San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers: Niners to weather injury storm

Nick Mullens
With Jimmy Garoppolo injured, Nick Mullens steps in for Thursday nights showdown with Green Bay

The 49ers are banged up ahead of Thursday night's game, but the favoured Packers have a few issues of their own, and San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan could take advantage, writes Mark Kirwan...

"The Niners' roster has been smashed by the 2020 season, yet they have still been competitive for the most part through coach Kyle Shanahan's plug-and-play offence...."

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers
Friday, 01:30
Live on Sky Sports NFL

Pack on Rodgers' back

The Green Bay Packers have a quick turnaround this week and might be glad of the chance to get quickly back on the field having failed to show up on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Green Bay were favoured by almost a touchdown against their NFC North rival and started like it, with the Aaron Rodgers' connection to Davante Adams posting a pair of first-half touchdowns that suggested the home team would prevail over their 1-5 opponents.

But any momentum they hoped to build with their star QB and receiver combo was shaken by the rumbling rushes of Dalvin Cook, who posted a fantasy-bonanza stat line of 226 scrimmage yards and 4 touchdowns to upset Rodgers & Co with a 28-22 result and damage their hopes of securing the first seed in the NFC.

After such a loss, however, the Pack would probably prefer to be going anywhere but San Francisco considering how they fared against the Niners last season.

They shipped a 37-8 beating in Week 12 having compiled an 8-2 record through the opening weeks last season, before allowing the Bay Area side to embarrass them in the NFC title game where Green Bay trailed by 27-0 at half-time and never looked competitive.

It was shocking capitulation for a team led by one fo the game's greatest quarterbacks, and many didn't see much reason to expect better from his team this season.

However, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have helped the team defy those naysayers as Coach Matt LaFleur continues to pivot the team away from relying on Rodgers' playmaking and towards the ground game.

Unfortunately for him, Jones has picked up a lingering calf injury and missed Sunday's loss, while Williams is confirmed out for this game due to AJ Dillon, their third running back, testing positive for Covid.

All of which means we could be looking at Rodgers once again having to carry this team and its modest receiving corps against a team that shut them down twice last season.

San Fran carnage

He can take some solace from the range of injuries his opponents have to deal with this season.

Even by the usual NFL standards, the casualty list from the 49ers season so far is breath-taking. Here are just some of the names you won't see in this game - Jimmy Garoppolo, Richard Sherman, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Westin Richburg, Tevin Coleman.

These are just some of the significant names they're without for extended periods of the moment. Many won't see action again this season.

The Niners' roster has been smashed by the 2020 season, yet they have still been competitive for the most part through coach Kyle Shanahan's plug-and-play offence, where starting running backs have cycled in and out of the line-up as health dictated and been productive.

He'll be hoping to pull the same trick with Nick Mullens at quarterback in the coming weeks. He steps in for Jimmy G at signal-caller, but Kittle and Samuel's absences will limit the replacement passer's options.

He functioned well in relief of Garoppolo, but the Niners were already a beaten team last week against their fiercest foes, the Seahawks, relying on garbage time scores to make the 37-27 scoreline look respectable.

They should have hope of doing more on Thursday night.

The Picks

Thursday turnarounds from a Sunday game always poses a problem, but it's been multiplied for the Packers.

The Dillon Covid test throws their rushing game up in the air for this game. Starter Aaron Jones may return but it's not clear what shape he'll be in.

The Pack also have a poor record on the West Coast having lost their last five games out there, and their record against the handicap isn't much better.

Considering the shortened week, their limited practice brought about by the Covid situation, and that they've to cross two timezones for the game, and this is a tough spot for them and balances out some concerns about the Niners' health.

Mullens has also shown before he can adequately fill in for Jimmy G, and Shanahan is the playcalling genius Matt LaFleur wishes he was. I'd rather take San Fran at home getting 5.5 points at 1.981/1.

In fact, I'd rate Shanahan as a coach so highly I'd consider a very small wager on the Niners 14+ on the Winning Margin market too. His team so comprehensively outplayed the Packers twice last season, there's a chance they can muster up a surprise blowout at 17/2, though it's admittedly a speculative wager.

For a more likely bet, the Niners running back JaMycal Hasty should see a large share of the carries with Coleman gone. As an undrafted rookie he's carving out an opportunity amid the turnover of backs on the roster, and considering the Packers D was trampled all over by the Vikings' Dalvin Cook just a few days ago, I really like him in both the First and Anytime markets at 13/2 and Evens.

It's also worth mentioning the San Fran tight end situation. Jordan Reed could return from injury to replace George Kittle, and is listed as a 14/1 First and 12/5 Anytime option. He has played at a high level previously with Washington but has seen his career wrecked by injuries. I'd fancy him to score if he plays, and if he doesn't, their third-choice at the position, Ross Dwelley carries appeal too at similar odds. It'll be clear before kick-off which of them is starting for punters.

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