What to watch for in Packers-49ers on 'Thursday Night Football'

Each of them looking to rebound from defeats and overcome losses on the roster due to injuries or the coronavirus, a pair of NFC heavyweights will collide to kick off Week 9.

An NFC Championship Game rematch awaits as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (5-2) square off with Nick Mullens and the host San Francisco 49ers (4-4) at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thursday Night Football from Levi’s Stadium, which airs on NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime.

Mullens will take the starting reins once again with Jimmy Garoppolo sidelined with an ankle injury, while Rodgers and the Packers will aim to make amends for last season’s 37-20 loss to the Niners in the NFC title game.

Here’s what to watch for on Thursday night:

Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams need their usual big games

Less than seven months removed from a shocking 2020 NFL Draft in which the Packers picked QB Jordan Love in the first round and didn’t select a wide receiver in any round, all of that hubbub seems to have been forgotten with Rodgers firing away in all-star form and Davante Adams dazzling as he always seems to. However, on this night, the Packers’ depth at wideout will surely be front and center with the RB corps depleted. As the storyline regarding the Packers shoring up their WR ranks seems unending, it would seem Rodgers and Adams will need to be at their usual brilliant best. Amid all the ballyhoo about finding a solid No. 2 options, sometimes it’s lost just how phenomenal Adams has been. Since his rookie season in 2016, Adams has hauled in 47 touchdowns, which is the most in the NFL, per NFL Research. So far this season, he leads the league with 8.6 catches per game and 11.6 targets, with his seven receiving scores tied for first and his 100.4 yards per game second. Rodgers, meanwhile, is back to his old, spectacular self, captaining the No. 3 scoring offense with a season line of 20 touchdowns, two interceptions, 278.3 yards per game and a 113 QB rating. Rodgers owns just a 4-6 record against the 49ers, though, and despite such a ridiculously long list of injuries, the 49ers still boast the No. 6 overall defense (No. 4 vs. the pass). It’s likely the Packers will need impressive showings from Rodgers and Adams to prevail and it certainly won’t come easily.

Will Packers D stand up to 49ers’ rushers this time?

When last these teams met, Raheem Mostert ran into the record books and the 49ers ran into the Super Bowl. Mostert rushed for more yards than any running back after had in a conference title game as he charged ahead for 220 yards in San Francisco’s 37-20 win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. As defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense was pulverized, the Packers’ season was ended. Now, a rematch is at hand. Green Bay will face a depleted 49ers attack with no Mostert among others, but it will do so with questions still lingering about its ability to hold back the run. After all, the Packers are coming off a 28-22 loss to the Vikings in which Dalvin Cook pillaged the Pack for 163 yards on the ground and three scores (he also had a TD catch). The 49ers are likewise coming off a disappointing result as they lost to the Seahawks, 37-27, and ran for a season-low 52 yards, with JaMycal Hasty becoming the fourth 49er to lead the team in rushing in a game this season. Hasty and Jerick McKinnon will likely be looked on to lead the Niners’ ground game, with a Green Bay rushing defense ranked 15th in the league looking to shake off the Cook debacle and most certainly not relive the misery orchestrated by Mostert. Thursday night offers the opportunity for the Packers defense to exorcise some of the demons of a season-ending loss. The other possibility is Kyle Shanahan’s formidable rushing attack wreaking more damage and exposing a still-present problem for the Green Bay defense.

Have injuries finally piled too high for 49ers?

Though the 49ers will take the field on Thursday night, it will be hard to see many stars. San Francisco’s list of injuries is and has been long and noteworthy since before the season started and will carry on through its end. Thus far, Shanahan has done a remarkable job coaching his guys up and overcoming the odds. But how many times can they rebound? Once again, Garoppolo and TE George Kittle are out, but this time it’s far more serious. The list of notable 49ers who have missed time or are still missing time is overwhelming: DE Nick Bosa, DT Solomon Thomas, WR Jalen Hurd, WR Deebo Samuel, C Ben Garland, CB Richard Sherman, DE Dee Ford, Mostert, RB Jeff Wilson and plenty more. Despite a .500 record, the 49ers are in last place in the all-star assortment that is the NFC West. Facing the Packers on a short week ahead of a road game against the Saints, the schedule offers as sunny a forecast as the injury report. Shanahan has already rallied his troops this campaign, but can he do it against a motivated and talented Green Bay knowing it will be the first game of many without Kittle and Garoppolo? An already difficult Niners season starts a new chapter on ‘TNF.’

Last 49ers standout standing?

Stars are fading for San Francisco, but one unsung standout remains. And maybe now Fred Warner will find a little more of the notoriety he so richly deserves. Sporting a team-high 61 tackles (12th in the NFL), Warner’s added a pair of interceptions, three quarterback hits and three tackles for a loss, but perhaps above all else has been consistent and outstanding all the same. On a team so rife with injuries, Warner, whose 88.6 Pro Football Focus grade for the season is second among linebackers, is set to make the 41st straight start of his career since the Niners plucked the BYU product in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Exceptional in pass coverage, Warner’s strength is likely to be put the test against what portends to be a pass-heavy Packers offense.

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