GREEN BAY – This was billed as the rematch of the NFC title game and therefore slotted for Thursday Night Football.
But it sure doesn’t feel like a rematch. Not in the traditional sense anyway.
Tossing aside the COVID-19 issues for the moment, the teams are just too different, especially San Francisco.
Taking a look at the starting lineups from last January, and including top rotational players, the changes for the 49ers are astounding.
With wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Tevin Coleman declared out on the injury report, that makes 17 of San Francisco’s primary 25-plus players from the NFC title game not around for this one.
On offense, in addition to Samuel and Coleman, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, running back Raheem Mostert and center Ben Garland are injured. Offensive linemen Joe Staley and Mike Person retired. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders left in free agency. Throw in receiver Kendrick Bourne testing positive for COVID-19 and not a single player who touched the ball for the 49ers in the playoff meeting will be playing.
On defense, defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas, along with cornerback Richard Sherman, are injured. Lineman DeForest Bucker and linebacker Kwon Alexander were traded, and lineman Sheldon Day departed as a free agent.
All that said, when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks at the 49ers’ defense, he sees the anchors in the middle of coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit – linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw – still steering a pretty tight ship.
“It’s a really good defense regardless of who’s playing,” said Rodgers, going on to compliment Warner especially as an elite defender. “They’re missing some rush guys who are really important to what they’re doing, but they’re very well-coached. They play really, really well together.”