Previewing Conference Championship Sunday 2020:

After two stunning playoff weekends, we have reached the semi-finals. We have already seen the Patriots, Saints and Ravens exit, which were three of the top five teams in terms of Super Bowl odds, thrilling comebacks and epic finishes. Now we are the Championship Round with two very different matchups. On the AFC side there is the number two-seeded Chiefs hosting the Cinderella-type story six-seeded Titans, while the NFC will be decided by the two squads who had been coming off a bye week. These are also two rematches from the regular season. While the Titans pulled off the upset and enter as a touchdown underdog once again, the Packers were blown out in San Francisco mid-season and are now looking for revenge in the Bay.


 

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs:

 

Titans @ Chiefs

 

The lead-up:

There has been a lot of talk about the surprise of the season throughout the year, but with what has happened through these first two rounds of the playoffs, you can’t pick anybody over the Titans as the that team for 2019 – and it is even less about preseason odds than where they were mid-season. After shellacking the often-hyped team of the offseason in the Browns 43-13, Tennessee lost four of their next five, including being held scoreless in Denver in week six. That made the coaches insert Ryan Tannehill into the starting lineup and he became one of the biggest stories of the year. Not only did the Titans win seven of their ten remaining games, their new quarterback led the league with a passer rating of 117.5 over that stretch. In addition to the offense going to a different level and some key defensive plays, these guys basically won two games on blocked field goals – at the Colts and in their first matchup against the Chiefs. While they received a lot of help from the Jets beating the Steelers in week 16, thanks to close home losses to the division-rival Texans and the Saints, the Titans still needed to win their regular season finale at Houston. With the AFC South already clinched and nothing to gain at this point, the Texans decided to rest the majority of their starters and Derrick Henry’s 200-yard day not only won him the rushing title, but also secured a Wildcard spot. Coming into the New England as the six-seed, the Titans physically took it to the Patriots, as Henry once again went for over 200 yards and two scores on 35 touches, while the defense held Tom Brady & company scoreless in the second half, while ending the game on a pick-six. Then last Saturday night they went into Baltimore to take on the number one team in the entire playoffs and completely took them out of their game. Despite being outgained by 230 yards, the three turnovers and four different fourth-down stops led to a final score of 28-12.

The Chiefs on the other hand were one of the bigger favorites to win the Super Bowl coming into the 2019 season. They brought pretty much everybody back from that team that came one offside penalty short of winning the AFC when last season, while adding veterans on defense in Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. After starting the year off 4-0, Kansas City scored a season-low 13 points in a home loss to the Colts, followed by another defeat to the Texans at Arrowhead the following week – a stretch over which they gave up an average of 186 rushing yards. Many people the formula was out there for beating the Chiefs in terms of controlling the clock and keeping their explosive offense off the field, but actually what happened in a huge win over the Broncos almost derailed their season, as Patrick Mahomes appeared to have separated his kneecap. Thankfully it only took the superstar quarterback two weeks to recover from the injury and his backup Matt Moore went 1-1 in his absence, but in his return the Chiefs lost to their opponent for this weekend 35-32. KC didn’t lose another one of the remaining six games, while the defense allowed just under 10 points and they outscored teams by over 16 points per game. They also got some major help from the Dolphins, who upset the Patriots at Foxborough as a 17-point underdog in the season finale, to give Andy Reid’s group the number two seed. Coming off the bye, these guys didn’t seem to be awake for about the first 20 minutes and thanks to a few crucial mistakes, they dug themselves a 24-0 hole. From that point on however, the Chiefs outscored Houston 51-7 and the offense at one point had scored seven consecutive touchdowns, while Frank Clark proved why he was worth trading for with his three sacks on Deshaun Watson.

