Green Bay Packers (11-5) at San Francisco 49er’s (11-4-1)
Game Day: Saturday 8:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Line: 49er’s -3
Series Record: Green Bay leads series 6-1 (Although the 49er’s won 30-22 this year)
Just in case you didn’t know: “Colin Kaepernick grew up watching Brett Favre while Aaron Rodgers grew up watching Joe Montana” -That’s cute, but I’m sick of a lot of these intertwining comparison stories. The fact their logo’s look similar, the fact that Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers were both in the same draft class is not important. The truth of the matter is, this massive NFC battle will have a dampening effect on the loser, and will create a surge for the winner that could take them all the way to the Super Bowl.
In 2011 the Packers were robbed of a chance to double up their Super Bowl winning ways after running into a Giants team that could do no wrong. The Packers 2011 domination over the league was all for nothing, yet even after swallowing their pride and being optimistic towards this season, they fell victims to one of the worst NFL blown calls in the replacement-Ref era; A hailmarry Touchdown in Seattle that was clearly an INT. The Packers didn’t quit though, they played hard all season and now get a chance to prove their worth out West against a team that started their rocky season 0-1.
The last time the San Francisco 49er’s (a team who is currently tied with the 2nd most Super Bowl wins in the NFL history) held the trophy, was way back in 1994. Only the Redskins have a longer streak of winning a Super Bowl and then not getting back to a position anywhere near it. The past two seasons have been amazing for the Jim Harbaugh led squad, they have instant turn-around success and I can honestly say the 49er’s look to be one of the most well balanced, roster royal teams in the NFL at this point.
Keys to Packers Win
There has never been a game in which someone has said the Green Bay Packers need to lean on the running game more, at least not now with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. The Packers love to sling the rock, but in my opinion it’s the downs and distances they should be careful of. Last weekend against the Vikings, undrafted RB DuJuan Harris became a productive decoy that should be effective again this week against the 49er’s. The draw plays were used in a very clever fashson, allowing Rodgers to take a peak down field but retreating for decent yardage by handing the ball off. This simple yet effective strategy allowed for much more manageable 2 and 3rd down situations. I strongly believe a team like the Packers are more of a threat on 2nd and 4 or 5 than any other position. While Rodgers is comfortable in any down and distance, the team needs to make things easy on themselves and showcase as many possible looks against a 49er’s defense that will do doubt be coming after the quarterback.
In order for the Packers deep passing attack to remain effective I would target as many curl routes and back shoulder fades as possible early on. Lean on draw plays to create the illusion of a balanced attack while always prepping for the long ball. We all know that Rodgers could easily fire rocket passes all game, but to keep the chains moving I think the team should try to keep the 49er’s guessing and frustrated.
Defensively, I would send the heat at Kaepernick on as many plays as possible. Teams have been burned in the past with such a strategy but I feel the odd turnover may be the difference maker in this one. Sitting back and giving the kid time, is the worst way to get picked apart. The Packers speed and size need to cause havoc.
Keys to 49ers Win
Thumbing their noses at the pass-happy offenses dominating the league right now, the 49ers are a bit of a throwback team. They prefer a more balanced attack that is predicated on establishing the run first, then using their dominant defense to grind out victories. This philosophy isn’t popular, but it’s working. Since Jim Harbaugh took over two seasons ago, this is the second consecutive appearance for his team in the Divisional playoff round- somewhere San Francisco hadn’t been in a decade.
Harbaugh’s unorthodox approach to coaching has led to some unconventional strategy. Namely, making a quarterback change in mid-season that helped breathe some life into San Francisco’s passing attack. Colin Kaepernick has done a better job getting the ball to his wide receivers than Alex Smith did. Kaepernick is also a dangerous runner who is more than capable of escaping the pocket and running for first downs.
As stated, the 49ers are a throwback team and the running game is their bread and butter. They’ll look to establish Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore early and often. Gore had an excellent game against the Packers in San Francisco’s Week One win, rushing 16 times for 112 yards and a score. You can bet that Harbaugh will want to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense on the sidelines as much as possible and the best way to do that is feeding the ball to Gore. Rookie LaMichael James will spell Gore and could see 10-12 touches. Anthony Dixon is a short-yardage bruiser who could see a carry near the goal-line.
The 49ers offense thrives when they can get the opposition to sell-out to stop the run. Putting an extra safety in the box can lead to one on one situations for Michael Crabtree. Crabtree has thrived since the QB-switch and will remain the top target. Randy Moss isn’t near the caliber of player that he once was, but he remains a solid deep threat that must be accounted for. Rookie A.J. Jenkins has taken over for Mario Manningham (knee) as the third wide receiver.
While San Fran’s receiving corps has thrived under Colin Kaepernick’s tutelage, the tight ends have all but disappeared. Vernon Davis was a 2011 playoff hero, but has been limited to a single reception in each of the last four games and hasn’t scored since Week 11. Don’t be surprised if Davis is utilized much more in this game as the 49ers try to attack the seams. Second tight end Delaine Walker will also see significant time on passing downs.
One major problem limiting the San Francisco offense has been David Akers‘s sudden decline. Akers hasn’t been fully healthy and has lost both range and accuracy. It’s gotten so bad that Harbaugh brought in Billy Cundiff as insurance and it’s entirely possible both kickers could see opportunities in this game. Considering Green Bay’s own struggles with Mason Crosby, both coaches may be inclined to attempt to convert more fourth downs than you would normally expect in a playoff game.
Defensively the 49ers will likely take the same approach that they used in their Week One victory over Green Bay. In that contest, the 49ers often blitzed their slot defender, forcing Aaron Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly and usually to the wide open slot receiver. While good for short gains, this strategy contained a potent Green Bay fairly well. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are both hurt but expected to play in this game.
Each team will make one mistake that will result in points Sunday. Whether it be a INT or fumble, I believe field position and turnovers will be the ultimate deciding factor. I like the Packers in a close, yet high scoring affair: Packers 31-27