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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

How the 49ers can beat the Packers: Keys to Victory

Chris Beno
Jan 21, 2022 at 10:00 AM--

Things haven't changed much for the Green Bay Packers since their Week 3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. The Packers are still very much that same team.

The same can't be said for the 49ers, who have tweaked some things since their rocky start to the season. The 49ers went 3-5 through the first 9 weeks of the season, but since Week 10 they have won 9 of their last 11 games, which was the best record in the NFL during that span.

When looking at the differences between the Week 3 49ers and the current team, three things jump out to me.

1. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead has been moved inside as opposed to being strictly an edge rusher. It's no coincidence that the 49ers have since been the top defense against the run. The Packers rushed for 100 yards in Week 3, with running back Aaron Jones leading the way with 19 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown.

The 49ers haven't allowed a 100-yard rushing game since Week 13 against the Seattle Seahawks. Stopping the Green Bay run early and often will be a major key to beating the Packers and throwing their offense off balance.

2. 49ers Wide receiver Deebo Samuel getting involved in the run game as of late. In Week 3 Samuel had zero rushing yards on two attempts according to Since using him as more of a traditional back as opposed to a "gadget runner," the 49ers unlocked a part of their offense that has relit their identity.

The 49ers are 8-1 when Samuel gets at least 35 yards rushing per game, and 7-0 when he has at least six rushing attempts. Since Week 10, Samuel has 415 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He is the 49ers second leading rusher behind rookie Elijah Mitchell.

Samuel's athleticism and pure vision has made him a legitimate threat to opposing defenses. This was not an element that the Packers had to scheme for in Week 3.

3. Cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas have emerged as the team's premier outside defenders. In Week 3 the Packers faced veteran corner Josh Norman and Emmanuel Moseley in his first game back from injury. Aaron Rodgers threw for 261 yards on two touchdowns, while Packers star wide receiver Davante Adams torched the secondary with 132 yards on 12 receptions and a touchdown.
The 49ers slowly began to make changes to the defense and have since built the #6 ranked passing defense and 3rd best defense in the NFL. This isn't the same team the Packers played in Week 3.

The keys to victory this week are virtually the same as they have been all year. The game plan should be very similar to the one against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Really the only difference is the 49ers are facing the second highest scoring offense this week as opposed to the first.

On Twitter I asked what people think are the keys to victory against the Packers. Here's a few of those responses.

The Faithful know what needs to happen. The 49ers know what they need to do, and the Packers know what the team is going to try to do. But it all comes down to execution.

Here's what I think the biggest keys to victory are this week.

Avoid Compounding Mistakes

The 49ers have lost their fair share of games this season when they stack one mistake on top of another. At a minimum, those mistakes keep the game closer than it should be.

The 49ers are 1-3 this season when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws multiple interceptions. The team is 2-6 when they have two turnovers or more in a game.

Last week against the Cowboys the 49ers were up 23-7 in the fourth quarter when the mistakes began to pile up. The Cowboys converted on a fake punt which resulted in a field goal, and they intercepted Garoppolo which resulted in a touchdown.

When the 49ers had the opportunity to ice the game for good, Garoppolo snapped the ball on a quarterback sneak before his linemen were set and got flagged for a false start, which resulted in the Cowboys getting the ball back with a shot to win the game.

Those mental errors and mistakes in the playoffs, with a chance to put a team away, cannot happen. NFL fans for years have witnessed Aaron Rodgers make miracles happen when given extra opportunities.

Good teams close out games.

49ers Defensive Line

The engine that keeps the defense moving lies in the trenches. The success from the d-line has a trickle-down effect to the other defensive position groups.

In Week 3 the pass rush only got one sack on Aaron Rodgers. The Packers did a lot to protect the future Hall of Famer in that game by dialing up quick passes and establishing the run.

I predict a very similar formula going into Saturday's matchup. It starts and stops with the 49ers defensive front. Getting pressure on the edge is key to throwing Rodgers off balance. When he has a clean pocket Rodgers boasts a 123-passer rating and has thrown 29 touchdowns to zero interceptions.

However, with pressure in his face that passer rating drops to a 68. With defensive end Nick Bosa back in the lineup, expect him to get most of the attention with double teams and chips. That type of attention will open up opportunities for the other guys on the line.

