Green Bay Packers

What Has Changed Since Green Bay's Week 3 Win Over the 49ers?

Photo Credit: Cary Edmondson (USA TODAY Sports)

The Week 3 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers is remembered mainly for Aaron Rodgers and Mason Crosby‘s late-game heroics. But quite a bit has changed with both teams since that September night in Santa Clara.

The win was the second of what would become a seven-game winning streak for the Packers, following the season-opening debacle against the New Orleans Saints. Green Bay had a comfortable 35-17 win in Week 2. However, it’s interesting to think about what would have happened if the Packers had fallen to 1-2, going into games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and what turned out to be a very good Cincinnati Bengals team. The final drive for Green Bay helped minimize if not all together squash, any questioning of Matt LaFleur’s decision-making in the red zone. Who knows whether or not the season might have gone a different direction had they lost.

The 49ers entered Week 3 with a 2-0 record after road wins in Detroit and Philadelphia. However, their stumble against the Packers was the start of a four-game losing streak, in which San Francisco then lost to the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, and Indianapolis Colts. Credit to the 49ers for winning eight of 11 games to earn a wild card berth, but a 3-0 team with a big win over the Packers might have taken its schedule by storm. Saturday’s game could very well be in California instead of at Lambeau Field had the Niners won in Week 3.

Those are all hypotheticals, of course, but let’s unpack some of the statistics from that game. Looking at the box score, the two things that jump out most are Elijah Mitchell‘s shoulder injury and the different role that Deebo Samuel had during the game. Samuel had 52 yards on five receptions with 10 targets, but he only had two carries for zero yards. That yardage total was his lowest of the season. Green Bay played the Niners before Kyle Shanahan included Deebo in the running game meaningfully. Over the last nine weeks, Samuel has averaged seven carries per game for 46 yards. Those certainly aren’t RB1-type numbers, but it’s been an effective strategy as an additional way to get the ball into the hands of your biggest playmaker.

When it comes to injuries, San Francisco had a couple of scares in its playoff opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Linebacker Fred Warner left the game with an ankle injury but has since tweeted that he will return. Nick Bosa is questionable for this week with a concussion. Garoppolo is working through a shoulder sprain, but he’ll almost certainly be ready to go.

For the Packers, they weren’t exactly a model of health, even in Week 3. However, with the rate that players have been returning to practice, Green Bay might be in better shape than they were in September. Across the offensive line, the Packers were without David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, had Yosh Nijman making his first career start, and rookies in Josh Myers and Royce Newman still getting their feet wet. That offensive line could still move the ball and only allowed one sack and five total pressures. Bakhtiari and Myers are back and hopefully picking up where they left off. They will slot alongside a much-improved Jon Runyan and hopefully healthy Billy Turner to turn a patchwork position group into a strength in the playoffs.

As far as other injuries go, Jaire Alexander was still healthy in Week 3 and is trending towards returning to the field. Eric Stokes has significantly improved since September, and, most notably, Green Bay didn’t sign Rasul Douglas until October. Having a full complement of defensive backs against Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle will be important, especially since Garropolo has turned the ball over a time or two. He’s thrown 12 interceptions on the season.

San Francisco will run the ball plenty, but the Packers are capable of a productive ground game too. The most significant difference between now and then for Green Bay is the balance between Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon in the backfield. In Week 3, Jones had 19 carries for 82 yards, while Dillon only had six carries for 18 yards. The timeshare has evened out since then. It ended up tilting a bit more towards Dillon, who finished with 803 yards to Jones’ 799. Dillon has also evolved as a pass catcher in the screen game, and having both him and Jones as safety valves via the screen pass against the pressure that the 49ers will inevitably bring could be essential.

Two things that haven’t changed for the Packers are Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Rodgers is trending towards yet another MVP award and has Adams to thank for a good portion of that. Adams reeled in 12 catches on 18 (!!) targets for 132 yards and a touchdown, the first of eight games this season that Rodgers targeted his All-Pro wideout more than 10 times in a game. Adams has lined up against the 49ers five times, with 48 catches on 69 targets for 618 yards and five touchdowns. That’s not going to change on Saturday.

If Mason Crosby had missed the game-winning field goal in Week 3, things might have gone very differently for each team this season. The Packers will be coming off a full week of rest, plus a half of the Week 18 game against the Detroit Lions. Conversely, the 49ers fought until the bitter end on what will technically be a short week. Many of the injuries that Green Bay accumulated over the season, minus Elgton Jenkins and Robert Tonyan, will be back in the mix here for the playoffs. If the Packers are healthy, with weather on their side, they should feel good coming off the bye that they worked so hard to obtain.

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