49ers Mailbag: Who is better now, 49ers or Packers?

San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner, left, celebrates with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) after the 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

This postseason for the 49ers is setting up to be a fun ride.

After defeating the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday, San Francisco will next travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to take on the Packers. Talk about history. These first two matchups are dripping with it.

Bravo to the 49ers faithful for asking an excellent balance of questions covering the win over Dallas, looking forward to Green Bay and possible front office moves this offseason.

Let’s get this started off with the questions:

Jamie Hess @JamieHess9ers – Why does Kyle Shanahan go away from play that worked so well in the first half? Deebo Samuel couldn’t be stopped, and they stopped giving him the ball.

It didn’t look like Kyle Shanahan went away from anything on Sunday. The 49ers ran the ball 19 times in the first half for 70 yards and a touchdown. They came out in the second half and ran the ball 19 times for 99 yards and a touchdown.

After having only 13 yards on four carries at halftime, Deebo Samuel gained 59 yards and scored a touchdown on six carries in the second half.

The difference wasn’t Shanahan. It was Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo was terrific in the first half, completing 11 of 14 passes for 133 yards and making several big plays to convert on third down.

The second half was a completely different story. Garoppolo was able to complete only five of 11 attempts for 39 yards and an interception.

Shanahan dialed up a third down play that saw Brandon Aiyuk get wide open and Garoppolo blew the throw, sailing it over Aiyuk’s head.

On the next possession, Garoppolo threw an interception while moving to his right to get away from pressure, and at that point it became about moving the ball in small chunks and keeping the clock going.

The only two play calls from Shanahan in the second half that were debatable were calling for a pass on third and one on the opening possession, and having Trent Williams motion on fourth and inches with only 40 seconds left to play.

Jordy Niner @JordyNiner – How was DeMeco Ryans able to stay dominant against Dallas after losing both Bosa and Warner?

One word: depth.

The 2021 49ers pass rush may not be at the same level as it was in 2019 with regards to the starters, but the totality of that group is better.

Arden Key, Jordan Willis, Charles Omenihu, Kevin Givens, Kentavius Street. This group gives the San Francisco defensive line a strong rotation which does not have much of a dropoff from the starting group.

At linebacker the 49ers have Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair. Greenlaw started alongside Warner for much of the 2019 season, and Al-Shaair was able to play at a high level throughout 2021 with Greenlaw out due to injury.

Neither Greenlaw nor Al-Shaair can play at the level of Warner, but they are still pretty good compared to other linebackers in the NFL.

Lukey Walsh @LukeyWalsh – Of Mike McDaniel, DeMeco Ryans, Adam Peters and Ran Carthon, which would be the most difficult to replace if they were hired from another team as head coach or general manager?

In the spirit of the question the answer would be Mike McDaniel. After all, it’s Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

A bigger point needs to be made here. The 49ers under Shanahan and Lynch have done a very good job of building a bench of talented individuals throughout the organization.

Losing Ryans would sting, but they have defensive assistants with previous experience as coordinators in the NFL.

It’s a similar story with Adam Peters and Ran Carthon.

There was concern around this time last year when Martin Mayhew was hired away from San Francisco to become the general manager in Washington.

Losing Peters or Carthon would be a blow, but San Francisco seems to have the pieces already in place to promote from within and move forward.

Mario @The 803_Chemist – The Green Bay Packers used quick passing, chipping, and the run game to neutralize the pass rush of the 49ers in week three. Do you think that will work again? Can the defense make Green Bay one dimensional?

The ability to get the ball out quick and accurately is a big part of what makes facing Aaron Rodgers so tough. Everyone should fully expect to see Green Bay try all those techniques on Sunday.

Against Dallas we saw the Cowboys try to chip Nick Bosa on the first third down of the game, except the 49ers had a stunt called and Bosa looped around inside and was nearly untouched as he and Samson Ebukam took Dak Prescott down for a sack which set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Maybe they’ve been saving the chip beaters for the playoffs.

As good as Aaron Rodgers was back in week three, the 49ers defense held him under 300 yards passing.

The other problem for San Francisco in the first matchup was their run defense. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 100 yards on 25 carries.

The 49ers defense has held their last 10 opponents to under 100 yards rushing.

If San Francisco can make Green Bay one dimensional it should lead to a strong defensive performance on Saturday night.

Swan Song @SwanSongNC – Which team has improved more since the week three meeting: 49ers or Packers?

