Short-handed Packers, 49ers meet on short week
The San Francisco 49ers aim to overcome another rash of injuries when they face the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night in Santa Clara, Calif.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) and star tight end George Kittle (foot) will be among the injured players on the sideline. It is possible that neither player will suit up again this season.
While the 49ers (4-4) have been beset by injuries all season, the Packers (5-2) are dealing with health problems at running back. Standout Aaron Jones (calf) is in danger of missing his third consecutive game, and backups AJ Dillon and Jamaal Williams are out due to COVID-19 protocols.
San Francisco also has issues at running back with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson on injured reserve due to ankle ailments and Tevin Coleman (knee) out again after just returning on Sunday.
Factor in that both teams are coming off losses prior to a short week of preparations, and it may come down to whichever club can operate best without its missing pieces.
“I think as a competitor you’re always excited about the challenges,” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “You’d love having your guys in there at full strength, for sure, but there is that fun challenge of going in there without some of those guys and trying to find a way to win.”
Rodgers has passed for 1,948 yards and 20 touchdowns against two interceptions this season. His presence gives the Packers their biggest edge.
Garoppolo sustained a high right ankle sprain last Sunday in San Francisco’s 37-27 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and is contemplating season-ending surgery. He missed two starts earlier this season due to an injury to the same ankle.
Nick Mullens will start against the Packers, and he received mixed reviews when he started in place of Garoppolo earlier this season.
Mullens was applauded for throwing for 343 yards and one touchdown in a 36-9 rout of the New York Giants in Week 3, and he was criticized one week later after throwing for 200 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 25-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. One of the interceptions was a pick-six in the fourth quarter that gave Philadelphia an 11-point lead.
Mullens was then demoted — not to backup with Garoppolo returning, but to third string behind C.J. Beathard. He eventually moved back to No. 2 and passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns in less than a quarter during the Sunday setback.
“Any time you can get out there and bounce back from my last start, it’s definitely going to create confidence,” Mullens said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned just going through it all is that the NFL is tough. It’s all about what you do next.”
The backfield injuries provide another challenge for the 49ers, who saw Mostert carve up the Packers for a franchise-record 220 yards in last season’s convincing 37-20 win in the NFC Championship Game.
None of the backs in the mix for Thursday’s game have reached that total for the entire 2020 season. Probable starter JaMycal Hasty has rushed for 132 yards and Jerick McKinnon has 209 yards. The plan is to call up Austin Walter from the practice squad to be the third back.
“You don’t ignore (the injuries) like it’s not happening, you just keep it real with guys,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We have experience of losing guys in the past. Our team knows how to deal with it. What we’re going through now is a little unprecedented, I think for us and probably for anybody. But I think our guys take it as a challenge.”
Green Bay won’t know until just before kickoff if it will have Jones, who has 550 scrimmage yards (389 rushing yards, 161 receiving) and seven touchdowns. Dillon is out after testing positive for COVID-19 while Williams and linebacker Kamal Martin are unavailable due to being “high-risk close contacts” of Dillon.
The absences leave return specialist Tyler Ervin (10 carries in five NFL seasons) to be the primary ball carrier if Jones sits out. However, Ervin was a star runner in college at San Jose State and holds the school’s rushing records for a single game (300 vs. Fresno State in 2015) and a single season (1,601 in 2015) and ranks second in career rushing yardage (2,803 from 2011-15).
The Packers also plan to activate Dexter Williams from the practice squad.
Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur is going with the flow and doesn’t see any reason to complain about the situation.
“This is such a quick turnaround, to get ready for a Thursday game, so it’s the situation that we’re presented with, and we’re going to make the best of it,” LaFleur said. “It’s not an excuse to go out there and play bad or anything like that. It is what it is, man. You’ve got to adapt and adjust.”
–Field Level Media