Brock Purdy NFL Story

Five 49ers to watch in divisional-round bout vs. Packers

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SANTA CLARA -- The Green Bay Packers might have entered the postseason a little under the radar.

After all, there was little impressive about the Packers during the regular season.

They dropped to 6-8, their defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, was under intense criticism, and they barely survived the worst team in football, the Carolina Panthers, in Week 16 to stay alive.

But all perceptions of the Packers changed in the first round of the NFC playoffs with their 48-32 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys.

“You win on the road as the seventh seed against a really good Dallas team, that’s enough in itself,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “The fact that they won the way that they did, our hat’s off to them.”

With the No. 1 seed already clinched, the 49ers rested a lot of their top players for the Week 18 game against the Los Angeles Rams. Many of their starters have gone 19 days without playing a full, meaningful game.

The 49ers will need to come out sharp. And here are five players who will be key in their NFC divisional playoff round game against the Packers on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium:

5, RT Colton McKivitz

When the season began, the position on either side of the ball that was the biggest unknown was right tackle.

Colton McKivitz took over for Mike McGlinchey,  who signed a big-money contract with the Denver Broncos as a free agent. The drop-off this season was negligible.

After a rough opening game going one-on-one against Pittsburgh Steelers star edge rusher T.J. Watt, McKivitz settled in and did his part for an offense that ranked third in the league at 28.9 points per game.

All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams will take care of business on the other side. That leaves McKivitz going up against Rashan Gary, who led the Packers with nine sacks on the season.

If McKivitz can hold his own against Gary, the 49ers’ offense can flood the pass routes with five eligibles and feast at every level against Green Bay’s up-and-down defense.

4, DE Chase Young

Of course, the 49ers are counting on defensive end Nick Bosa to turn it up another notch during the postseason. He registered 10.5 sacks in the regular season and was stout in setting the edge against the run.

The wild card is defensive end Chase Young, whom the 49ers acquired in a midseason trade from the Washington Commanders for this very reason.

Starting defensive end Clelin Ferrell is out this week with a knee injury. That means Young will start and play a large percentage of the team’s snaps in base and nickel situations.

Young lines up on the defense’s right side. He will go up against Packers left tackle Rasheed Walker, a second-year player who was a seventh-round draft pick from Penn State.

Packers right tackle Zach Tom will get assistance on the other side against Bosa, so Young will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities to get after Jordan Love for game-changing types of plays.

3, RB Christian McCaffrey

He is rested, fresh and ready.

First-team All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in rushing yards (1,459), scrimmage yards (2,023) and tied for an NFL-most 21 touchdowns.

The Packers ranked 28th in rushing defense during the regular season, and they almost certainly will stack the box to slow down McCaffrey.

McCaffrey is such a huge part of the 49ers’ offensive approach, that if the Packers try to take one thing away, it should leave other avenues for coach Kyle Shanahan to explore.

The 49ers want to maintain a balanced approach, and there are so many different ways for the team to get the ball into McCaffrey’s hands in the run game or the passing attack.

McCaffrey could thrive as a pass catcher with his ability to run routes and create separation against Packers linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker.

McCaffrey is fully recovered from a mild calf strain, and he figures to put in a full night of work on Saturday.

2, LB Fred Warner

Warner is the heart and soul of the 49ers’ defense.

And the three-time All-Pro player will have to be at the top of his game Saturday against seven-year veteran running back Aaron Jones and the rest of the Packers’ offense.

As much as McCaffrey makes the 49ers’ offense go, the same can be said for Jones and the Packers. Jones has rushed for more than 100 yards in four consecutive games since coming back from hamstring and knee injuries.

“The thing that was really impressive was the way they were able to run the football,” Warner said of the Packers’ playoff win at Dallas. “Aaron Jones has been playing at a super-high level. I’ve respected his game for a long time.”

Jones’ ability to run the ball has helped set up Love to pick defenses apart with play-action. Love has thrown 21 touchdowns with just one interception over the past nine games.

Warner must be on point with his tackling and cover skills against a Packers offense that is peaking at the right time.

1, QB Brock Purdy

Don’t you get the impression that those who do not place Brock Purdy among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL haven’t watched him play?

Or, maybe, they only tuned in to watch the 49ers on their Christmas night game against the Baltimore Ravens.

This is Purdy’s second postseason as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. A year ago, he completed 41 of 63 pass attempts for 569 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs.

Purdy has a lot more experience this time around, and he established himself as a legitimate MVP candidate during the regular season.

He was named the NFC Pro Bowl starter after setting 49ers records with 4,280 yards passing with a 113.0 passer rating.

In a recent interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, he outlined his self-expectations in doing his part for his team this postseason.

“We have everything in terms of what it takes,” Purdy said. “How can I make the right decisions? How can I be aggressive? How can I be smart and protect the ball? That's my job. I've got to be a point guard and distribute it to the right guys.”

Purdy consistently has made the right decisions since taking over as the team's starter. With the possibility of inclement weather at Levi's Stadium, taking care of the football will be the top priority for both young quarterbacks.

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