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49ers mailbag: What problems does Green Bay pose? Biggest threat to an upset? How will SF replace Adam Peters?

Marc Adams
Jan 16, 2024 at 4:00 PM

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The stage is set. The San Francisco 49ers earned the number one seed in the NFC, were able to rest during the wild-card round, and are ready to finish what they started in the 2023 playoffs. The road to the Super Bowl starts with hosting the Green Bay Packers, who are coming off an impressive win over the Dallas Cowboys.

49ers fans seem to be all over the place on this one. Some are confident the game won't be close, while others are concerned, considering the way the Packers and QB Jordan Love have been playing. One thing is for sure—the 49ers are rested, healthy, and focused on bringing home a sixth Super Bowl title.

We opened the 49ers Webzone Mailbag to get your thoughts, questions, and concerns. Thank you for all your responses. Let's jump in and take a look at this week's mailbag.

With how easily the Packers disposed of Dallas, what kinds of problems does Green Bay pose to the 49ers? - Ed H.

I wasn't stunned that the Packers beat the Cowboys, but I was surprised they beat Dallas so badly. Right now, Green Bay is playing very well, and Love is playing as well as anyone. Their offense is legit, with an excellent passing game and a strong running game.

But I wouldn't expect their receivers to be as wide-open as they were in Dallas. Everyone was trying to sell us on how great the Cowboys' defense was, but they were shredded on Sunday. I can't see the Packers doing that to the 49ers.

My biggest concern will still be trying to slow down the Green Bay offense. The 49ers' defense has been up and down in 2023. They are finally healthy and rested, so I'd expect them to come out with their hair on fire, but anything can happen in this league. And the 49ers need to guard against any kind of letdown that could lead to an upset.

Offensively, the 49ers should have a good game, as the Packers defense is not that good.

I think the key to handling Green Bay will be shutting down Aaron Jones. How do you think the SF front 7 matches up with GB rushing offense? - Thomas H.

The Packers have a good rushing attack, so Thomas is correct, shutting down Aaron Jones and the Green Bay running game is critical. When Jones rushes for 100 yards or more, Love has been dangerous. But when Jones fails to reach 100 yards on the ground, Love hasn't been nearly as effective.

Fortunately for the 49ers, Arik Armstead will be back. He is the key to the 49ers run defense. When he's in the game, opposing offenses struggle to run the ball. When he's been out, teams have had more success on the ground against the 49ers.

If Armstead, Javon Hargrave, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, and Sebastian Joseph-Day can tie up blockers and keep them off of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, it will be hard for the Packers to run the ball on the San Francisco defense. That's what I would expect to see on Saturday.

The best-case scenario for the 49ers is to jump out to an early lead so the Packers abandon the run game. We've seen them do that against the 49ers in the past.

What channel is the game showing? - Fernando V.

The 49ers host the Packers on Saturday at 5:15 pm (PST). The game will be on Fox.

Is the secondary going to be a weakness against a red-hot Jordan Love, or will the pass rush negate that advantage for Green Bay? - JD

The secondary has been good this season, so I don't anticipate them playing like the Dallas secondary did on Sunday. I don't want to downplay what the Packers did against the Cowboys, but the 49ers' defense is more experienced and more disciplined than the one in Dallas. They don't typically allow receivers to run open so much.

With Armstead returning, and with the 49ers' pass rush rested and healthy, I would expect to see some pressure put on Love. I'm not sure if the 49ers will blitz too often. Love has been good in those situations. But I still believe the combination of the 49ers' pass rush and secondary will make things more difficult for Love and the Packers.

What matchup, if any, has you most concerned and is the biggest threat to the 49ers getting upset? - Scott B.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the 49ers being upset on Saturday is the rain that's being forecasted. We saw Brock Purdy in the rain, in Cleveland, and it wasn't good. But that was one game, and he did get the team into field goal range at the end, with a chance to win.

The most important, and most concerning, matchup is the Green Bay run game. The 49ers' run defense hasn't been great, at times. I mentioned this in my response to the first question. If the Packers can run the ball, they could potentially upset the 49ers. If they can't run the ball, I think it will be difficult for Green Bay to beat San Francisco.

The only other concern would be turnovers. If the 49ers are sloppy and make mistakes, which can happen in the rain, they can lose this game for sure. But if they protect the ball, the Packers will have an uphill battle.

Here's what it comes down to: The 49ers will move the ball and score points. With Armstead back, the defense should be able to keep Jones and the Packers run game in check. Slow down the run and protect the football, and the 49ers should move on to the NFC Championship for the third straight season.

Brian Baldinger seems to agree. He was a guest on 95.7 The Game, and said, "It's about the 49ers and how they execute. I don't care what the Packers do. The Packers came to town before and the Niners ran the ball right down their throats a couple of years ago. It's a lot of the same type of people." Teams have been able to run on the Packers this season. The 49ers will surely try to do the same.

How do the 49ers replace Adam Peters and how much influence did he have on this roster? - Dave B.

