Packers Spread Formations can Keep 49ers’ Willis off the Field All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Patrick Willis
49ers LB Patrick Willis might spend a lot of time on the sidelines if the Packers spread things out.

The Packers best bet to to overcome the physicality and viciousness of the 49ers’ defense in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game might be to go with four and five wide receivers and spread things out.

Yes, the Packers’ running game has shown signs of life in the last month. But do you really think the Packers will win Saturday because they line up against San Francisco and blow them off the line in the running game? Doubtful.

You know how teams say the best way to slow down the Packers is with long possessions on offense that keep Aaron Rodgers of the field? The best way to attack the 49ers’ defense might be to try and get one of their best players off the field.

If the Packers use a bunch of four- and five-wide sets, it likely means that San Francisco’s all-pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis will spend a lot of time on the sideline. The 49ers will need another defensive back, probably Perrish Cox, on the field to deal with the Packers receivers instead of Willis.

What gives the Packers a better chance of winning? Running at a stout 49ers defense with Willis manning the middle of the field? Or using four or five receivers and putting the game in the hands of Aaron Rodgers while Willis watches from the sidelines? I vote for the latter.

All the Packers receivers are finally healthy (or at least healthy enough to play). Might as well use them, right?

Of course, the Packers should mix in run and power plays when needed. This isn’t Madden on the PS3. But spread sets and passing should set up those traditional formations and running plays, not the other way around.

Justin Smith, San Francisco’s mauling defensive lineman, will be slowed by a shoulder injury, which should reduce some of the stress on the Packers’ offensive line. Either way, there will be a lot of pressure on the offensive line to hold up and on Rodgers to make decisive throws if a receiver gets just an inch of separation.

The chess match on Saturday night will be interesting.


Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .


14 thoughts on “Packers Spread Formations can Keep 49ers’ Willis off the Field

  1. i would like to see the packers use cobb like the vikings used harvin last year. line up with 4 WR and a TE and move cobb into the backfield and run the ball. this will take willis of the field and also allow the packers to run the ball with that group. you could also have kuhn, 3 WR and a TE.

    1. yes i watched the first game, green bay tried to spread it out and gave up on the run. what i am saying is show a 4 WR formation and motion cobb into the backfield with a TE or kuhn as a lead blocker to change it to a 3-0-2 formation or a 3-1-1 formation and run at them with willis, their best run player on the sideline. they can also pass from this formation.
      screens work best against teams with slow linebackers or defenses that over run plays or blitz, the niners defense is fast and disciplined and rush with four.

  2. I sgree that the niners might be the hardest team to run on that we face all year. Your suggested strategy has merit. When the Patriots went to the hurry up/ spread offense in the 2nd half of their game against the 49ers, they scored 28 pts, It also helped when Justin Smith left the game with his injured tricep in the 2nd half. But, what this means ,of course, is the Oline has to keep Rodgers clean. The pack has the QB and receivers to pull off the spread formation, but, do we have the Oline to do so?

    1. “The pack has the QB and receivers to pull off the spread formation, but, do we have the Oline to do so?”


  3. The chant all year long was “we need a run game,we need a run game”,though it isn’t a AP,MJD,M Lynch,R Rice type of run game,we do have what is needed to offset the pass defense that SF put to us and now it’s being requested to be abandoned.

    The Niners’ are praying that we only use a 4-5 wr set..nothing like 5 three and outs in an 10 possession game.

  4. They’ve been spotting the ball a little slow for the pack. The no huddle isn’t bad, just look at the two minute. The no huddle otherwise is just fast enough to irritate defenses and keep up the tempo.

  5. I like this idea, with one caveat: they mix in some runs and draws out of a single back, 4 wide set, as well as some of the short passes and screens to Harris and Cobb. That way they keep Willis off the field, but still slow down the pass rush a bit. Harris has shown that he can gain yards after a catch.

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