The interior defensive linemen do a lot more than what they get credit for. Their ability to absorb blocks and double teams and prevent blockers from getting to the second level on run plays will be critical to throwing the Packers offense off rhythm.

Earlier in the year when fans were critical of linebacker Fred Warner having an "off year", it was easy to point to the play in the trenches as being a key part of that struggle. Blockers were often getting to the second level and preventing Warner from filling the run gap.

Since Armstead moved inside, expect a sound defensive front against the run. Getting to the quarterback quick and in a hurry will decide this game. I expect defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to prepare for another quick passing game from Rodgers.

George Kittle

The things tight end George Kittle do on offense don't necessarily show up the stat sheet. Statistically, Kittle hasn't done much to help the pass game of the 49ers as of late.

Over the last four weeks Kittle only has nine catches on 15 targets for 78 yards and no touchdowns. However, many of the big runs by Deebo Samuel don't happen without Kittle run blocking.

I expect that to change this week. The Packers are ranked 28th in DVOA against tight ends. DVOA stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average and factors in the average difficulty of the opponents they faced throughout the season.

With the Packers struggling against tight ends, I predict that head coach Kyle Shanahan will force feed Kittle a little more than in previous weeks. Shanahan has to find a way to capitalize on that mismatch.

49ers Run Game

I already mentioned what Deebo Samuel brings to the run game, but I didn't talk about how the Packers defense is susceptible to the run.

The Packer's DVOA rank is 23rd against running backs. They are last in the league against explosive runs.

The Packers defense gives up on average 109 rushing yards per game. The 49ers average 129 rushing yards per game and are 11-3 on the season when rushing for over 100 yards.

Establishing the run does so many things for an offense. It controls the clock, controls the tempo, keeps your defense and the opposing offense off the field which limits their scoring opportunities, beats down the opponent both mentally and physically, and it limits mistakes.

Elijah Mitchell hasn't turned the ball over all season. Mitchell also ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the regular season in only 11 games.

Offensively, the run game is crucial if the 49ers plan to upset the Packers. What they have to do in order to fully establish the run and control the clock is not fall behind early like they did in Week 3.

With Jimmy Garoppolo nursing a torn UCL in his throwing thumb and a sprained shoulder, asking him to win the game with his arm against the reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers would be a mistake.

Garoppolo did lead a late game comeback in Week 3, after struggling to do anything offensively in the first half. However, Rodgers was left with 37 seconds, which he used to surgically move down the field to set up the game winning field goal.

History has proven that when the 49ers abandon the run, bad things happen. We saw it in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs when Shanahan inexplicably decided to start airing the ball out. It allowed the Chiefs back into the game.

The 49ers need to avoid that on Saturday. Stick to the run, control the game.

3rd Downs

3rd downs this week will be key. If the game plan is in fact to establish the run and avoid mistakes, then success on early downs has to happen.

Last week the 49ers were 6/13 on 3rd downs for a 46% success rate. Even more crucial than just converting on 3rd downs, is avoiding 3rd and long scenarios.

Early down penalties and negative plays fall into the compounding of mistakes category. The team cannot trust Jimmy Garoppolo to air it out and convert those bigger plays, so trying their best to avoid them all together is going to be key.

Picking up yards on early downs will set up manageable 3rd and short opportunities. If the 49ers can convert on 3rd downs at a high rate, they will also build a mental edge over the Green Bay Packers defense who would then be struggling to get off the field.

The Packers game plan is simple. Put up points, and force Garoppolo to have to beat you with his arm. If the 49ers can avoid falling behind early in this game, get after Aaron Rodgers and control the ball on the ground, they'll win.

I don't anticipate this being a very high scoring game. I believe the 49ers win 24-20, and just like last week I think this one comes down to the wire.

Bold prediction: Jimmie Ward gets an interception to ice the game.
  • Chris Beno
  • Written by:
    Coming from Elk Grove, California I grew up a Bay Area sports fan. I've been cheering for the 49ers for as long as I can remember. In 2005 I joined the Army when I was 18 and got stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I just kind of hung around here. I've always enjoyed writing and have typically focused on writing music. I am truly blessed to get to cover the 49ers, and have my articles published on the 49ers Webzone. I didn't realize it was something I wanted to pursue as a career, but am now focused on doing just that. I appreciate all of the Faithful that take the time to read the articles people put out there.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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