When Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur started preparing to face San Francisco’s stellar defense, he sent out a text message trying to get some inside information.
"Hey, would you give me a call? I have a couple of questions about your defense," LaFleur said he messaged 49ers coordinator Robert Saleh, his former roommate when the two were graduate assistants at Central Michigan.
Saleh predictably didn’t give up any secrets, although there should be few heading into Sunday night’s game between the Packers (8-2) and 49ers (9-1) considering all the ties between the two coaching staffs.
LaFleur considers Saleh one of his best friends, worked under San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan in Houston, Washington and Cleveland, and has a brother, Mike, on the Niners staff.
Shanahan spent a year as offensive coordinator when Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was head coach in Cleveland, but said none of that will matter on Sunday.
"You don’t really think about that much," he said. "It’s more fun that when you’re going to hang out in the offseason or see each other down in Indy; it’s a little more fun that night when you won the game so you can mess with the other a little bit more."
LaFleur got his first NFL job as a quality control assistant in Houston when Shanahan was offensive coordinator after a recommendation from Saleh. He then worked as quarterbacks coach under Shanahan in Washington and Atlanta and has taken many of the lessons he learned during those stints into his first year as a head coach.
"There’s so many things that I learned from him," he said. "But I think just his detailed approach that he takes every day. He’s a guy that has a great vision for what he wants to get done, how to use players, how to adapt and put people in the right position. A lot of my football philosophy has been shaped by him, so it’s hard to sit here and just say one thing that I’ve learned from him because there’s been so much."
GOOD JIMMY, BAD JIMMY
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo showed off both sides of his game last week against Arizona. He threw two interceptions, giving him 10 on the season. But he also threw for a career-high 424 yards and four touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the final minute. The ups and downs have been part of Garoppolo’s game all season, but he hasn’t let the bad plays affect him. Garoppolo is 32 for 35 for 378 yards, two TDs, no interceptions and a 130.7 passer rating on the drives following his picks.
"That’s just part of being a quarterback," he said. "In football, bad things are going to happen at some point. No one’s ever going to play a perfect game, so it’s just how you react to those things."
BEWARE OF BOSA
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has already seen enough of the Bosa family after the Chargers’ Joey Bosa had 1 1/2 sacks against Green Bay earlier this month. Now he has to deal with the younger Bosa brother when he faces San Francisco’s stellar rookie Nick, who has seven sacks already.
"That’s a really good football family right there," Rodgers said. "They’re both super talented guys. Obviously, Nick is just getting going. But he’s a force off the edge."
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
The Niners relied heavily on the running game early this season, averaging 181.1 yards per game through the first seven contests for the second best mark in the league. That aspect of the offense has gone missing the past three weeks as San Francisco has been held to 74 yards per game and ranks third worst in that span, averaging 2.88 yards per carry. That has coincided with an injury to tight end George Kittle, who is one of the better blockers in the NFL.
"We’re going to have to get better," right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "We will be better and it’s going to start this week against Green Bay."
The game against the Packers begins a grueling three-game stretch for the Niners. San Francisco follows this with two more against teams currently in first place with trips to Baltimore (8-2) and New Orleans (8-2). If the Ravens and Saints don’t lose before facing San Francisco, the 49ers will be the first team in the Super Bowl era to play three consecutive games this late in the season against teams with a winning percentage of at least .800, according to ESPN.
STAR VS. STAR
Some quarterbacks like to challenge 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman in a show of confidence. Rodgers has taken a wiser approach during his career. In the last six meetings between the two stars, Rodgers has thrown only 14 passes Sherman’s direction, according to SportRadar, completing seven for 85 yards and one interception.
"He has that ability to lull you to sleep sometimes and still jumps on the ball, has fantastic ball skills," Rodgers said. "He’s a great player. I have nothing but respect for his career and what he’s accomplished."