One of the big storylines heading into Saturday night’s divisional-round tango at Lambeau Field is whether or not the Green Bay Packers can slow down the San Francisco 49ers’ running attack. The focus should be on a different question: How the hell do the 49ers stop Davante Adams, who has thrashed San Francisco his entire career?
Adams has blossomed into the best wide receiver in football over the last couple of seasons, and his numbers against San Francisco, in particular, are flat-out arrogant. The Niners haven’t gone with the full-on double-team approach the Baltimore Ravens used against Adams this season, but they may have to.
Green Bay has traveled to San Francisco three times in the last three years. Earlier this year, Adams was open early and often. The superstar wide receiver tallied 12 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive of the game, when the Packers needed to get into field goal range, and everyone at Levi Stadium knew the ball was going to Adams, he still found a way to get open on back-to-back plays to get the necessary yardage. San Francisco has learned the hard way that it’s one thing to know what’s coming; it’s another task to stop it.
Last year, Green Bay went to the Bay Area and pushed around an undermanned 49ers team that was being led by Nick Mullens. The Packers applied pressure very early on, daring San Francisco to get into a shootout. Adams finished with 10 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Adams was one of the lone bright spots in the disaster that was the 2019 NFC Championship, going for 138 yards on nine catches. He’s owned San Francisco and will have another chance to do so on Saturday.
For the 49ers, it’ll be pick your poison. Suppose San Francisco shifts a lot of its coverage towards Adams. In that case, Aaron Rodgers will adjust accordingly by feeding the emerging Allen Lazard, the reliable Randall Cobb (who is on track to return), the running back duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, and vertical threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling. As many teams have learned, it’s not as easy as just taking away Adams. San Francisco has erred on the side of covering Adams without sacrificing attention elsewhere on the field. It hasn’t worked out in their favor in the last two meetings. Adams will keep his fingers crossed that they roll out a similar blueprint on Saturday.
Rodgers and Adams have been in such a zone to close out this season that it’s impossible to wipe out No. 17 completely. Come hell or high water, Matt LaFleur, Nathaniel Hackett, and Rodgers will find ways to get Adams the rock. He’s as dynamic of a playmaker as they come, and they know the importance of getting him into a groove early to set the tone. If the Niners go with anything similar to what they’ve done in Adams’ four career matchups against them, it could get ugly early. Green Bay would welcome a track meet.
Even if the 49ers succeed on the ground, Green Bay should still be a heavy favorite to come out on top if this turns into a shootout. Regardless of how great San Francisco’s running game is, Jimmy Garoppolo will have to make plays. Does anyone really see him making enough throws in crunch time to outdo Rodgers and Adams? Sure, stopping the running game should be a point of emphasis for the Packers, but the most lopsided matchup is Adams against the 49ers’ defense.
In theory, the cold January weather in Green Bay should be detrimental to a team’s passing game and an asset to their running game. That’s partly why many believe that the 49ers will pull off the upset. The Packers’ offense won’t be phased by the temperatures, though. Rodgers has mentioned numerous times he wants it to be as cold as possible. The mercury level in the thermometer won’t deter them from doing what they do best against San Francisco: feeding Adams the ball. Some of his best performances have come against the Niners. The Green and Gold will be doing everything in their power to make sure that’s the case again on Saturday night.