I wrote about this over the weekend, if you want to take a deeper look. In a nutshell, here are a few possibilities:

  • Tariq Ahmad, 49ers Director of College Scouting. Ahmad has been moving up the ranks and is the front-runner if the 49ers promote from within, which they like to do. And he may be the front-runner regardless. The 49ers seem to be high on him. Don't be shocked if Ahmad is the one who replaces Adam Peters as assistant GM.
  • R.J. Gillen, 49ers Director of Pro Personnel. Gillen is another possibility, but I think he's a long shot this go around.
  • Martin Mayhew, former 49ers Vice-President of Player Personnel. Mayhew is still with the Washington Commanders, and although Peters has taken his job, there's a good chance Mayhew will stay in Washington, with a new role. Or maybe John Lynch brings him back to San Francisco.
  • Tom Telesco, former Los Angeles Chargers GM. The reason I included Telesco is because 49ers reporter, Matt Barrows, mentioned the fact that Telesco and Lynch are friends. Barrows wrote, "Lynch also has a good relationship with former Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, who was fired last month along with coach Brandon Staley following the Chargers' 63-21 loss to the Raiders. Like Mayhew, Telesco would bring experience to the 49ers front office."

As far as Peters' influence on the roster, I believe his impact was great, especially with the later-round draft selections. This is still Lynch and Kyle Shanahan's team, but I do wonder that if there had been no Peters, would the 49ers have drafted players like Purdy, George Kittle, Dre Greenlaw, and other late-round gems?

Why do the Greats (or goods) require position coaches (or coaching)? I was reading an article on Tom Brady's QB coach (Christensen), and the thought struck me: Brady has seen more action than Christensen ever has. What advice could Christensen offer Brady after 20 years in the league? As the player becomes more experienced (god-like, in Steve Young's case), does the relationship between the position coach and the player become more collaborative, rather than the coach identifying and correcting mistakes in technique, etc? - Tony M.

A team's QB coach, like the 49ers' Brian Griese, doesn't have a lot of time to focus on technique, footwork, and things like that. Their main focus is the playbook, helping the quarterback understand what to do in each situation, how to read the defense, progress through his reads, and much more. You can have a guy like Purdy, who may know the playbook better than Griese, but there are still teachable moments and in-game adjustments that a coach can point out.

As for a QB coach like Jeff Christensen and others, who many quarterbacks spend time with in the offseason, including Tom Brady, those are the sessions used to tweak deliveries, footwork, etc. You've heard the saying, "Practice makes perfect." It's not entirely true. If you're not practicing correctly, you're going to get worse.

All of us, whatever our profession or sport, have tendencies to pick up bad habits. If the bad habit is left unaddressed, it can become a bigger problem. So a lot of players, particularly quarterbacks, have QB guru-types that they go to to clean up some things. I'm sure the quarterback has input, and I would assume so does the team, into what the player is working on.

If the Niners make the Super Bowl, which AFC contender & QB do they match up the best with (Bills, Ravens, Chiefs)? - Thomas H.

I think all three teams, the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs present a problem for the 49ers, primarily because of their quarterback. San Francisco already saw Lamar Jackson this season. They saw Patrick Mahomes in 2022, and of course, in Super Bowl LIV. And they saw Josh Allen about four years ago. Allen was so good that night that some believe it's what prompted Shanahan to draft Trey Lance.

I still think the Ravens present the biggest threat to the 49ers, mainly because of their defense. But the Bills and Chiefs have good defenses, as well. Whoever the 49ers play, should they make it to the Super Bowl, will be a difficult matchup. But the 49ers can beat anyone, as long as they don't turn the ball over five times (see Christmas Night).

Outside of Super Bowl victories, what are your top playoff moments? - Sasha R.

Super Bowl victories and NFC Championship Game victories are too easy. Those will always be the top postseason moments. So if we exclude Super Bowls and NFC Championship Games, my top playoff moment would have to be the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New Orleans Saints. That was an instant classic with all those lead changes in the final four minutes, the touchdown by Alex Smith when he ran the ball around the left end, and of course, the winning touchdown to Vernon Davis.

Candlestick was so loud. I was watching on TV, and I don't ever remember that stadium being as loud. It probably was more special to me considering the 49ers had gone eight seasons without a playoff appearance or a winning record. And when Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2011, there was a new enthusiasm about the team. They came out of nowhere, with a new coach, following a lockout in the offseason, to within a couple of fumbled punts of going to the Super Bowl.

I would say my next one would be the comeback win over the New York Giants, led by Jeff Garcia, in a 2002 Wild Card Game. The 49ers were down 24 points, but Garcia brought the team back and won the game.

Who's the next defensive coordinator if Steve Wilks leaves? - Dave B.

That is a great question. A year ago, the 49ers decided to bring in Steve Wilks, rather than promote anyone from within. Will they go outside of the organization again, or could they promote someone like Defensive Backs coach Daniel Bullocks? Bullocks has been with the team for seven years and has done a nice job of helping develop some young players like Talanoa Hufanga, Ambry Thomas, and Deommodore Lenoir. However, being a successful position coach doesn't always translate to being a successful coordinator.

Some fans have asked about Kris Kocurek being promoted, but I don't see that happening. So far, Shanahan has chosen coaches whose focus was on linebackers (Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans) and defensive backs (Wilks). It seems like it would make more sense for someone who is calling a defense to be a coach whose focus has been on the back end of the defense rather than on the defensive front. Because of this, I don't think Kocurek will be an option.

As far as other names, we'll have to wait and see. With all due respect to my friend, Larry Krueger, who I have great respect for, there's no way Bill Belichick would go back to being a defensive coordinator. But that would be an incredible hire for Shanahan and Lynch. Belichick's defense gave the 49ers fits in the '80s when he was the defensive coordinator of the Giants. It's not going to happen, but I like Krueger's thinking here.

That's all we have for this week. Check back next week for a new edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag.
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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