At first glance the answer would probably be San Francisco, but this is a tough call. Let’s look at some of the changes.

In the first matchup Elijah Mitchell was on the sidelines and Deebo Samuel carried the ball only two times for zero yards.

Josh Norman also started opposite Emmanuel Moseley and would be replaced by Dontae Johnson and Deommodore Lenoir. It was Lenoir who allowed the completion to Davante Adams which set up the game winner.

Back in week three the 49ers pass rush was much different as well. Samson Ebukam and Arden Key played only 19 and 11 snaps each.

Each of these areas has shown drastic improvement for San Francisco over the second half of the season.

The changes aren’t limited to only San Francisco. Green Bay should have left tackle David Bakhtiari back on Saturday night and is hopeful to also have linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus ready to go.

Bakhtiari and Smith both missed the first game due to injury, and Mercilus was a member of the Houston Texans in week three.

This article has 22 Comments

  1. I’ve always heard a football gets hard as a rock in severe cold. Supposed to be around 7 degrees at kickoff. Wondering if the weather will make it even more difficult for Jimmy to grip the ball with that thumb injury.

    1. Jimmy grew up in Chicago and has said he does not mind the cold weather. I think we might have the advantage in this game being able to run it like we do.

      I think I remember some guys dropping balls when we played in GB in 2013. Advantage was 49ers in that game then. We play the same brand of football.

      1. so does that mean he is the eighth best qb in the nfl ? another meaningless stat to downgrade Jimmy. he is in the playoffs while a lot of so called better qbs sit home and watch. Niner fans are the worst

  2. The pros to loosing coordinators and front office personnel is that you get compensatory picks in return.

  3. “Losing Peters or Carthon would be a blow, but San Francisco seems to have the pieces already in place to promote from within and move forward.”
    This just shows what a great team Lynch and Shanahan are. No politics involved, no self serving decisions, just all about winning. I can see this team being good for many years with this tandem in place.

    1. One of my favorite sports columnist was Lowell Cohn of the SF Chronicle and he wrote an article comparing and contrasting the coaching styles of Bill Walsh and Mike Ditka (Chicago Bears Head Coach). This article or a mix of articles shortly before the Superbowl XIX against Dan Marino and the Dolphins, but after the 84 NFC Championship game between the 49ers vs. Bears made me reflect on the coaches I liked playing for and the coaches I despised.

      Watching NFL football at age 5 is much different than watching at age 10, age 15, age 20, age 30, and so on. At what age do you choose your favorite player and mimic his moves. At what age do you choose a sport and choose a position on the team. At what age do you really understand the game. As I grew older and my kids were old enough to play sports, I always reflected on this article that’s etched into my memory because I wanted to coach my kids and other neighborhood kids. I coached all the major sports on a little league level: baseball, basketball, and football. Because of this particular Lowell Cohn article, I wanted to coach like Bill Walsh who was a teacher since he taught and explained how plays worked as well as developing player’s skills. Using the carrot or positive reinforcement as a motivation for a player, rather than using the stick as a punishment to motivate a player. I didn’t want to be like Mike Ditka talking tough, yelling at players, making players do pushups or running laps, or putting players in the doghouse. Mike Ditka liked to talk tough and he had the bravado to say “The German army couldn’t beat us.” Shortly after his public statement, the 49ers shutout the Bears, 23-0, at Candlestick Park on January 6, 1985, Mike Ditka was so frustrated with the loss, he angrily took out a piece of gum from his mouth and threw it a young female 49er fan. If your a player who played for a coach like Ditka, it’s a long bus ride home because those coaches like to yell, demean people, embarass them in public, and put them in doghouses. Bill Walsh, on the hand, reviewed the film, analyzes what went right, what went wrong, and made next game adjustments. The yelling, the discipline, the questioning of why did this, and why you did that was done in classroom, in practice, or in private. So I learned a lot about Bill Walsh and the 49ers from the great sports writers at the SF Chronicle.

      I would like to say that I was happy to see the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan as his dad, Mike Shanahan, was a terrific offensive coordinator for the 49ers from 92-94. The Broncos led by John Elway had always been a pass first offense until Mike Shanahan became the head coach of the Broncos in the late 90s. They became a run first offense because of their RB stud, Terrell Davis, rushed for 1750 and 2008 yards, in their Superbowl years. They were a well balanced team because John Elway was already a great passing QB. And I also see that Kyle is following that same path as his father.

