Jason Wilde breaks down what he thinks the Packers need to accomplish to earn a victory in their Week 3 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
1. BRING THE NOISE?
While Levi’s Stadium might not be viewed as the NFL’s most hostile environment for visiting teams, this will mark the first time the Packers have played a true road game with genuine, in-person crowd noise from a stadium full of fans since their victory at Detroit on Dec. 29, 2019, in the regular-season finale of Matt LaFleur’s first year as head coach.
And that’s … a good thing?
“Yeah, it’ll feel good,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said — knowing full well that it’ll make his job harder, potentially requiring him to go to a silent count at the line of scrimmage. “It’ll feel like normal football and being able to have a crowd to deal with and the environment. It makes things tougher communication wise, for sure, but it also makes things tougher on the defense as well to get their calls in because of the crowd noise.
“We’re going to have to do a good job of handling it with our young guys up front, but that’s what we’ve been working on the last, I’d say month of camp and the first two weeks of the season is silent count and being ready to adjust to that noise. And we’ll be ready.”
Those training-camp preparations were with the expectation that the offense would be dealing with a noisy Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, but the aftermath of Hurricane Ida shifted that game against the Saints to Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field, where Packers fans outnumbered Saints fans 10 to 1. (A lot of good it did the Packers, who lost, 38-3.)
Now, the 49ers and their fearsome front four could take advantage of the noise against a Packers’ in-flux offensive line that will likely be missing left tackle Elgton Jenkins.
“When you look at their edge rushers, the way they’re able to get pressure on the quarterback, it’s going to be very important for us on the outside to make sure we’re winning our one-on-one battles and continue to move the sticks and put us in positions to find a way to win a game,” wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “We’re going into a hostile environment, having fans. Obviously playing in Jacksonville is a little different than playing in New Orleans.
“It’s going to be a test for us, being able to understand the importance of communication and making sure we’re in tune with the game plan.”
2. DIFFERENT STOKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
A week after playing just eight defensive snaps in his NFL regular-season debut, first-round pick Eric Stokes (above) found himself in an expanded role against the Lions, playing 44 of the Packers’ 57 defensive snaps and contributing a pair of crucial pass break-ups.
“I’m not going to lie, coming into Monday I was very nervous, even though I’d played on big stages (in college),” the rookie cornerback admitted Friday. “It wasn’t like the moment was too big or anything. It was just like, ‘This is Monday night. I grew up watching Monday night. Everybody watches Monday night. So let me make the best of my opportunities.'”
While Stokes was far from perfect, the role he played — lining up at outside corner opposite Jaire Alexander while Kevin King moved inside to the slot position — appears to be his ticket to an expanded role early in his rookie season. His defense on a fourth-down play to end one of the Lions’ offensive threats was just the beginning.
“One thing I would say, I think he’s learning from his mistakes. He’s really receptive to what we tell him,” said third-year safety Darnell Savage, who started as a rookie first-round pick himself. “It’s tough coming in as a rookie because the college game and the NFL game are so different, just how offenses try to set you up and do different things. The fact that he’s as open to asking questions and learning from us as he is, it’s going to do nothing but help him. That’s what I’m most impressed by is just the fact that how receptive he is and how many questions he asks. He really takes it out there to the field with him.”
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry indicated that Stokes will have a similar role against the 49ers, as he believes Alexander, King and Stokes need to be on the field at the same time.
“We feel like we’ve got three really good corners in Eric, Jaire and Kevin. As many times as we can get all three of them on the field, (the better),” Barry said. “A lot of things (the 49ers) do, especially in the passing game and the protection game, (are predicated on) the identification of who is that nickel. So if you can keep them guessing a little bit, it’s always going to be beneficial. But again, the main reason we do it is we feel we’ve got three really good corners (we want) on the field at the same time.”
3. CONTAINING KITTLE
A week after not having many answers for Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson, the Packers defense must now contend with a tight end who’s even better: The 49ers’ George Kittle (above), whose numbers through two games (eight receptions, 95 yards, no touchdowns) aren’t all that impressive but belie the level of respect the Packers have for the two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler.
“There’s really nothing that he does bad. Just simply (put), I don’t think you can (stop him),” Barry said. “The way he approaches the game, the way he plays the game, it is full-speed nasty all the time. He does everything violent, he does everything physical, he does everything full speed.
“George, the respect I have for him, being in the (NFC West) division the last four years in L.A. (with the Rams), he’s not a glorified wideout by any means. They put him in three-point stances and ask him to base block the best defensive end on the field. They’ll put him in the backfield and ask him to chip and help tackles in protection. A lot of great tight ends won’t do that because they want to catch the ball and make yards, which he does. But he does everything well.”
The Packers watched Hockenson catch eight of the nine passes thrown his way for 66 yards, including a 20-yard completion and an 8-yard touchdown. And while Deebo Samuel leads the 49ers in receiving (15 catches, 282 yards, one TD), you can bet 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has a large part of his game plan dedicated to running the ball and getting Kittle more involved.
“Their whole offense, the thing with them is you’ve got to be really disciplined with your eyes,” Savage said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re reading our keys and not trying to jump any plays or anything like that because, at the end of the day, they’ve got a lot of misdirection and stuff that can really fool you.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.
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Aaron Rodgers and the Packers pulled off a last-minute rally of their own after the San Francisco 49ers scored a touchdown with less than a minute remaining, escaping California with a 30-28 victory on Mason Crosby's last-second field goal at Levi's Stadium.
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