Photo credit: ninersnation.com
By: Joe Lami
The toughest stretch of the season is here for the San Francisco 49ers and will give some clarity as to how elite the NFC leaders are. Over the next three weeks, their opponents’ combined records are 24-6 as all three appear like playoff locks. They start this critical stretch, hosting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
With the game now flexed into the primetime slot, the entire country will get to find out how real the Niners are. Injuries continue to be the biggest concern heading into the weekend for the red and gold against their toughest opponent thus far.
Joe Staley will miss a minimum of two weeks with a broken finger, but rookie Justin Skule has been an incredible surprise protecting Garoppolo’s blind side so far.
Matt Breida’s nagging ankle injury has held him off the practice field once again this week. It appears Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr. will fueling San Francisco’s running attack come Sunday.
Robbie Gould is expected to miss his third-straight game, but Chase McLaughlin has connected on 4-of-5 as a Niner and will be depended on again, come Sunday. His lone miss was the overtime shank against the Seahawks.
Dee Ford’s absence will leave the most significant question mark for San Francisco. His quad injury will leave him out and will re-structure how the D-line is set-up. Arik Armstead has had an outstanding year thus far, leading the team with eight sacks, but how will he perform lining up on the edge?
Both Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders are questionable, giving hope that Garoppolo will have weapons at wide-out.
More importantly, Kittle got back onto the practice field in a non-contact jersey on Thursday and Friday. His status will be a game-time decision, according to Shanahan, but leaves optimism that he’s making his return. Kittle’s absence has been missed most, surprisingly on the run game, as the Niners’ rushing attack has dipped from 4.9 yards per rush to 3.5 without him on the field.
Aside from injuries, the match-up favors the Niners on paper. Their biggest challenge will be finding a way to slow down Aaron Rodgers, which easier said than done. Rodgers enters Sunday’s contest with a 17 TD to 2 INT ratio, third in the NFL, and hasn’t thrown a pick in 138 attempts, but San Francisco owns the #1 pass defense in the league and has forced the fourth-most picks in the league.
The 49ers have the most elite pass rush in the league. If they’re able to get to Rodgers, that’ll be their best chance to forcing him into mistakes.
Green Bay brings in the #2 red-zone offense against the #1 red-zone defense. Will San Francisco’s defense continues to show the bend, don’t break attitude they’ve had all year or will the dam finally burst?
Expect a massive run attack from the 49ers. Green Bay brings in the 25th defense in the league. San Francisco is set-up for a field day; they’ve been averaging 225.8 yards per game against bottom ten rush defenses.
Kittle returning to the line up brings more firepower to it. When Kittle’s been in the lineup, San Francisco is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, but without him, they’ve only been averaging 3.5 yards per carry.