The San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship at Levi’s Stadium after thumping the Minnesota Vikings eight days ago 27-10. The Packers raced out to a big lead before having to hold off a comeback from the Seattle Seahawks. Here are five players to watch on the Niners today.
When the 49ers get into obvious throwing downs, Mike Pettine will use edge rusher Za’Darius Smith as a matchup rusher on your weakest link in pass protection, which is generally over the right guard. That’s the case with San Francisco, so Person will have to be on his A-game Sunday afternoon. Against the Seahawks, Smith played 20 snaps on the left edge, one snap as the left defensive tackle, one snap at the right defensive tackle, five snaps at the right end, and 18 snaps on the right edge. He’s going to be all over the place. He’ll rush a few times from inside linebacker as well. Smith was one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL this past regular season, so the entire line will need to be alert for Smith.
In Week 12, right tackle Brian Bulaga went down with an early injury, so Nick Bosa moved to rush from the left side of the defense. Bulaga didn’t play last week, but he’s over the flu and will suit up against the 49ers. The Packers have two good tackles, so this will be a great test for the rookie pass rusher. Bosa gives everyone fits with his relentless motor, power, and technique. Bosa lived in the Vikings backfield during the divisional round, will he be able to replicate that success against two of the better tackles in the conference? It’ll be one thing I’m keeping an eye on.
Coleman ran like a player who didn’t have to play a game the week before last week. He was fresh, ran hard, and deserved all the touches he received. It’d be awesome if Coleman had another 100-yard game on the ground, but I think his impact will be felt in the passing game. During the regular season, the Packers were the fourth-best team at defending running backs through the air per DVOA, so it may be tough sledding for the 49ers running backs in that sense. Like San Francisco, the Packers don’t blitz often. That doesn’t mean Green Bay doesn’t get pressure. That defense was third in the league in pressure rate this season per Football Outsiders, which tells you they’re getting home by rushing four. Coleman, the top back on the team in pass protection and can help keep Jimmy Garoppolo upright.
Technically, we don’t know who is starting. We know who should have started last week, and I highly doubt the 49ers coach staff would roll out a player they’ve benched two games in a row that are responsible for the last five passing touchdowns the defense has given up. Green Bay is going to throw at Emmanuel Moseley because he’s on the opposite side of Richard Sherman, but K’Waun Williams will be who the Packers go after. They do a good job of moving Davante Adams around. Adams lined up 11 times in the slot, and three times in the backfield last week. That “slot fade” route combination is a difficult route for anyone to guard. Williams needs to make Adams work to get catches Sunday afternoon. Nothing can be easy.
So many questions about Garoppolo this week after throwing an interception and putting the ball in harm’s way a few other times against the Vikings. Eric Kendricks is an All-Pro. Blake Martinez is not. Minnesota had aware linebackers that have gotten into throwing lanes all season, and that just isn’t the case for the Packers second-level defenders. Jimmy played a bit tight last week, so that’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on. If the nerves are gone and if Jimmy G is letting it fly. Another thing to keep an eye on is how Kyle Shanahan gets him involved early on. I’m hoping for a deep shot early on.