On September 26, Matthew Stafford shredded the Buccaneers’ defense to 343 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Rams to a 34-24 victory and demonstrating that Los Angeles was a team to be reckoned with. Hours later, 350 miles north, Aaron Rodgers added to his collection of seemingly impossible comebacks by driving the Packers 42 yards in 34 seconds to set up Mason Crosby’s winning kick to beat the 49ers 30-28.
Both matchups will take place again this weekend and the stakes will be raised significantly. Here are the trends to watch with a place in the NFC championship at stake.
49ers vs. packers
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
The surface stats don’t necessarily stand out, but Jimmy Garoppolo’s game against the Packers was one of his better performances.
After a crappy first half, Garoppolo bounced back with a great second half:
Jimmy Garoppolo Week 3 vs Packers
One thing that stood out behind that success in the second half is that Garoppolo persevered and made moves despite the pressure. Both of his touchdown throws came against pressure, including this one against Brandon Aiyuk in the third quarter.
It may seem simple, but Garoppolo will have to make some plays like this one. The Packers pressured quarterback opponents on 33 percent of their dropbacks this season, the fourth-highest percentage in the NFL this season.
A second thing to keep an eye on is the 49ers’ ability to run the ball. In Week 3, the 49ers had just 67 rushing yards, their second-lowest this season, but rookie Elijah Mitchell was out for that game with a shoulder injury. San Francisco’s 2.2 yards per contact rush was the second lowest all season; you’d think Mitchell’s presence would help with that.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Green Bay held up well against the 49ers defense line in Week 3, with Aaron Rodgers being pressured just five times. It’s the least pressure the 49ers have generated each game this year.
That should probably change for the 49ers to get upset. Rodgers has had a really rough time this season when he was under pressure.
Aaron Rodgers this season when he’s under pressure
Yards per attempt
It will be interesting to see how the 49ers go about creating pressure. Last week’s win over the Cowboys put the San Francisco defense pressure on 39 percent of their non-blitz play, a very high number. Simply put, the front four of the 49ers dominated.
But the Packers were pressured by just 27 percent of their dropbacks this year, the fifth-lowest percentage in the NFL. That number drops to just 24 percent if opponents don’t blitz, making it the fourth lowest in the NFL.
The 49ers had the seventh-lowest blitz percentage in the league, mainly to protect a secondary going up and down. When San Francisco boomed this regular season, it passed a passer rating of 124.6 to opponents, the highest number in the league.
Saturday will be a mystery to the 49ers. They couldn’t put pressure on Rodgers in week 3, but the defense has had a tough time this season. It will likely take another excellent effort from the defensive line to smooth out the disruption.
Rams vs Corsairs
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Sean McVay is widely regarded as one of the brightest attacking heads in football, but sometimes the best game plans are the simplest. The Buccaneers have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, so in Week 3, the Rams decided to get the ball out fast. Matthew Stafford released the ball in an average of 2.34 seconds, his fastest of the entire season. On pitches in which he got the ball out in two seconds or less, Stafford was 11 for 12 for 71 yards and two touchdowns, for a score of 130.9 pass.
The regular season meeting between these teams sparked a major shift in Tampa Bay’s defense. In Weeks 1-3, the Buccaneers played Cover-2 on nearly 28 percent of their defensive snaps. In the remaining 14 games of the regular season, that dropped to 16 percent and Cover-3 became their main cover (39 percent).
Finally, Stafford also thrived with throws on his right side between numbers and the sidelines: 9-10 for 144 yards, three touchdowns, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. It may seem like a strange area to analyze, but the Buccaneers have struggled to defend it all season. During the regular season, Tampa Bay allowed 1,169 passing yards in this area of the field, the third most in the league. These kinds of plays were the reason why:
Of course, plays like this are also one of the reasons Tampa Bay didn’t play Cover-2 as much anymore. We will see on Sunday whether that adjustment bears fruit.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Tom Brady has always had one of the fastest releases in the NFL, and this season was no different. The 44-year-old averaged just 2.38 seconds to get the ball out of his hands, the second fastest in the NFL.
This was especially evident in Week 3 against the Rams. Brady completed an absurd 25 of his 28 attempts that came out in 2.5 seconds or less and put in 221 yards on those throws.
The problem for Brady is that some of his favorite targets on these fast hitters won’t be available this weekend.
This regular season, when at least one of Godwin or Brown was on the field, Brady released the ball in an average of 2.36 seconds. When both were off the field, that number rose to 2.48.
That may not seem like much of a difference, but think about it: The Rams took an average of 2.42 seconds this season to pressure opponents quarterbacks, the sixth fastest in the NFL. That extra twelve hundredth of a second case.
Brady was pressured 31.7% of his season slump during the Buccaneers’ first meeting this season, which was before the Rams added Von Miller. The battle between the legendary quarterback and the highly talented Rams defense will be fascinating.
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