“Offensive coordinators, they can’t really pick really who to double,” 49ers’ defensive linemen DeForest proudly claimed about his fellow outside pass rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa who demand the utmost attention from opposing offenses.
Leading up to the NFC Championship, most of the storylines have to do comparing quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo or head coaches Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur. Still, those matchups won’t be the deciding factor in this precursor to the Super Bowl.
The skill position players on both sides are filled with star power, but that won’t determine the team that will represent the NFC in Miami in two weeks — it will be a battle in the trenches between the two front lines.
A 49ers’ defensive line features Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead vs. a Packers’ offensive line headlined by Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. Flip it around; it’s a Packers’ defensive line comprised by Kenny Clark, Z’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith lined up opposite to a 49ers’ offensive line starring Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.
These linemen will be the key figures in determining which of these teams will hoist the Halas Trophy on Sunday and celebrate at Levi’s Stadium.
In the first matchup between these two teams — which feels like an eternity ago — the 49ers’ offensive line only gave up four total pressures and one sack. Rookie left tackle Justin Skule was starting in place for injured Joe Staley and gave up a sack — which led to his benching and enabled Dan Brunskill to play another position along the offensive line.
The Packers’ dynamic Smith brothers only managed to tally seven pressures and three sacks on 40 pass-rushing snaps combined. They can wreck any offensive game plan by bringing the opposing quarterback, but against the 49ers, they were neutralized.
It certainly helped that San Francisco was able to have a balance between passing and rushing. Still, the offensive line did a stellar job of protecting Jimmy Garoppolo, and it showed up in the final score, as the 49ers soundly thumped Green Bay, 37-8.
Heading into Sunday, San Francisco will have two new linemen from the last matchup, center Ben Garland and tackle Joe Staley. After a disastrous return from injury, Staley has been spectacular in the last three weeks, only allowing one combined pressure, despite facing strong pass-rushing teams like the Seahawks, Vikings, and Rams.
Against the Vikings’ pass rush, the 49ers’ offensive line held up — only allowing five combined pressures against the likes of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. But this Sunday brings another formidable duo, and the 49ers’ offensive line cannot take a break this weekend.
Staley and McGlinchey will have their hands full on Sunday, blocking the two dynamic rushers off the edge. Per ESPN’s pass-rush win rate, both Z’Darius and Preston Smith are ranked in the Top-8 among all qualifying rushers.
The former Raven was unstoppable in the opening round of the playoffs, generating 11 pressures and two sacks against a leaky Seahawks’ offensive line. Packers’ No. 55 was also the leader in the NFL for pressures this season with 71.
The ex-Redskins’ rusher had seven pressures, but injured his ankle in the dominant performance and has been limited this week in practice.
Turning it over to the other side of the ball, the 49ers will have their speed rusher Dee Ford — a key in their Wide-9 rush — back for the NFC Championship after he missed the Week 12 showdown with Green Bay.
But, if you asked any one of the 49ers’ defensive linemen, they would argue that Ford could have taken the week off in Week 12 because they had Aaron Rodgers on his back all night without the former Chief.
The 49ers’ pass rush racked up 25 pressures and seven sacks that night on Rodgers, which effectively terminated any shot the Packers had that night. The Packers’ star right tackle Bryan Bulaga only played nine snaps, and backup Alex Light had to come in to finish off the game.
Bulaga and Bakhtiari are two of the better pass-blocking tackles in the NFL. Green Bay leads the NFL in pass-blocking win rate at 72 percent. Per ESPN’s calculation, Bakhtiari was the best tackle in the NFL, winning in pass blocks 96 percent of the time.
They will certainly need to slow down the likes of Bosa, Ford, and Armstead on Sunday to give Rodgers any shot of finding his receivers against the NFL’s No. 1 ranked pass defense.
Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Z’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The pair that has the more impactful performance will help send their team to Miami for a Super Bowl appearance to face off against either the Chiefs or Titans.