 

 

Titans offense vs. Chiefs defense:

 

There is no real mystery about what the Titans want to do offensively – they want to hand Derrick Henry the ball 30+ times and then fire some kill-shots off play-action. Nobody in the history of the NFL has put together more than Henry’s 377 rushing yards through the first two rounds of the playoffs even though he had to go through Bill Belichick’s number one overall defense and the Ravens’ fourth-ranked group, who had allowed just two 100-rushers all year long. While Tennessee’s offensive line deserves a ton of credit for opening up lanes inside and allowing him to get to the edge, it’s about what the nearly 250-pound back does once he builds up some momentum. Throughout the regular season, Henry averaged 4.2 yards after contact alone and he has improved that mark to 4.7 in these playoffs. While it would seam like teams should be able to bring down someone with a huge frame like his by attacking him low, it’s the length of his arms that allows the bruising back to keep defenders off him and he is about as fast as it gets for someone his size once he can accelerate. What makes it tough to contain is that Tennessee uses their tight-end in a variety of ways, moving them in and out of the backfield, keeping the backside pursuit honest with jet sweep fakes and the O-line sustaining those double-teams pretty long.

As much as Kansas City struggled to stop the run in the middle of the season, they actually do have several big bodies they can put on the field and after Derrick Henry ran went for 188 yards on them in their prior matchup, they allowed an average of just 95 over their six-game winning streak. When these teams first met, the Chiefs D really crashed the front-side on zone runs and forced the big guy to cut back. However, we also saw what happens when that backside edge defender is too conservative and allows a lane between him and the offensive tackle, when Henry went for a 68-yard score. Defensively, you actually have to make him stop his feet and lose some of that momentum, because when he gets past that initial wave and you ask your secondary to tackle, it’s time to say good night. In that week 11 game, the Titans didn’t have a lot of success running out of 12 personnel, which allowed KC to keep three D-tackles on the field shaded towards the strong side to go with Frank Clark on the weak-side edge, as well eight defenders in the box. Tennessee was much more productive running the ball from 11, where they added in some power runs, that allowed Henry to either follow a lead-blocker or it made the backside linebacker completely overrun the play and opened up a lane from where the pulling guard left. I would also would like to see them use some more shotgun and go zone read, which takes an extra defender away from Henry and create those cutback opportunities or they leave Tannehill uncovered for crucial pick-ups. What actual work well was those jumbo packages, because the Chiefs kept the same personnel out as they did against just two tight-ends, where you have a safety or even corner with gap responsibilities.

 

 

The biggest difference between the Titans offense with Marcus Mariota compared to Tannehill now is the frequency at which they hit deep balls off play-action. Their coaches do a nice job feeling the game out and knowing when to use the aggressiveness of the defense against them. Often times you only have two receivers in the pattern – a deep over and an even deeper post – and if you don’t use jump calls for that middle safety and have corners with the speed to replace him, they will eat you alive with those chunk plays. Last week against Baltimore they connected with Kalif Raymond for a 51-yard score on a post-corner-post, which had All-Pro corner Marlon Humphrey spinning around as Earl Thomas jumped on the over. As far as the drop-back pass game is concerned the Titans use a lot of simple high-low concepts, but use different formations and personnel sets to run them out of. That can mean flat responsibility for one of the tight-ends and a receiver running a corner route over the top from a reduced split and then coming back to using an in-line player for the deeper route with a back coming into the flats. The Titans also excel at identifying man-coverage with pre-snap motions and then forcing defenders to work around traffic on routes coming back the other way or mesh-type concepts. Tannehill is much better equipped to work his way through progressions than Mariota – whose biggest weakness was the fact he often times couldn’t move on from his primary read – and he is simply not afraid to let it rip. I like what Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done with changing up looks and being more aggressive with his blitz packages, but they have to stay disciplined with their rush lanes or Tannehill will tuck it and take advantage of it, like he did a couple of times in the first matchup.

