Green Bay Packers

San Francisco Needs to Prepare for Green Bay’s Pass Rush

Photo Credit: Darren Yamashita (USA TODAY Sports)

There was so much wrong with the Dallas Cowboys’ game plan dialed up against the San Francisco 49ers. According to Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, the outcome was so predictable that the Packers were already planning to face the 49ers.

But the most alarming element of that game was the Cowboys’ defense. The offensive play-calling was bad, but I couldn’t believe it when I saw this stat:

That seems impossible. Not one single sack? No wonder quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had all day to throw to his talented targets. Why wouldn’t you have Deebo Samuel step in as running back if your opposing defense wasn’t bringing any pressure? It’s a testament to the 49ers’ offensive line as well, but they will not be receiving the same grace this weekend.

The Packers are the No. 1 seed for a reason. Sure, their defense still leans too heavily on the bend-but-don’t-break approach. It is also a much better unit than last year’s defense. And with Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander, and others returning for the playoffs, the Niners are going to need a different game plan. And their game plan better account for giving up some sacks.

Packers Sacks

Green Bay ended up with 39 sacks on the regular season. That’s about 2.3 per game. They gave up only 33 sacks on the other side of the ball. Their 2.3 puts them at 15th overall for sack average this year. San Francisco was ahead of them 48 total sacks for an average of 2.8 per game.

The Cowboys had superior numbers to the Packers in this category as well, which makes the playoff numbers even crazier. Dallas had 41 sacks, 2.4 per game. That isn’t too much higher than Green Bay, but I would not have expected them to be ahead. The 49ers and Cowboys also won the statistical battle in points allowed per game. The Packers sat at 21.8, while the Cowboys and 49ers gave up averages of 21.1 and 21.5, respectively.

Rashan Gary led the way in individual sack totals with 9.5. Preston Smith was right behind with nine. After that, the numbers dip quite a bit. Dean Lowry had five, Kenny Clark had four, recently released Kingsley Keke had 2.5, and De’Vondre Campbell had two. Players like Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, T.J. Slaton, Krys Barnes, Whitney Mercilus, and Oren Burks had fewer than that. Sadly, if you take away Gary and Smith, the Packers’ sacking ability has been a little lacking this season.

They notched 41 sacks in both 2019 and 2020. Their 2018 total was slightly better at 44, and 2017 was a little worse with 37. Missing two of your key defensive players for most of the season definitely was the reason for that lower number this year.

Defensive Help Should Equal more Packers Sacks

Luckily for the Packers, they have the cavalry on the way for the playoffs. All signs are pointing to Za’Darius Smith playing on Saturday. That means the 49ers have a fresh and dangerous linebacker to face. Za’Darius Smith’s snaps might be limited, but that could benefit the Packers. He can come in, repeatedly rush the quarterback over, and come off the field. Then they still have to deal with Gary, Preston Smith, and Campbell. Plus, Green Bay might have Whitney Mercilus back too. San Francisco will have trouble running their offense if these two linebackers can return and cause disruptions.

Jaire Alexander’s return and being limited like Smith will be good for pressuring the quarterback. He is arguably the best cornerback in the league. And now you will have him out there covering the slot and adding depth to cover players like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle. The longer it takes Garoppolo to make his throws, the more time the rushers have to get to him. There will be no Trevon Diggs out there for the 49ers to pick apart.

MORE THAN FIVE SACKS?

I see the Packers having a huge sack total this game, especially if Jimmy G is ready to go for the 49ers. It will definitely be more than zero. More than 2.3 is very likely. This team is going to be at full strength at home in the cold against a team that hasn’t played in temperatures lower than 23 degrees yet this season. If the over/under total is five, I would take the over. If not, the Packers might have to play catch-up, and that has never been a good thing for this team when it comes to playoff games.

The only way that total is lower is because the 49ers decide to basically run the ball all game. It’s a definite possibility and could be dangerous for the Packers if the run isn’t stopped in the first quarter and half. If the Niners are forced to throw more, prepare for the sack celebrations.

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