphia last week. As the 49ers search for more explosive plays on offense, so will the Packers, who were very close to capitalizing on more of their own in a win against the Lions.
Today’s musings take a look at the opportunity for more big plays for both teams, while focusing on a Packers defender that will be trying to limit them.
Aaron Rodgers’ two perfect passes overshadowed two other could-have-been big plays
The needle-threading scoring strike from Rodgers to Robert Tonyan and long third-down completion to Davante Adams were the talk of the media in the wake of the Packers’ victory - and for good reason. After opening the season in poor form, Rodgers bounced back in a promising way in the second half against Detroit with elite, game-changing throws. But perhaps what was lost in the aftermath were two easy throws that Rodgers missed on converting.
A pair of deep shots to Marquez Valdes-Scantling could have changed the contest in their own right. Rodgers overshot MVS just over midway through the third quarter and again in the final four minutes of the fourth frame. Both times, MVS had at least one step on the defender and most likely would have been able to out-run the opposition for six points. Although Rodgers did plenty of things right as the game went along, both passes are the kind that will gnaw at him this week when watching film, even if they did not cost Green Bay the game.
While Rodgers and MVS have not connected often to start this season, the two narrow misses signal that MVS remains the deep threat he became last season. As much of a factor as Aaron Jones was with his route-running and home-run speed on Monday night, MVS is still the critical vertical element in this offense. Even when not on the receiving end of big plays, he is still a catalyst in other ways as described in the tweet below. It’s only a matter of time before MVS gets his first score of the season - potentially this week.
Rodgers praised MVS for drawing attention against the single-high look here. Called him a "weapon" for how he can distract a secondary. https://t.co/GPfkTcpOxu— Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod) September 21, 2021
De’Vondre Campbell was a steady presence in the middle of the defense
Green Bay rarely invests in middle linebackers and the last time they committed to a free agent veteran, they were disappointed with Christian Kirksey. Campbell was one of the team’s potential underrated moves of the offseason with a reasonable $2 million deal at just 28 years old. For the Packers to be successful on defense, they do not need their inside linebackers to be Pro Bowl talents, but they do need consistency in every phase and occasional standout performances.
Campbell gave the team just that on Monday night, notching 13 tackles and grabbing a late interception to seal the game. Although Campbell was flagged for an unnecessary facemask penalty in the first half, he was seemingly always around the football against the run and in coverage. Even the passing score to TJ Hockenson in the corner of the end zone against Campbell was a perfect throw-and-catch with Campbell in fairly good position.
While still very early in the season, Campbell might be another short-term answer for the Packers at inside linebacker, offering a little more athleticism and coverage ability than Packer ‘backers of the past. It will be another test to see if he can maintain his performance in Week 3, especially with open-field tackling. The 49ers are a team that will challenge the middle of the field with their running game (and potentially Trey Lance’s legs), the elusive Deebo Samuel, and one of the league’s top receiving tight ends in George Kittle.
Former Packers draft target Brandon Aiyuk will be a player to watch
Many rumors have indicated that the Packers were interested in the wide receiver Aiyuk during the 2020 NFL Draft and may have taken him if available. But that was not to be as the 49ers selected Aiyuk one pick before the Packers traded up to draft Jordan Love. After a fantastic rookie season for San Francisco with 60 catches for 748 yards and five touchdowns, Aiyuk has been the focus of some controversy this past week.
After zero targets in Week 1 and only two targets last week, Aiyuk’s usage was criticized by 49ers legend Steve Young. Even Aiyuk’s snap count has not been the same thus far. Against a shaky Packers defense, it will be interesting to see if Head Coach Kyle Shanahan bends a little to the media and designs plays around Aiyuk with more frequency this weekend. For a San Francisco offense that has already been searching for more explosive plays, Aiyuk’s speed could be an X-factor lined up against Kevin King or Eric Stokes.
As the Packers game plan to stop Samuel, they cannot forget about the dangerous Aiyuk.