Kurtenbach: Packers QB Jordan Love is becoming a star. His rise will end against the 49ers

Kurtenbach: Packers QB Jordan Love is becoming a star. His rise will end against the 49ers

They are, undoubtedly, fun to watch.

Back-foot throws, hitting receivers downfield with a hop and a flick of the wrist. They’ve transformed Packers quarterback Jordan Love from a first-round bust to the hottest name in the quarterback game.

And they will be the backbone of a 49ers win on Saturday.

The Packers are letting Love be Love, and it’s worked out in recent weeks.

But if what Green Bay and Love have put on tape recently (really, going back to Thanksgiving) holds, it’ll make the margin of error far too thin to win another playoff game, much less one against the 49ers’ defense.

There’s no questioning that Love is good. His ability to make throws no matter how his feet are set or what angle his arm has to go is wildly impressive and reminiscent of Matt Stafford and Patrick Mahomes.

But I said reminiscent. He’s not there yet.

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Yes, Love and the Packers put on a show last weekend against the Cowboys. It was a nearly perfect game.

But that performance highlighted why the 49ers will stymie him and the Packers’ offense on Saturday in the NFC Divisional Round.

The foundation of the Packers’ late-season surge has been protecting their quarterback, which goes far beyond the five men on the offensive line. The Packers are keeping tight ends in to block, running play action into pass protection, and oftentimes only having three receivers running routes.

Keeping Love upright gives his arm a chance to make plays. The Packers let their young, talented receivers play backyard football, find an open spot in the defense (typically against two-high safeties), and see if Love can deliver the football.

Against the Cowboys, who play a chaotic, six-defensive-back, man-to-man defense, the Packers’ approach was perfect.

The way to beat chaos is to counter it with your chaos. Sure enough, Love made some big-time throws, almost exclusively off his back foot, to blow out Dallas — a feat that would have been more impressive if I hadn’t seen the 49ers do the same thing earlier this season.

But the 49ers’ defense couldn’t be more different than the Cowboys’.

Sure, the Niners mix things up, but they play a lot of zone defense and are astoundingly sound in their assignments in the pass game. Their pass rush might not bring the quarterback down as often as you’d want, but they pressure throwers from all angles, with Nick Bosa coming off one side, Javon Hargrave and, once again, Arik Armstead coming up the middle, and Chase Young firing against a guaranteed single-team. As we’ve seen all season, they don’t want to clip the quarterback, they want to choke him out.

Those throws Love made against Dallas and the weeks before against a boring, predictable Bears zone defense or the even more chaotic Vikings, will not fly at the same rate against the Niners.

The way to beat San Francisco is to dice them up with quick, intermediate throws. Joe Burrow and Kirk Cousins didn’t give any time to the Niners’ pass rush — they threw the ball before you could say “three Mississippi.” You never go broke taking a profit against the Niners.

That’s the way the Packers wanted to play this season. That’s the Gary Kubiak offense that Kyle Shanahan and his former assistant, Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur, run.

But Love wasn’t very good at it.

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How inside information gave 49ers a head start on preparing for Packers, Jordan Love

In the first nine games of the season, Love led the NFL in interceptions (10), completed only 59 percent of his passes, and was 26th in the league in yards per pass. He was the 30th-ranked quarterback in the league.

Credit to LaFleur and his staff for realizing that their ideal offense wasn’t working for their quarterback, offensive line, and skill position players and changing it.

But this Niners’ defense requires Love and the Packers to return to that offense predicated on timing and precision — where scheme is more important than brawn.

Does LaFleur dare take his quarterback out of the offense that’s been working for him — the screens-and-deep shots, isolate-linebackers, talent-over-everything attack that has worked wonders against less talented and far less sound defenses?

I doubt it.

The Packers will have to take their chances with Love flipping the ball off his back foot.

Now, perhaps the Niners pass rush won’t put enough pressure on him to rush his decisions.

Perhaps the Niners’ secondary won’t be able to stick with the Packers’ receivers.

Perhaps Wilks will call a defense too bland and predictable that LaFleur will be able to call play after play to exploit it.

All of those things can happen.

I doubt all of them do, though.

And running the board will be necessary for the Packers to win on Saturday.

But if the Niners’ defensive line can collapse the pocket on Love, rushing or clouding his decision-making as a thrower, it’s a problem for the Packers.

If the Niners’ secondary — which should have a numbers advantage all game — hawks his throws, which have impressive power and accuracy given his poor throwing base, but can often sail, that’s a problem for the Packers.

And if Wilks mixes and matches coverages and puts middle linebacker Fred Warner in advantageous positions to make plays, that’s a problem for the Packers.

San Francisco’s defense isn’t flawless, but neither is Love. And while backyard football is fun, it is eaten up by serious teams in big games.

And the Niners are, undoubtedly, a serious operation. I expect that to be abundantly clear come Saturday night.