 

 

 

Chiefs offense vs. Titans defense:

 

Andy Reid is one the most creative offensive minds the NFL has ever seen and you have to look to no further than the first meeting between these two teams to see that. The amount of formations and motions the Chiefs used was astounding, with the usage of Travis Kelce being the most interesting to watch. Whether that is using him to dictate coverage pre-snap or tossing him a shovel pass on the goal-line. My favorite play of that game came in the third quarter, when the Chiefs faked the run to one of their one way and faked Travis Kelce to come underneath the O-line but then work back outside and get the ball to him on a throwback screen for a nice gain. Kansas City also loves those 3-by-1 sets with Kelce as the single receiver. He excels at using the space between the corner who is leveraged outside and the safety over the top and just when that safety starts breaking on any type of curl route, you see the Mahomes go for the kill-shot with Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman on a deep post across the field. They almost hit one of those in the first game in Nashville. Moreover, when the Titans showed man-coverage by following guys across the formation they did have their linebackers holding up crossers and allowed primary cover-guys to come over the top, but what the Chiefs did was take force those LBs to come upfield with the backs running swing routes and that made it almost impossible for anybody to stay with the speedsters they have on that offense. Matching up one of those 4.3 guys with somebody in the slot for fade routes will once again probably be part of the plan as well as running guys off with in-breaking routes and then throwing screens to Damien Williams & Co back behind them.

 

 

When I go back to the theme of the last time this Titans defense faced Kansas City’s explosive attack, the one thing that really stands out to me is that they did not respect the ground game whatsoever. The Titans rarely had more than two stand-up linebackers on the field and they immediately dropped at soon as the ball was snapped.  Even when running RPOs with pulling linemen, the D-line stayed pretty static and everybody got depth, but more importantly width in their drops to take away those easy completions on in-breaking routes behind it. Early on Tennessee played a ton of man-coverage with more zone against condensed formations and in third-and-long situations, but as Eric Bienemy made those defenders run their asses off with picks and route concepts out bunches, they used a lot more two high looks. While DC Dean Pees did to Baltimore what they usually like to do themselves defensively – which is showing all-out pressure looks and keeping the opposition off balance by not knowing who is actually coming – what they did a lot against Kansas City are slot blitzes. On those they only bring at the last moment and usually roll one of those safeties down where the nickel was, but in the last meeting the space between that middle and the linebackers made them very vulnerable, as Tyreek exposed it twice for big yardage. With that being said, I was very impressed by the Titans DBs in the last two games, because those guys not only more than adequate speed, but also break on routes very aggressively and excel at playing the point of the catch.

 

 

Since Tennessee did not respect the Chiefs run game at all when these two last met up, I think you should see more commitment to that part of the offense – which Andy Reid is known for neglecting at times. Their most success on toss plays with pullers out in front and outside zone plays to the edge. I would also like to see more fly sweeps and some Tyreek Hill in the backfield to force the front to flow more with the play. The Titans backers really shot up those inside gaps and it left them vulnerable once you got past them. KC’s play-action should be mostly about moving the pocket or to get the ball to the backs with quick fakes to them and then take advantage of the space underneath as the defense drops out. The Titans use a lot of late coverage rolls to force opposing QBs to hold onto the ball, only problem being Mahomes is the best at extending plays and throwing off platform, which we already saw on that jump pass in the first game. To me the only way to slow this offense down is change up your looks and be willing to stay ahead of the curve with in-game adjustments before these guys figure you out and start shredding you. On the other hand, Mahomes can’t get too aggressive and take some free dump-offs in the flats. He almost started the last game with a pick, as he was rolling to the right and threw the ball all the way across the field. From my film study, Kevin Byard lining up over Kelce is a huge tell for man since they don’t trust Kenny Vaccaro against him and the combination of misdirection and screen plays should be a big factor once again.

 

 

X-factors:

 

Titans – Jonnu Smith and Jayon Brown Titans

I don’t want to call Jonnu Smith deceptively fast, because he is just flat-out fast. Outside of rookie receiver A.J. Brown he is the most explosive weapon in the passing game for them. If I was the Chiefs and I needed to prepare for this game, I would commit a lot of my bodies to slow down Derrick Henry and then keep everything in front of me when they want to take those deep shots off play-action, so hitting my dynamic young tight-end on crossers of bootlegs or maybe slipping into the flats after faking the split zone could be a great way to gain yards after the catch. We have also seen him boost the offense on screen plays or simply line up in the backfield and taking handoffs.

