It’s a sentiment echoed not just across Wisconsin but across most of the country: It’s the Packers’ Super Bowl to lose.
Unlike previous years, this Green Bay Packers team isn’t a one-man band with an occasional guest verse. An incredible backfield of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon has complemented Aaron Rodgers’ passing game. And Allen Lazard‘s breakout year alongside the league’s top receiver, Davante Adams, has bolstered Green Bay’s aerial attack. Add in a stellar secondary and an All-Pro season from LB De’Vondre Campbell, and the Pack genuinely are a threat on both sides of the ball. They’re finally a complete team.
But if there’s one flaw, it’s the run defense. And if indeed there is a team out there to dethrone Rodgers and Co., it’s the San Francisco 49ers. The reason? Deebo Samuel.
Seldom does a single-player have the ability to dictate the tempo of a game in the ultimate team sport. But Samuel has that ability and will single-handedly tear the Packers to shreds if they do not customize their defensive scheme to combat the two-headed monster.
If you haven’t spent hours watching highlights of the 2019 draft pick, you’re missing out. The self-described “wide back” out of South Carolina has electrified the NFL as both a wideout and running back this season. The league leader in yards per reception (18.2), Samuel has scored six touchdowns through the air and eight on the ground this season.
However, all but one of those came after Green Bay’s victory over San Francisco in Week 3.
The bottom line? Samuel is red-hot and will be heavily utilized on the ground on Saturday evening at Lambeau. That’s a problem for the Packers.
Despite ranking an admirable 11th in the league for run defense, Green Bay finished 30th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed with 4.7. That doesn’t fare well against Samuel, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry this year and is predominantly an outside rusher.
Saturday’s game won’t be a sub-zero Lambeau classic, but it’s still going to be chilly, with temperatures forecast in the teens. The Packers will likely see Samuel on the ground more than they will in the air. But the Packers’ defense will need to pull out all the stops to bottle up the man who single-handedly turned San Francisco’s season around.
Fast Out Wide
While Campbell and Co. have secured the middle of the field throughout the year, Rashan Gary and Preston Smith will have their hands full on the outside corners of the box with Samuel’s speed. Both men should be healthy but do not have the speed to contain Samuel for 60 minutes. Moving a safety up to act as a pseudo-outside linebacker in various formations could help limit Samuel’s production. Darnell Savage is probably Green Bay’s best bet, but Adrian Amos is another option. Both have great speed and could be more beneficial in that role, given that San Francisco likely won’t be airing it out frequently.
Rotate, Rotate, Rotate
As mentioned, covering Samuel for an entire NFL football game is a challenge for any player. That’s why Joe Berry and Co. did an excellent job rotating personnel against the Niners in Week 3. Jaire Alexander is slated to play on Saturday, which is a huge advantage in general, but especially when Kyle Shanahan puts Samuel in motion beyond the line of scrimmage. The Packers have enough speed from multiple players to combat Samuel’s speed with Alexander back for four quarters.
Put Points on the Board
Samuel has the talent and drive to put points on the board, regardless of how well Green Bay’s defense plays. Rodgers, Adams, and Co. are fully aware of this, given the high praise they’ve heaped on Samuel throughout the week. Earlier this year, Rodgers emphasized the importance of “putting the nail in the coffin” when holding the lead against teams. If the Packers find themselves with a lead, even a considerable one, expect the league’s most prolific offense to keep stepping on the gas.
The Packers line up better than San Francisco in almost every category. Yet Deebo Samuel’s unique skillset is tough to classify and even harder to plan for. Green Bay’s offense should be able to will the team to victory, but an immaculate performance by the defense will make the experience much less stressful for players and fans alike.