The Green Bay Packers are just good now. The absolute dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys was one of the more emphatic playoff wins you’ll see, with the final scoreline misrepresenting what was mostly a three or four-score lead for the majority of the game. The Packers offense has become an absolute juggernaut, and it is led by the hottest quarterback in football.
ANY/A Value for NFL quarterbacks from Week 11 on (min. 175 pass attempts). Quarterbacks still alive in the playoffs are highlighted. pic.twitter.com/8c9Q9xc0iV— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) January 16, 2024
Since week 15, in what effectively were playoff games the entire way (some help gave GB an in despite losing the first one to Tampa), Love leads the league in EPA/play, success rate, DAKOTA, and CPOE.— rcon14 (@rcon14) January 16, 2024
Over the past four weeks, the Packer offense has been more than twice as efficient as the second-best offense (+.309 EPA-per-play). The passing offense has been bonkers, nearly doubling the EPA-per-dropback of MVP candidates in most years (+.542). Since Aaron Jones has returned and gotten up to speed, the Packers' running game has been fantastic as well, ranking second in EPA-per-rush over the past four weeks, a welcomed change from earlier in the season when the offensive line was really struggling.
With the offense humming at historic levels, the defense has turned things around from a horrendous stretch of games. Over the past three games, the defense ranks 12th in EPA allowed per play, ranking eighth against the pass and a respectable 17th against the run. There are still some warning signs, though. There is a lot of turnover help in those numbers, as the Packers rank 26th in success rate allowed. Of course, some of this is during garbage time of the Cowboys game, where the Packers were playing only a handful of starters and were playing very soft coverage. Despite the past few weeks, though, I don’t trust this defense and, honestly, neither do you. Especially against the buzzsaw on the horizon.
The San Fransisco 49ers offense is elite in just about every way. Wherever you land on the Brock Purdy argument, it cannot be denied that the passing offense as a whole is fantastic. The 49ers lead the league in passing EPA-per-play at +.298, they lead the league in EPA-per-rush at +.034, they lead the league in passing success rate at 51.6%, and they lead in the league in rushing success rate at 47%. They’re good at basically everything. The passing game is dangerous to almost every part of the field.
It’s not hard to see why when looking at the weapons at hand. Deebo Samuel is the more famous of the two, and understandably so with his production over the past few years, but Brandon Aiyuk is the real star of the show this year. He leads the NFL in DVOA, he’s second in yards per route run, he’s fourth in total EPA, and he’s fifth in average separation. Of course, Deebo is no slouch himself, ranking in the top 25 in each of the above categories as well. Deebo has remained an absolute YAC monster as well, averaging an insane 8.9 yards after catch per reception and leading in the lead in YAC over expected by nearly a full yard.
Speaking of yards after catch, few players are more dangerous with ball in hand than George Kittle. He leads all tight ends in YAC over expected and ranks third amongst all players in YAC per reception. He leads all tight ends in yards per route run, total EPA, yards, and he’s sixth in average separation. He is an absolute monster.
And then you have future Hall of Famer Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. McCaffrey is widely considered to be the best running back in the NFL, and for good reason. He has the highest target share of any back in the league, being targeted on nearly 20% of pass attempts. Despite this high workload, he still ranks sixth in yards per route run. In the running game, he pouts up monster numbers as well. He ranks fourth in yards per carry, sixth in EPA-per-rush, second in explosive carries, and second in rushing yards over expected. This team has a silly amount of weapons, and Brock Purdy has done a great job utilizing them.
The one weakness of the Niners' offense is their pass blocking. The unit ranks 24th in Ben Baldwin’s composite pass-blocking numbers, and that is despite future Hall of Famer Trent Williams still being a very good left tackle.
Pass protection composite pic.twitter.com/FGiIXKrlKH— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 9, 2024
Every single member of the Niners' offensive line outside of Williams allows pressure at a worse-than-average rate, and right tackle Colton McKivitz is a notable offender, with the fourth-worst pressure rate allowed by starting offensive tackles this year. The Packers' defense will almost certainly need their front to win big on passing downs, and if Rashan Gary is going to have a big game, now is the time it is desperately needed. The Niners have so many weapons on offense that present major mismatches. This is a very different task than the Cowboys, who were very reliant on Ceedee Lamb and Jake Ferguson. The Niners can beat you any way you let them, whether that be with their two-star receivers, their future Hall of Fame tight end or runningback, or just pounding the ball on the ground where, despite their lack of ability in pass protection, the run blocking of the unit is quite strong.
On the other side of the ball, the Niners will have their own problems trying to slow down the NFL’s hottest offense. The Niners' defense is solid, ranking tenth in EPA allowed per play and fifth against the pass. They do struggle against the run, however, where they rank 26th, two spots lower than Green Bay.
The Packers receiving corps lacks the stars that San Francisco has, but it is a young and very deep group. This means Green Bay can stretch the secondary quite thin and pick out mismatches that it wants to exploit. The group has a legitimate good corner in Charvarius Ward, but it’s hard for most units to match Green Bay’s depth of options and the Niners could be a bit stretched if Deommodore Lenoir or Ambry Thomas face a lot of targets. Veteran safety Tashaun Gipson is on a fantastic run, allowing fewer yards per pass snap than any other safety in the league, but his partner, Ja’Ayir Brown is allowing one of the worst CPOEs amongst safeties in the league. The Packers utilizing heavy motion and their deeper receiving group will be a key to keep the ball moving in the passing game, but this is something Green Bay has been doing for months now.
One major problem that the Packers will once again face is star linebacker Fred Warner. Once called the best linebacker in football by Aaron Rodgers, Warner has put together another fantastic season, albeit one with a good bevy of missed tackles. Missed tackles are a problem for San Francisco across the board this year, with a good chunk of their team ranking average or worse in missed tackle rate.
The stars of the show for San Francisco are up front, though. Nick Bosa ranks fourth in pressure rate amongst EDGEs and third in total pressures. His EDGE partner, Chase Young, ranks nineteenth in pressure rate, but has struggled to convert his pressures into sacks at the same rate Bosa has this year. A lot of that can be noise, but there are a handful of guys in the league at any one time who seem to consistently struggle with this. The interior defensive line is just as scary with Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead both ranking in the top twenty in pressure rate for defensive tackles. The Packers easily handled Micah Parsons last week, but this will present a very different challenge for the group. Rather than just one premier pass rusher, there are multiple high-end threats in this group. The Packers will need to keep Love clean enough so that the weapons have enough time to get open against a more limited 49ers secondary.
The 49ers are heavy favorites at home on DraftKings, and given their elite offense, solid defense, and home-field advantage, it’s not hard to understand why. But Green Bay’s offense has reached a level where they can never be counted out of any game. So long as the 49ers pass rush cannot blow up the game, it’s hard to say that Green Bay just won’t continue to move the ball at a good clip. The scary part is on the other side of the ball, where the 49ers can attack you in so many different ways and our directed by perhaps the premier offensive mind of our time in Kyle Shanahan. Joe Barry’s unit was able to kill of Dallas in the first three quarters last week. The task will be much more difficult this week against a unit filled with stars, but hey, all the offense needs is a chance.