Defensively, this really is an X-factor, because we don’t even know if Jayon Brown will be available on Sunday. I mentioned the third-year man in one my latest articles as a highly underrated player and he could be a crucial piece for the Titans once again. While Rashaan Evans has stepped up even more in the absence of his running mate, Brown is the better in coverage. Not only will he be put in situations where the ball could be thrown right behind him if he flows too much with the run, but he also needs to carry Kelce down the field on seam routes against two-high shells and if Tennessee brings one of those safeties down, he needs to limit the space between him and the guy in the deep middle.

 

Chiefs – Mecole Hardman and Chris Jones Chiefs

On the Chiefs side, I am looking at the guy who I thought gave the team some life after falling down 24-0 against the Texans last weekend. Not only is Hardman big for them in terms of determining field position in the return game, he can be a coverage-killer if the Titans allow him to be. Whether that is taking advantage of safeties having to come down to take away those intermediate completions and him running past them on deeper routes across the field – as I mentioned before – but also if they do decide to keep a safety over the top Tyreek Hill at all times, like we have seen a couple of times in the playoffs now, he could feast on the open space created by that. Of course he can also be a spark on jet sweeps and screen plays for them.

I usually don’t like using what I think of as star players as X-factors, but in this spot Chris Jones could be a huge difference-maker. We don’t know for sure about his status for Sunday yet, since he was a surprise scratch last week as well, but if he plays he could be the Chiefs most important defensive player on the field. In the last game against the Titans, Jones had a strip-sack on their first possession of the game, as he beat up a double-team. He is an elite pass rusher when healthy and could be the reason Tannehill doesn’t get rid off the ball on those deep play-action passes, but it is also his ability to penetrate in the run game and force Henry to change directions a couple of times.

 

 

Prediction:

 

I really believe that this is not the matchup the Chiefs were hoping for. Sure, the Titans entered the playoffs as a six seed, but after eliminating Baltimore, they are now the hottest team in the league since Tannehill was inserted into the starting lineup. Kansas City feasts on obvious passing downs, where Spagnuolo can get creative with his pressure packages and those pass rushers can really get off the ball, but Tennessee doesn’t want to give them any of those.

With that being said, I just think Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the game today and he has too many weapons around him. Dean Pees has done a masterful job being multiple with his defensive scheme and forcing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball, but the way Mahomes can manipulate coverages by moving around and threw with different arm-angles to take advantages he just created will be the difference.

 

Chiefs Kansas City 34 – Tennessee 27 Titans

 


 

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers:

 

Packers @ 49ers

 

The lead-up:

The Packers entered 2019 with their first back-to-back losing seasons in the current format of the NFC North. Despite throwing 25 touchdowns compared to just two picks in 2018, people started to doubt Aaron Rodgers as one of the premiere quarterbacks in the game and the relationship between him and their new first-time head coach Matt LaFleur was heavily discussed as well. Green Bay kicked off the 100th NFL season with a classic rivalry against the Bears and made a statement right away with their retooled defense in a 10-3 victory over the then-reigning division champs. After a 3-0 start, the Eagles came into Lambeau Field and quickly changed a lot of people’s views changed after they gave up 34 points in a loss. The Pack did recover with four straight wins, but then suffered two defeats over the next three games – both on the West Coast and including a 37-8 demolition by the 49ers. They would close out the season with five straight wins, including the other three NFC North teams, but were mainly looked at as one of the worst 13-3 teams in recent memory – which actually has some truth to it since their point differential of +63 is the lowest for any team with that kind of record. Having to climb back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to the David Blough-led Lions in week 17 didn’t help that matter either. However, thanks to tie-breakers over the Saints, they got a bye week and came out strong against the Seahawks in the Divisional Round. The pass rush made life hard for Russell Wilson and after Seattle started making a run in the second half, Rodgers closed out the game with two big third-down conversions (even if the second one brought some controversy with it).

