On Sept. 26, Matthew Stafford shredded the Buccaneers' defense to the tune of 343 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Rams to a 34-24 win and showing the league Los Angeles was a team to be reckoned with. Hours later, 350 miles north, Aaron Rodgers added to his collection of seemingly impossible comebacks, driving the Packers 42 yards in 34 seconds to set up Mason Crosby's game-winning kick to beat the 49ers, 30-28.
Both matchups will unfold again this weekend with the stakes raised significantly. Here are the trends to watch with a place in the NFC Championship on the line.
49ers vs. Packers
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
The surface stats don't necessarily stand out, but Jimmy Garoppolo's game against the Packers was one of his better performances.
After an abysmal first half, Garoppolo bounced back with a terrific second half:
Jimmy Garoppolo Week 3 vs Packers
One thing that stood out behind that second-half success is that Garoppolo hung in and made plays in the face of pressure. Both of his touchdown throws came against pressure, including this one to Brandon Aiyuk in the third quarter.
From the week 3 matchup between the Packers & 49ers— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 19, 2022
Green Bay brings 7 on the blitz, but the 49ers have a Max Protect called with 7 of their own staying in to block
Garoppolo stands tall with a free rusher in his face and hits Aiyuk on the “SWIRL” route for a touchdown pic.twitter.com/O98XXaW91w
It may seem simple, but Garoppolo will have to make some plays like this. The Packers pressured opposing quarterbacks on 33 percent of their dropbacks this season, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL this season.
A second thing to keep an eye on is the 49ers' ability to run the ball. In Week 3, the 49ers had just 67 rushing yards, their second-fewest this season, but rookie Elijah Mitchell was out for that game with a shoulder injury. San Francisco's 2.2 yards per rush after contact was second-lowest all season; one would guess Mitchell's presence will help that.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Green Bay held up well against the 49ers' defensive line in Week 3, with Aaron Rodgers being pressured just five times. It's the fewest pressures the 49ers generated in any game this year.
That likely needs to change for the 49ers to pull off the upset. Rodgers has really struggled this season when pressured.
Aaron Rodgers This Season When Pressured
Yards per attempt
It will be interesting to see how the 49ers go about trying to create pressure. In last week's win over the Cowboys, San Francisco's defense got pressure on 39 percent of their non-blitz plays, a very high number. Simply put, the 49ers' front four dominated.
But the Packers allowed pressure on just 27 percent of their dropbacks this year, the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL. That number drops to just 24 percent when opponents don't blitz, good for fourth-lowest in the NFL.
The 49ers had the seventh-lowest blitz rate in the league, mainly to protect a secondary that has been up-and-down. When San Francisco blitzed this regular season, it surrendered a 124.6 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks, the highest number in the league.
Saturday will present a conundrum for the 49ers. They couldn't pressure Rodgers in Week 3, but the defense has struggled massively when it blitzes this season. It will likely require another outstanding effort from the defensive line to pull off the upset.
Rams vs. Buccaneers
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Sean McVay is generally regarded as one of the smartest offensive minds in football, but sometimes the best gameplans are the simplest. The Buccaneers have one of the NFL's best pass rushes, so in Week 3, the Rams decided to get the ball out quickly. Matthew Stafford released the ball in an average of 2.34 seconds, his quickest of the entire season. On throws in which he got the ball out in two seconds or fewer, Stafford was 11 for 12 for 71 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 130.9 passer rating.
The regular-season meeting between these teams prompted a major shift in Tampa Bay's defense. In Weeks 1-3, the Buccaneers played Cover-2 on nearly 28 percent of their defensive snaps. In the remaining 14 games of the regular season, that dropped to 16 percent, and Cover-3 became their primary coverage (39 percent).
Finally, Stafford also thrived on throws to his right between the numbers and the sideline: 9-10 for 144 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. It may seem like a strange area to analyze, but the Buccaneers have struggled defending it all season. During the regular season, Tampa Bay allowed 1,169 passing yards in this area of the field, third-most in the league. Plays like these were the reason why:
Of course, plays like these are also part of why Tampa Bay stopped playing so much Cover-2. We'll see if that adjustment pays dividends on Sunday.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Tom Brady has always had one of the quickest releases in the NFL, and that was no different this season. The 44-year-old took an average of just 2.38 seconds before getting the ball out of his hands, second-fastest in the NFL.
This was especially evident in Week 3 against the Rams. Brady completed an absurd 25 of his 28 attempts that came out in 2.5 seconds or fewer and racked up 221 yards on those throws.
The issue for Brady is that some of his favorite targets on these quick-hitters won't be available this weekend.
Most Receptions from Brady on Throws Released in 2.5 Second or Less
Out for season (ACL)
Last played Dec. 19 (could play this weekend)
Released Jan. 6
This regular season, when at least one of Godwin or Brown was on the field, Brady released the ball in 2.36 seconds on average. When both were off the field, that number rose to 2.48.
That may not seem like a big difference, but consider this: The Rams took an average of 2.42 second to pressure opposing quarterbacks this season, sixth-fastest in the NFL. Those extra twelve-hundredths of a second matter.
Brady was pressured on a season-high 31.7% of his dropbacks in the first meeting between the Buccaneers and the Rams this season, and that was before the Rams added Von Miller. The battle between the legendary quarterback and the uber-talented Rams defense will be fascinating.