Week 12 of the 2019 NFL season is here and by the time the San Francisco 49ers square off against the Green Bay Packers, most of this week's games will have been played. This is due to the NFL "flexing" this game onto Sunday Night Football, where the whole nation will be watching.

The 49ers are coming off a 36-26 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, improving their NFC-leading record to 9-1. There have been several "ups" and "downs" over the last few weeks, but everything appears to be settling into place for the Niners to embark on an all-important stretch run to see where they stack up in the playoff race.

First up are the Green Bay Packers, who enter into this game at 8-2 and lead the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers is putting together another good season, but more importantly for them, running back Aaron Jones has been very good and the defense has improved.

Statistically, the 49ers have been better than Green Bay at every phase of the game and while that's important, the most important thing will be how this game shakes out ON the field.

Injuries have been a big story for San Francisco. The good news this week is George Kittle returned to practice and appears set to rejoin the team after missing the last two games. Receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel will likely play. Sanders says he is recovered from his rib injury, which will be huge for the offense. Other notable returns are defensive tackle D.J. Jones, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, running back Raheem Mostert, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. They have all been given a clean bill of health and will play.

Joe Staley and Dee Ford have unfortunately been ruled out and it also appears that Robbie Gould and Matt Breida will sit this one out. On the other side, besides anyone who has been ruled out for the season, there are no notable injuries for the Packers.

Here are five keys to winning this game for the 49ers:

Where and When: Sunday November 24th at 5:20 PM PST at Levi's Stadium

1) Run the Ball and Stop the Run


This is probably the biggest key in any game, but none bigger than Sunday's. If the 49ers are going to slow down the offense of the Packers, they must not let Aaron Jones take over the game. In his three big games this season, Jones has averaged 105.3 yards per game and has rushed for eight of his eleven rushing touchdowns. Stopping Aaron Jones is very important, but does not solve all the issues. (I'll get to the passing attack in a minute)

It will be vital to make Aaron Rodgers play from behind and keep Green Bay at least somewhat one-dimensional to allow the defense to do what it does best: rush the passer.

For the 49ers, the league's best rushing attack has to get back on track. In the last three games, all against division opponents, they were held to 77.3 yards per game, which is a significant drop from where they were. With Matt Breida likely out, Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and possibly Jeff Wilson Jr. must pick up the slack and have a good day rushing.

San Francisco was able to play well in the second halves of these games when it was forced to pass more, but that is a very undesirable scenario in this matchup. The 49ers are at their best when they chew up defenses on the ground, force them into stay in base coverages, and then carve up opponents' secondaries off of play action. The return of George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk make running the football against Green Bay's 25th ranked run defense (126.9 yards per game) a much better possibility.

2) Collapse the Pocket and Get to Aaron Rodgers


Aaron Rodgers is quietly still having a good season, but apart from a couple of games, has not lit it up as he used to. This is in part due to Coach Matt LaFleur's scheme which is more balanced and also because Aaron Jones has played well. Rodgers has been sacked 22 times and when teams have had success, it's largely due to pressuring Rodgers, like the Chargers were able to do a couple of weeks ago.

The 49ers have the best pass defense in football (142.5 ypg) and also lead the league in sacks (39). It will be very important to get a lot of pressure on Rodgers and get off the field when those opportunities present themselves. On third down, San Francisco is second in the league, allowing conversions only 30.2% of the time!

Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and the rest of the pass rush have been excellent all season and should be able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback.

3) Attack the Middle of the Field


Green Bay has had a lot of trouble covering tight ends in 2019 and has also had problems in the middle of the field. This also happens to be a major strength for the 49ers. If the 49ers can work effectively out of play action and protect Jimmy Garoppolo, there should be open receivers in the middle of the field, especially George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders.

Expect tight end and fullback screens and a few misdirection plays to speedy players like Deebo Samuel, Richie James Jr, and Tevin Coleman.

This is also the part of the field the 49ers attack best on third down, where they are fourth in the league, converting third downs 47.4% of the time. Green Bay is 19th on third down, allowing opponents to convert 40.5% of the time.

4) Win the Turnover Battle


As of late, the 49ers have forced 22 turnovers, which is good for third in the NFL, but they've also given the ball away 17 times. They have had their struggles as of late, but if they can get back on track and take care of the football, they have a terrific chance to win this game, even if they don't force a takeaway.

Forcing a takeaway or two against the Packers would go a long way toward ensuring a victory, but giving the ball away like they did against Seattle will likely result in a loss in a game like this.

If the 49ers win the turnover battle, they will win this game.

5) Protect Jimmy Garoppolo


The strength of the Packers lies in the Smith brothers. Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith have been very good all season and have 18 1/2 of their team's 25 sacks between them. The 49ers have not allowed many sacks (19 - 7th in NFL), but this will be a big test. If Garoppolo has time, there is every reason to expect long drives and big plays from the offense.

Prediction


This game has a playoff feel to it and expect the 49ers to be treating this three game stretch like a playoff preview. We should see some very good football from both teams and it will be a hard-fought game. In the end, Kyle Shanahan has been great all season at making adjustments and setting the opponent up to allow some big plays. The 49ers have the defense to get this done and finally, they have a quarterback who can make throws under pressure. We will see the offense perform well with the return of George Kittle and the defensive line will close out this game.

49ers 31, Packers 27