The San Francisco 49ers travel to face a Green Bay Packers squad this week that is struggling to get on track. The Packers win over the Chicago Bears is looking better each week, but the rest of their performances have been shaky at best.
Aaron Rodgers and the offense has been a regular part of the conversation, but the defense has been all over the place. I took a few minutes this week to chat with Acme Packing Company writer Jason Hirschhorn, and I asked him about the strengths and weaknesses of the Packers defense. Below are his thoughts coupled with what I think this might mean for the 49ers offense.
The Packers lack a true field-tilting edge rusher, but new coordinator Mike Pettine’s exotic blitzes have turned the defense into one of the best pressure-generating units in the league. Through five weeks, Green Bay ranks fifth with a pressure rate of 33.5 percent, according to ESPN. Mostly anonymous defenders like safety Jermaine Whitehead have become key pieces to Pettine’s blitzes, and it has made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
The 49ers offensive line has improved in recent weeks and seems to be getting on a roll. The Packers pass rush presents a new challenge to the group. More specifically, I expect Pettine to dial up some of these blitzes in the direction of rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey. We have seen improvement from McGlinchey in the pass rush, and he is among the best at run blocking this season. However, he’s a rookie still learning the ropes, and the right side of the line will be one to watch when C.J. Beathard is dropping back to pass.
It also helps that the secondary has improved since last year. The Packers haven’t had a group of cornerbacks this deep in nearly five years, with first- and second-year talents such as Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Kevin King mixing with veterans Tramon Williams and the newly signed Bashaud Breeland. Alexander missed Week 5 and King left with lacerations to his face, but both could play against the 49ers.
However, Green Bay still struggles to prevent deep strikes. The safety duo of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice has misplayed numerous passing plays throughout the season, with the latter becoming a near-weekly victim of the RedZone Channel. If the 49ers have their full arsenal of receivers on Monday, look for at least one big play down the field.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was a full participant in practice on Thursday, and barring a setback he seems to be on track to play vs. the Packers. Quadricep injuries and hamstring injury have slowed him out of the gates after a career year last season. His absence has been noticeable. The team has some quality route runners at wide receiver, but nobody with his game-breaking speed. Getting him out there will be critical if the 49ers want to have a shot at taking down the Packers on Monday Night Football.