Coming into the season after four straight years below .500, the 49ers were buried behind the Rams and Seahawks in terms of odds for being the next NFC West champs and while I actually had them winning the division in my preseason predictions, I didn’t even think they would go 13-3 and earn the number one seed in the conference. San Francisco came out of the gates smoking hot, starting the year off 8-0 and if it wasn’t for a couple of unlucky bounces of the ball and a missed field goal in overtime, they would not have suffered their first loss against the Seahawks either. Two weeks later they put that whooping on their opponents for the Championship Round and even the following game at Baltimore against what was then viewed as the class of the league, it took a long field goal with time running out to beat this team. After an epic 48-46 shootout win at New Orleans, injuries started piling up for this squad in the Bay. The defense without a few starters allowed an average of 27 points over the final three weeks of regular season action, which led to a loss against Atlanta on the last play of the game and a tackle that put the Seahawks just a couple of inches short of taking the NFC West from the Niners. Nobody benefitted from that extra week of rest more than San Francisco, as they managed to bring back Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt on defense, which led to immediate success, as they managed to hold the Vikings, who were just coming off an upset win over the Saints, to only ten points and they easily advanced to the NFC title game.

 

 

Packers offense vs. 49ers defense:

 

This Packers offense has looked a lot different under Matt LaFleur. While Rodgers is still the star of the show, they are much more balanced in terms of run-pass splits and don’t ask the ultra-talented quarterbacks to always make those difficult throws he is capable of. While they were pretty static under Mike McCarthy for several years and kind of predictable in their West Coast passing concepts, LaFleur’s plan is much more about pre-snap movement and misdirection. Aaron Jones has turned into a star, racking up over 1500 yards and a league-lead tying 19 touchdowns from scrimmage. Coming from the Mike Shanahan tree, the young packers head-man uses many similar plays as Kyle does with San Francisco. It’s a lot outside zone, bootlegs and throwback screens, while using a good variety of personnel sets, instead of always spreading the field. With that knowledge of the offense however, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was all over the Packers offense in their first matchup. They held Rodgers to 20 of 33 for 104 yards, giving him an average of just over 3.1 yards per attempt, while the offense only scored once all game in a 37-8 beatdown. The usually elusive Green Bay quarterback was sacked five times and they were an abysmal 1 of 15 on third downs.

There absolutely nothing to get for the Packers running the ball from 21 or 12 personnel and they had no success going play-action out of those looks with max-protection and two receivers out in the pattern. That consistently put them behind the sticks and the 49ers’ stunts really made it tough for the Packers O-line to get hands on everybody, not only creating disruption in the run game but also getting someone free before the Rodgers could get the ball out to the deeper routes that were needed. At the same time not a single screen to the backs worked because the Niners had their linebackers run them down with their speed and all those guys on the D-line show excellent pursuit. So for the Packers to get more into a rhythm, they need to take what’s available to them. The Niners is all about keeping everything inside and in front of them. They pretty much surrendered any out-routes by the slot receivers from doubles sets, even if their corners made the receivers pay for catching them, and they mostly put two safeties deep when Davante Adams lined up in the slot, which should create more space underneath. I would also like to see Green Bay put Adams in a slightly condensed split with a tight-end inside of him to work those quick out-routes against what pretty much is one-on-one coverage at that point against cover-three. After completing that a couple of times you can come back with the out-and-up, since Rodgers excels at those rainbow throws and Davante is great at tracking them. Because of how they usually play it, motioning into bunch sets and throwing screens that way has been pretty successful against San Fran.

