Green Bay Packers

Titletown Mailbag: 49ers Difference Maker, Mason Crosby Crunch Time, and More

Photo credit: Mark Hoffman (USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to the weekly Zone Coverage Packers mailbag, where I try to answer all your burning NFL and Green Bay Packers-related questions, submitted via Twitter to @m_widmeier.

Putting Deebo Samuel aside as the obvious answer, who is the difference-maker for the 49ers that the Packers need to be wary of?

George Kittle had a quiet game on wild card weekend against the Dallas Cowboys. Don’t expect that to be the case against the Green Bay Packers.

When they played back in September, Kittle led the receiving corps with seven receptions for 92 yards. He’s one of the best tight ends in the entire league. After having just one catch on three targets against Dallas, it’s wishful thinking to expect a repeat performance.

Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers lean on their run game to set up Jimmy Garoppolo and the play action. Off of those play-action calls, Kittle is often roaming free past the first wave of the defense. Green Bay will have to lock in on Kittle all night and limit his chances. This is a San Francisco offense full of playmakers, including Deebo, Kittle, Elijah Mitchell, and Brandon Aiyuk. Kittle is the straw that stirs the drink for the group, though. If he gets going and vacuums in one catch after another, it opens up a world of other opportunities for Shanahan to dial-up.

Kittle is undoubtedly the guy to watch for on Saturday night for San Francisco’s offense.

The first game against the 49ers this year ended on a Mason Crosby field goal. If it comes down to that again, how much faith is there in him?

In terms of the locker room, they have all the confidence in the world in Mason Crosby. His longevity with the organization may have helped save his job this year after a disastrous run. While there were fewer hiccups to end the season (outside of a missed extra point against the Detroit Lions), it still was far from a banner year for Crosby. The team likely holds no reservations about Crosby. Even if they do, they obviously wouldn’t voice it.

The fanbase is a different story. Crosby’s game-winner this year in San Francisco came from 51 yards away. Kicks from that distance are far from automatic for any kicker in the NFL, let alone one who struggled like Crosby did this year. If we’re sitting in the circle of truth, should Crosby trot out onto the field Saturday night with the game on the line and a kick of over 40 yards facing him, there will be plenty of hearts beating out of their chests. Even a kick under 40 yards will bring about that anxiety. The moment dictates a lot of it. Crosby’s struggles only enhance it.

The hope is that it doesn’t come down to a game-winning field goal attempt. But in the case that it does, Crosby zones in and becomes the clutch kicker he has been for most of his career for the Packers.

How much does the weather actually factor in on Saturday?

It’s always tough to tell. There’s no algorithm for this, but you can look through some data points and connect some dots.

For starters, Jimmy Garoppolo has never attempted a pass in the NFL in what classifies as a cold-weather game. Saturday night the temperature is supposed to be in the teens, so that will be a first for him. As for the 49ers as a whole, they seldom play in cold-weather contests, but this is a team that is built to play in those circumstances given their ability to run the ball and rush the passer with their front four. One thing that is certain, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers sure view it as a big advantage.

“I think it makes a huge difference,” Rodgers said of playing at home. “We’ve played in some tough environments on the road in the playoffs over the years. When the crowd is rocking and yelling and standing up, it’s tough. It makes it really hard on the opposing team’s offense – verbal communication, cadence and different things. I’m really looking forward to having a full crowd, that good old Green Bay weather.”

Perhaps the most significant factor is just playing on their home field. The Packers were the only team in the NFL to not lose at home this year, going a perfect 8-0.

Lambeau Field will be rocking on Saturday night and the volume will rise as the temperatures dip. Everything is in front of the Packers, and it’s all lined up in their favor.

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