      All of those years watching John Madden and Pat Summerall, I learned that you save your timeouts for freezing the kicker, crucial 3rd or 4th down situations, but you always wanted at least two timeouts because you always had the two minute warning timeout for the end of half or end of game situations to conserve time and having one more chance to score. Throughout HC Shanahan tenure since 2017, he’s been using timeouts on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th downs, and often times right before his offense or the opposing offense snaps the ball. There’s really no rhyme or reason why he does this. Maybe he doesn’t like the 49ers defensive positioning, the opposing defense’s positioning, or he wants to change the offensive play. I don’t know!

      For example, it’s the 49ers 3rd possession of Cowboys playoff game, the 49ers are up 10-0, with 56 seconds left in the first quarter, 1st and 10 on the SF 32, and Jimmy G throws a 9 yd pass completion. There’s 16 seconds left in the first quarter, 2nd and 1 on the SF 41, HC Shanahan calls timeout before the snap. After the timeout, he calls a run play that results in a -2yd loss. It’s now 3rd and 3 at the SF 39 to start the second quarter. Can someone explain why he called a timeout? Now to me, that’s baffling!

      Here’s one of the rare examples I’ve witnessed HC Shanahan save his timeouts for the end of game situation to conserve time in which Jimmy G tied the game with the Rams and later won it in overtime. There’s two minutes and 49 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Jimmy G goes three and out, and they punt. The 49ers defense stop the Rams as they go three and out, and HC Shanahan uses their three timeouts to stop the clock. After the Rams punt, Jimmy G passes five times and scored the tying TD on a 88 yd drive in one minute and one second. This is excellent clock management by Shanahan.

      In last Sunday’s Cowboys game, HC Shanahan called a great game because he knew the Cowboys wanted to stop run game. Cowboys LB Parsons had the machismo to call out the 49ers in public. He said, “Where I come from, we BULLY the bullies!” The Cowboys had eight in the box. It reminded me of the Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense (Bears D-Coordinator in the 80s under HC Mike Ditka). Four D-Lineman, Six across, and the lone FS. This was the 84 NFC Championship against the Bears was when the three step QB drop was born and the quick slant to the WR. Buddy Ryan was an aggressive D-Coordinator. They had four D-Lineman, and the other four in the box (3 LB and SS) would also blitz between each gap, and often times they would stop the run play for a loss or pressure the QB in a pass play. Bill Walsh made the necessary halftime adjustment with a three step QB drop, quick slant to the Niners WRs, and they blew game open, 23-0. Thats why Ditka was so HUMILIATED he threw a piece of gum at a lady according to Cohn’s article. The reason why I say that HC Shanahan called a great in the first half, he opened the game with more pass plays as that kept the Cowboys off balance. There were five possessions in the first half, scored on the first four drives, and fifth drive had only 22 seconds left in the first half and ran three run plays to end the half. There was a total of 19 runs (61 yds) and 14 passes (11-14, 133 yds). In the second half, Dallas made in game adjustments Dak’s crucial interception. Their defense made plays when they had to and kept the 49ers running game from scoring again. This was eighth game this year that the opposing team outscored the 49ers in the second half of games. This tells me that the defense can’t hold leads.

      In today’s 49ers player/coach interviews, DeMeco Ryans was asked by the press, “if he had a “redo” against the Cowboys last drive from the Dallas 20 to the SF 22, what would he do differently?” His answers were not to give up chunk yards, and also to keep them out of the end zone. Frankly, I’m not satisfied with those answers. The 49ers defense did give up those “chunk” yards, and they were lucky that the brilliant and overpaid Dak Prescott ran a QB sneak with no timeouts left, and he ran out the clock to lose the game. Hahaha!

      The next press question was about what Coach DeMeco Ryan thought about the last two passes of the game winning drive where Green Bay kicked the FG to win. His answer was that’s why he’s a great QB. Aaron Rodgers does what he does best. Well, this is definitely not the answer I want to hear. I wanted to hear him say, we’re going to bump Davante Adams at the line, and double cover him, and take away that threat from the Green Bay offense. Or if he wanted to be sly, we’ve made next game adjustments and you’ll see it on Sunday.