 

 

So throwing the ball on early downs and getting some easy completions to stay ahead of the sticks is key, but you obviously can’t go away from the run game, because when you don’t connect on some of those throws and get into third-and-long that is when that pass rush of the Niners really cranks it up. Early on the Packers should try ton get to the edge with some jet sweeps and get that defense to move laterally instead of allowing them to attack upfield against those zone schemes. The best run of the night on that side of the ball came when Green Bay was in a bunch set with a tight-end on the opposite side and they faked the jet sweep and got the ball to Jones on a toss the other way. With that being said, just beating San Francisco schematically is almost impossible because of the talent they have on defense. They just had a lot of success against a similar offense in the Vikings, where they kept Dalvin Cook under 20 yards rushing while also completely taking away the bootleg game with the backside edge defender attacking Kirk Cousins and the linebacker to that side plastering the easy check-down option, like a tight-end coming across or slipping into the flats. While they don’t really play a lot of man-coverage on early downs, the one thing Green Bay can take away from their Divisional Round game is that deep ball to Stefon Diggs for the Vikes’ only touchdown, when they burned Ahkello Witherspoon on third-and-short, where they do switch to more man. The Niners are very good layering the pass rush and making it tough for quarterbacks to throw with rhythm and step around the pocket. That means Rodgers can’t be as antsy as he was last time and keep himself in more of a throw-ready posture if they do get into long-yardage situations.

 

 

 

49ers offense vs. Packers defense:

 

To me Kyle Shanahan is the premiere offensive play-caller in the game today. Not only is his scheme and all the stuff he does off it very complete, but what I really appreciate him is the way he puts together game-plans specifically suited towards his opponents and how he continues to build around the things that have made them successful. That’s how he made Matt Ryan an MVP in Atlanta and why he is now 21-4 with the 49ers in games that he has an adequate quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo from start to finish. When you re-watch that first game against the Packers, Shanahan ran circles around the Packers defense. While having George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk on pretty much all base downs, he still made things easy for his quarterback by identifying coverages through different motions and it created a lot of easy completions on in-breaking routes to the voids that were created. That was especially the case on RPOs, where they could isolate the back-side linebacker. While the Green Bay defense should see that a lot in practice, the Niners were also highly effective faking zone to the overloaded side and then hitting Kittle on a deep over off the bootleg or use a receiver in that role and have the tight-end come into the flats of the split zone action. Overall the San Francisco offense was just extremely efficient, scoring 37 points on just 45 total plays, even if a strip-sack on the first Packer possession set them up with first-and-goal right away.

With that being said, Mike Pettine’s tendencies and transparency for his defense made things a lot easier on them. While the Packers do play a multitude of coverages, what they run is very dependent on personnel sets, field position and situations. Despite using true man-coverage (mainly cover-one) on just 30 percent of their snaps, most of those calls came on early downs and on the opposite side of the field. More telling however is that they 80 percent of their snaps in man-coverage came against 11 personnel, while they use different types of zone looks on almost two-thirds of plays against 12 or 21 personnel. Coaches who have figured that out now only needed some motions to confirm the looks they were given and when you look at teams like the Niners or Chargers, they just shredded the Green Bay DBs with shallow crosses and double-moves. That’s how a top ten defense on Paper like they have up there has allowed 15 passes of 40+ yards through the regular season – second-worst in the league. Something San Francisco did in the first matchup for example was motioning to two-by-two sets with one tight-end. After seeing the according defender trail the receiver coming across the formation and having Adrian Amos line up over Kittle with outside leverage, the Packers were already screwed. They ran a drag route with the tight-end and had the back go into the flats, with forced both Amos and the linebacker inside of him to work over the top of those defenders needed to work over the top of the action and it made for some easy completions.

