The Green Bay Packers will open their 2021 playoff run on Saturday night when they face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. While there are many matchups that can give either team an advantage, one of the most important is the play of each team’s top receiver. For the Packers, that means Davante Adams and for the 49ers, Deebo Samuel. Limiting the effectiveness of these dangerous weapons goes a long way to slowing down the opposing team’s offense.
Adams has been the Packers top receiver for the past several years and he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons and All Pro in the last two campaigns. Adams also set new Packers franchise records this season with 123 catches and 1,553 yards. He is presently considered one of the best if not the best receiver in the NFL today.
The former Fresno State star has shined against the 49ers in his career. In four regular season matchups, he has 39 catches for 480 yards and five touchdowns. He has never had fewer than seven catches in a game against San Francisco and has topped 100 yards in three of the four games while catching at least one touchdown in all four of them.
Even in the Packers embarrassing defeat against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in the 2019 playoffs, Adams shined. Tae caught nine passes for 138 yards in that game and was one of the few bright spots in a poor overall performance by the Packers.
Veteran 49ers cornerback Josh Norman respects Adams. “He’s a special cat,” Norman said a few days before the regular season meeting between these teams in Week 3. “He grows every year. You think you figure it out and he just evolves his game into something else…he’s always going to show you something different.”
Norman also acknowledged the connection between Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “He and A-Rod got a special connection,” Norman added. “Every time I’ve played them, those guys lock in on each other…They know what they want to do and it’s going to be quite a challenge.”
In Week 3, Adams finished with 12 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. When the game was on the line and the Packers needed to get into field goal range in 37 seconds and with no timeouts, Rodgers completed two clutch passes to Adams, one for 25 yards and another for 17 that set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning, 51-yard field goal as time expired.
The 49ers will have to try to find a way to slow down Adams who is masterful at disguising his patterns off the snap of the ball. Expect head coach Matt LaFleur to design plays to maximize Adams’ impact and to come up with big gains in key situations.
On defense, the 49ers will try to limit the damage Adams and Rodgers can do without leaving the Packers other receivers like Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb open that they can do significant damage on Saturday night.
The 49ers top offensive weapon is Deebo Samuel. The former South Carolina star was named to the Pro Bowl and the All Pro team in his third NFL season this year. The 49ers utilize him in a variety of ways whether it’s as a traditional wide receiver, a slot receiver or even as a running back out of the backfield.
Samuel finished the season with 77 catches for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a very healthy 18.2-yards per carry.
In the second half of the season, the 49ers started to play Samuel at running back and lined him up on many plays in the backfield. He ran the ball 59 times for 365 yards, an average of 6.2-yard average per carry. He also ran for eight touchdowns and the 49ers went 7-0 in games he had a rushing touchdown.
Not knowing where a dangerous weapon like Samuel is going to line up creates challenges for a defense. “It definitely adds another layer to their complex offense,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur told reporters. “They do such a great job of formationing, motioning, giving very complementary plays. You’ve got to be very disciplined with your eyes and your rules and responsibilities. But Deebo, he is a dynamic player. He’s one of the more elite players in this league, and they find different ways to get him the ball, whether it’s handing it off, whether it’s reverses, in the passing game. He’s a physical guy. And I think it does present some problems when you just aren’t quite sure where he’s going to line up. Is he going to be in the halfback position and the halfbacks going to be out wide, or vice versa? He’s a guy we have to account for on every play.”
The Packers have had difficulty covering wide receivers lining up in the backfield this season with the Vikings, Bears and Rams each creating mismatches with one of their top receivers against the Packers dime back. LaFleur and defensive coordinator Joe Barry will need to have a strategy to address the threat Samuel creates as a runner and as a receiver.
The performance of these two receivers will be vital to the success of both offenses and to the outcome of the game. If the Packers can get the ball to Adams and contain Samuel their chances of winning the game go up significantly. The challenge awaits on Saturday night.
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