Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan met as assistant coaches with the Houston Texans in 2008, driven to pursue the kind of Super Bowl success experienced by Kyle’s dad, Mike Shanahan, more than a decade earlier.
LaFleur and his Packers trek to San Francisco to face Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers Saturday night for a spot in the NFC Championship game in a showdown of systems derived from the elder Shanahan’s scheme.
Based on what he already knows from days and hours by LaFleur’s side and early film review during the bye week, Kyle Shanahan was not surprised by Green Bay’s upset of No. 2 seed Dallas. The 48-32 victory featured a stellar showing from first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love, who narrowly missed a perfect passer rating with three touchdown passes and points on six of the first seven drives.
“The way it started out was a little surprising, but once you watch the tape and really get into Green Bay and you really get to think of their numbers and you watch their players and how they are doing it, it doesn’t surprise me at all now,” Kyle Shanahan said.
LaFleur and the Packers (10-8) last played at San Francisco in September 2021 and scored a 30-28 win over the 49ers. The Niners returned the favor in the wild-card rematch four months later, leaving Lambeau Field with a 13-10 win courtesy of Robbie Gould’s golden toe.
But that history is meaningless, LaFleur said, especially with changes at quarterback and what’s at stake this time around.
“We obviously understand what the consequences are,” LaFleur said. “It’s just that next-game mindset.”
San Francisco (12-5) advanced to the NFC title game in Philadelphia last season but Brock Purdy’s first-half elbow injury helped derail the 49ers in a 31-7 loss.
Purdy has a passer rating of 113.0 this season, piloting an offense that led the NFL in plays of 20-plus yards. Purdy had 31 touchdown passes — Love had 32 — with 11 interceptions in 16 games.
Purdy had three TD passes and 332 yards in his first playoff start, a wild-card win over Seattle, last year, giving him confidence moving forward.
“Every drive and every play really matters,” Purdy said. “Every possession matters. Not turning the ball over … all the little things matter. I just feel like the intensity is just cranked up a little bit more.”
Dallas’ pass rush put little pressure on Love in the wild-card round, but San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa, who had a team-high 10.5 sacks this season, and defensive tackle Arik Armstead present a massive challenge for Green Bay’s unsung offensive line.
Love has 21 touchdowns and one interception in his past nine games.
Bosa likened Love to Purdy in terms of reading progressions, but viewed Packers running back Aaron Jones as a critical key this week. Jones rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns at Dallas, his fourth consecutive game with more than 110 rushing yards.
“We definitely need to stop the run. I don’t think many teams have made him uncomfortable, yet,” Bosa said. “So stopping the run and covering up those easy open guys is something we have to do.”
LaFleur credited Jones as well as the Packers’ offensive line for holding Cowboys pass rusher Micah Parsons in check in the playoff opener. Green Bay allowed eight sacks in the past eight games.
“I think it’s big, it’s been a big reason why he’s been able to do what (Love has) been able to do,” LaFleur said. “We always say, ‘It’s hard to throw when you’re on your back.’ I can’t tell you how many times Aaron Jones saved a couple potential disasters the last few games.”
The Packers held Dallas to 16 points until the middle of the fourth quarter last week and Green Bay has allowed only one first-quarter touchdown since the start of November. Christian McCaffrey was the NFL’s leader in rushing with 1,459 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt and totaling 21 touchdowns in the regular season.
But he’s just one chess piece at Kyle Shanahan’s disposal. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel has 38 touchdowns – 19 rushing and 19 receiving – in his first five seasons and can line up at running back.
Tight end George Kittle had six touchdown catches, one behind a trio of Purdy targets with seven TD grabs: McCaffrey, Samuel and leading receiver Brandon Aiyuk (75 catches for 1,342 yards).
“You have to swarm them. You have to gang tackle these guys. All those guys, collectively, they pose a great challenge,” LaFleur said.
–Field Level Media