NFL playoffs: Key matchups to watch in each NFC divisional-round game

Much like last week’s wild-card weekend, we should see a couple of high-scoring games in the NFC divisional round. 49ers head coach and offensive play caller Kyle Shanahan against Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry is a huge coaching mismatch. How will Shanahan attack Barry’s unit? The Buccaneers held the Lions to only 20 points in Week 6, but both teams have evolved since then. How will Detroit handle an even more aggressive Bucs defense this time around? Here are a couple of vital matchups to watch out for on the NFC side this weekend.

The 49ers were second in the league in snaps out of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end and two receivers) in the regular season. With Christian McCaffrey in the fold, the play-design possibilities for Shanahan out of this grouping are endless. The natural defensive response is to match with heavy personnel and play base (some combination of seven defensive linemen and linebackers with four defensive backs) to avoid getting gashed on the ground, but the 49ers have eviscerated base personnel through the air. They lead the league in net yards per pass attempt (10.7) and overall yards per game (129.1) against base personnel. They also rank sixth in yards per rush (4.2) against it. If teams want to risk playing nickel (five defensive backs) against their 21 personnel, they average 4.7 yards per rush against it.

Is Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry earning his job back for next season?

All of this is a lot of words and numbers that basically tell us the Packers defense has no good answers against this 49ers offense. Assuming that head coach Matt LaFleur has had enough of Barry going light against heavy personnel, the Packers may come into the game with the intent of stopping McCaffrey and forcing Brock Purdy to beat them with their base personnel. When facing base, the 49ers tend to target tight end Kittle, who leads the 49ers in receptions (24) and receiving yards (417) against base defense.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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