  4. It’s really hard to determine how much a team has improved from week 3 to the playoffs. Every team changes dramatically during the season. Too many aspects to the 49ers that have contributed to their improvement to list. I think you have to look at end of year trends to see where each team is now. The Packers last 5 games (not counting Detroit since so many starters rested), were against Vikings, Browns, Ravens, Bears, Rams. Packers put up an average of 34+ points per game in those 5 games. Vikings, Bears, and Ravens were not very good defenses. Even the Browns, who do have a pretty good defense, gave up the 12th most passing TDs in the league this year. Packers end of season offensive numbers were a bit skewed because of the defenses they were playing. 49ers Defense ended the year giving up the 9th fewest points. They were ranked #12 in passing TDs allowed but #22 in Rushing TDs allowed. 49ers Defense last 5 games were against Rams, Texans, Titans, Falcons, and Bengals. In those games the 49ers Defense gave up an average of 17 points per game. Texans and Falcons were poor but the Rams, Titans, and Bengals had pretty good offenses. My belief is the 49er defense is going into this game playing at a very high level that doesn’t really reflect how they started the year. This will be the best defense the Packers have faced in maybe 8 or 9 weeks. I’m expecting a relatively low scoring game which is better for the 49ers I think because the 49ers have a better run game. Too early for a prediction but I like our chances.

      1. Actually if you looked at the stats for the Cowboy game, it showed a favorable matchup for the 49ers. Strength of opponent, defensive, and rushing stats all favored the 49ers.

  5. @Jack:

    I think Demeco is an improvement over Saleh. However, Romo questioned the S.F. defensive strategy at the end of the Dallas game. He kept saying that the 49ers needed to protect the sidelines and they didn’t at least for the first 40 yards or so. Do you agree with Romo’s assessment? The Cowboys moved the ball quickly by throwing to the sidelines and having the receivers step out of bounds. Romo’s comments sound logical and obvious to me. What is your take?

    1. This is Demeco’s weakness – In 2 minute drills – the opposing OC calls a play that moves them forward – Demeco does not adjust immediately

      Example – Versus the Cardinals in the reg season – last drive of the game, he blitz Kwilliams – Colt throws to his hot read – quick slant to the slot WR – next play – he calls the same blitz with Kwilliams and Colt again throws to his hot read – Game Over.

      The Cowboys from their 25 – complete the first pass to the sidelines – Demeco calls the same exact play – Cowboys are now on our 40…..

  6. “Who is better now, 49ers or Packers “

    Niners are definitely an improved team since our 2 point loss in week 3. In addition to the points Jack makes about our Corners and RBs, we are improved at WR. Jennings has emerged as a 3rd down / move the chains weapon and Aiyuk has fulfilled his promise as a premier pass catcher. The other thing is that the NFC west schedule sharpens our steel. Some of the other playoff teams did not have a very challenging regular season schedule.

  7. DeMeco Ryans is most definitely not an improvement over Robert Saleh. Ryans has been a coach for 4 years. Robert Saleh has been a coach for 19 years. DeMeco’s in game strategy issues have been obvious. Giving up late leads against the Packers and Titans was a coaching issue with late game tactics. The game plans against the Colts and the Colt McCoy led Cardinals were awful. I wouldn’t fire the guy, His defense has gotten much better as the year has gone on but I would definitely expect him to improve as a defensive coordinator next year. Although, I don’t think he’s ready it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Texans wanted to interview DeMeco for their head coaching job given his ties to that organization.

    1. Yes, the game plan against the Cardinals and McCoy was awful. However, Ryans has improved considerably since then and I think Demeco at this point is the better DC. Despite all his talk about chess strategies, I never got the impression that Saleh really made very many adjustments. Particularly if a game was going badly he kept sticking with the original plan (example: Miami game in 2020 where Fitz torched Brian Allen over and over and over and over again). Demeco, I believe, would at least have tried to do something different (like safety help, maybe), but Saleh didn’t until IIRC, Witherspoon decided he would be willing to play. For that reason, mainly, I believe that Demeco will be better overall; he is pretty good at this point in time and at least willing to try something different (for example, blitz more) when appropriate.

        1. Jack: Any thoughts on my question above regarding Romo’s analysis that the 49ers should have been “guarding” the sidelines at the end of the game to keep the Cowboys from marching down the field so quickly.

          1. Romo was correct. Almost as soon as he made that comment the 49ers called timeout and changed up their defense, leading to the Prescott run up the middle and time expiring.

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