 

 

If Green Bay wants to have any chance of keeping Shanahan from exploiting their secondary, they need to break tendencies and force Jimmy G to hold the ball, which allows their pass rush to get home. If you give those guys clean looks all game long, you don’t really have a chance to slow them down and they don’t mind running the ball into the ground once they show you some pass plays early on. They just proved that against the Vikings, when the put together 47 rushing attempts and once had a drive where they handed it off eight straight times until reaching the end-zone. That also means finding a way to stop that run scheme the Niners used in the first matchup, where they fake the jet sweep one way and take advantage of the edge defender having to stay wide by sending a puller to kick him even further out. Whether it’s having those outside backers crash inside more aggressively and trusting the safeties to come up or implementing switch calls when you’d need to cross defenders, you have to take away the easy path to success. If you are not always in perfect position and Jimmy G finds a way to carve you up on the fly, I can live much better with, especially after what I just saw from him in terms of staring down some receivers and trying to fit balls into windows that just aren’t really there. Throw some different looks at him and make him pat the ball. The Smith brothers have come through for the Pack all year long, but what they do on the back-end will dictate how many opportunities they get to impact the game. With all that being said, if Shanahan all of a sudden pulls out a change-up call himself like he did in the last game, there is not much you can do about it. The Niners ran a bootleg out of a condensed formation and they had Kelce fake going on the deep out like he has many times, but on that play he broke it back to the post and was wide open for a 61-yard score.

 

 

 

X-factors:

 

Packers – Allen Lazard and Darnell Savage Packers

As far as X-factors go for the Packers, you could pretty much go with any receiver not named Davante Adams. While I expect Rodgers to work him against whoever they have him matched up against, they will need somebody to win some matchups outside the numbers. They need to not only pick up easy yardage with short completions against the off-coverage by the cornerbacks, but also lure San Francisco out of the amount of single-high sets, if the want to have any chance of being productive in the run game. Allen Lazard has flashed in that fashion before and he I have also seen him set some crucial crackback blocks to get his teammates to the edges, which is where you need to attack against a penetrating D-line.

Defensively, I was really going back and forth between Kenny Clark and Darnell Savage, since he will be matched up against another rookie in Deebo Samuel on several occasions if they can get out of base sets and use extra DBs, but I went with Clark, since he will be crucial to even get Savage on the field. Outside of Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander, the defensive tackle might be the best player on this Green Bay defense and he will need to take advantage of his matchup. Clark has to make a difference when isolated against 49ers original second-string center Ben Garland, whether that is playing with extension in the run game and stopping the flow of those zone schemes or pushing the pocket against the pass.

 

49ers – Raheem Mostert and Emmanuel Moseley 49ers

Much like I did with Mecole Hardman, in a crucial matchup like this, I looked at a guy who could potentially flip field-positioning in return-man Richie James, who also can create some easy yardage on screen and sweep plays, but instead I moved on to Mostert. Tevin Coleman looked like the lead-back once again last week against Minnesota, but I think the Niners could have much more success in this particular game with the downhill gap-run schemes. Mostert is more of a North-and-South power back with the ability to run through arm tackles and the speed to quickly pick up big chunks when they get him outside on some quick toss plays.

Maybe the most volatile position for the 49ers in that right cornerback across from Richard Sherman. We have seen Ahkello Witherspoon get embarrassed at the line and struggle to stay with receivers down the field. Emmanuel Moseley took over for him several times throughout the regular season and after Robert Saleh made the switch last week, the Vikings could not do anything offensively. The Packers will try to match Davante Adams up against him and also nickelback K’Waun Williams, who will be crucial himself, so this is a situation to follow.

 

 

Prediction:

 

The way I can see the Packers win is if they go up by a touchdown early on and force the Niners to throw the ball. I have talked at length about how Green Bay is too transparent with what they do on defense, so forcing Jimmy G to process a lot of information once the ball is snapped will be key. The entire team was schooled in the first meeting between the two teams and not only should the Packers be more prepared this time around, but they also have the taste of revenge in their mouths.

Having said that, to me the 49ers have been the best team in the AFC for pretty much the entire year now. I trust Shanahan to get the offense moving and if they can control the line of scrimmage with their ground attack, they are almost impossible to beat. It will take a heroic performance by Rodgers to really put up points against this outstanding defense. With their arsenal of pass-rushers and a fully healthy back-seven, I think they are just too much to handle.

 

49ers San Francisco 26 – Green Bay 17 Packers

 



 

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