By Mark Metzler
On Thursday night the Packers had little trouble beating the San Francisco 49ers, 34-17, in San Francisco, where the Packers were easily defeated in the NFC Championship game last January.
San Francisco really should have been called the 25ers because they fielded little more than half the team they had for last year’s championship. Early in the game announcers (and Packers haters) Joe Buck and Troy Aikman pointed out that San Francisco had no one on the field offensively that even touched the ball in last year’s game.
Well, all of that is true, but there was still hope on the part of Buck and Aikman that the 49ers would surprise, and apprehension on the part of Packers fans that the Packers again wouldn’t be able to stop the run, even against the depleted 49ers. Early on, Jerrick McKinnon, who was at best an average back with the Vikings three years ago, was eating off large chunks on the ground.
But the Packers tightened up and were able to keep the ground game in check, partly because 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens wasn’t that good. The Packers were hurt, too. David Bakhtiari was still out, as was wide receiver Allen Lazard, linebacker Christian Kirksey and cornerback Kevin King. During the game, potential All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander went down with a concussion, tackle Rick Wagner had a knee injury, linebacker Krys Barnes went out, as did running back Dexter Williams.
The Packers shuffled the offensive line after the Wagner injury with rookie Jon Runyan coming in to play guard. Ka’Dar Hollman did a nice job at cornerback as well. I felt bad for Williams, who was finally getting a chance, but the injury took him out early. Williams got his chance with COVID-19 hitting the team and running backs A.J. Dillon and Jamaal Williams being ruled out.
Luckily, Aaron Jones came back for the game and played well, as he usually does, and Tyler Ervin was able to get a number of carries and get more involved in the passing game. Remember that Ervin just came back from injury.
Offensively, the line gave Aaron Rodgers plenty of time, and he picked apart the 49ers’ secondary for four touchdown passes, including two touchdown passes to the speedy Marquez Valdes-Scantling. It was encouraging after Valdes-Scantling had dropped an earlier pass. Valdes-Scantling is an enigma. He’s got all the skill to be good, but he keeps dropping passes. On his long touchdown pass, he blew the San Francisco safety as if he were standing still.
Davante Adams had another good game for the Packers with 10 catches and 173 yards. That included two long passes, one for the game’s first touchdown. He and Rodgers are something to watch.
The game was well out of reach at 34-3 before the 49ers scored two touchdowns at the end. It’s hard to judge the defense against a team with so many injuries. The bright side to the Packers injuries is that more people get a chance to play and gain experience. It looks as if Jamaal Williams, Dillon, rookie linebacker Kamal Martin and Barnes could all be back from the COVID-19 list. Plus, it seems that none of the other injuries, other than the one to Dexter Williams, are serious. So, the many of the players should be filtering back by the time the Packers play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
The most disappointing thing about the week was the Packers didn’t add someone else at wide receiver. There had been a lot of talk about Will Fuller V from the Texans, but the Packers didn’t want to pay his contract or give up a second-round pick. That decision should play out fine against mediocre secondaries, but in the big games it is scary to think the Packers are betting on Valdes-Scantling holding on to the ball. Lazard should help, and the tight end play has been good. But not signing a quality wide receiver is a big gamble. Let’s hope it pays off.