The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, January 17, 2020 1:00 am

NFC Championship Game

Packers, 49ers renew rivalry

BARRY WILNER | Associated Press

For the eighth time in 25 years, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers – both 14-3 – face off in the postseason. Green Bay leads 4-3 in what has been a memorable and sometimes spicy rivalry.

San Francisco has won five of its six Super Bowl trips. Green Bay is 4-1.

No matchup has occurred as frequently in the past 25 years. The only teams to play more than eight times in the postseason in the Super Bowl era are the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys. They met for the ninth time last January.

Here's how the Packers and 49ers match up in Sunday's NFC championship game:

When Packers have ball

It's all about Aaron, of course. Except that is Aaron Jones, the breakout running back who has balanced the Packers on offense. Jones is going to get his carries and, Green Bay hopes, his yards.

Naturally, that means the other Aaron – you know, that guy Rodgers who wears No. 12 – isn't forced to carry the attack. Rodgers has slowed a bit, but he's still one of the five best quarterbacks in football, capable of making game-changing plays from the pocket or on the move.

What he doesn't have, other than the brilliant Davante Adams, is a strong group of receivers. That could play into the Niners' hands if they stick stud cornerback Richard Sherman on Adams whenever feasible. But coordinator Robert Saleh prefers to keep Sherman on the left side.

An Adams-Sherman battle, regardless of how often it occurs, could determine a winner, especially if the Niners clamp down on Jones.

Green Bay's offensive line looked off-kilter against Seattle far too many times, but it gets back RT Bryan Bulaga, who was ill last week. LT David Bakhtiari excels but the rest of that unit could be done in by San Francisco's terrific front seven. Rookie Nick Bosa is the latest addition, and he's a force on the outside. DT DeForest Buckner has had a strong impact, and LBs Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander, who is finally healthy, are formidable.

When 49ers have ball

Unlike Green Bay, which relies almost solely on Jones for its running game, the 49ers have a three-pronged group in which Raheem Mostert has emerged as the most impactful. But Tevin Coleman comes off his best game of the season and Matt Breida will be in the mix.

They operate behind a veteran line led by LT Joe Staley and second-year RT Mike McGlinchey, and Kyle Juszczyk is the NFL's top fullback – as a blocker and receiver.

But the key on offense will be how well QB Jimmy Garoppolo hooks up with All-Pro TE George Kittle, the most dynamic offensive player on either side. Kittle is a difference maker who will force Green Bay to use double coverage at times. Packers safeties Darnell Savage, their first-round draft pick last April, and Adrian Amos will have a busy game. As will CBs Jaire Alexander and Kevin King covering Emmanuel Sanders, Kendrick Bourne and the emerging rookie Deebo Samuel.

Don't look for the Niners to get conservative unless they have a big late lead. They will keep attacking as long as the line can hold off Green Bay's “Smith Brothers,” LBs Za'Darius and Preston, on the outside, and Blake Martinez inside.

Za'Darius Smith, who came from Baltimore as a free agent, had 37 quarterback hits and 131/2 sacks, while Preston Smith, late of Washington, had 23 QB hits and 12 sacks.

Special teams

Both teams have veteran placekickers who have been through the postseason grind: San Francisco's Robbie Gould and Green Bay's Mason Crosby. Gould is a bit more reliable.

Packers punters JT Scott has had a much better season than the Niners' Mitch Wishnowsky. Green Bay's return and coverage teams aren't stout, however, while San Francisco is a tad better.

Coaching

Both head coaches oversaw significant turnarounds this season.

Kyle Shanahan, in his third year at the helm, took the 49ers from choosing second in the 2019 draft (Bosa was the prize) to the doorstep of their seventh Super Bowl.

His versatile offense has been solid, and the defense under Saleh has looked immovable at times. The front line is superb, and Saleh, like Shanahan, stays aggressive all game.

There were questions about how Rodgers would meld with new coach Matt LaFleur. It hasn't been an issue, and this is a more efficient ground offense than Rodgers has ever had.

Green Bay is more aggressive – and dangerous – on defense under coordinator Mike Pettine, who turns loose the Smith Brothers often and effectively.

NFC Championship

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

When: 6:40 p.m. Sunday

Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

TV: Fox 


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