On Saturday night the 12*-5 Green Bay Packers will visit Candlestick Park to play the 11-4-1 San Francisco 49ers as the next stop on their road to Super Bowl XLVII. Much has been made of the game the two teams played back in week 1 this season at Lambeau. In my opinion the two teams are different enough that there isn’t much that happened in that game that is applicable to this game.
Both teams have changed a great deal since week 1. Green Bay has kept working on forging a running game and a better defense. The Packers are better in both those areas as they approach their game with the 49ers.
The primary difference in San Francisco is their quarterback. QB Colin Kaepernick brings the element of mobility at the QB position to the 49ers offense. Previous starter Alex Smith was not as mobile as Kaepernick but he has more experience. The Packers faced a quarterback with similar mobility in Joe Webb when they beat the Vikings last weekend. Kaepernick is a much better passer than Webb, and adding that factor ups the challenge quite a bit.
The Packers will have to play defense much the same way in this game as they did in their last. They’ll need to set an edge and maintain it to prevent Kaepernick getting to the outside. Gap control and discipline inside the tackles will be every bit as important against the 49ers because of RB Frank Gore and Kaepernick. Again this week the Packers will face a steep challenge on defense. I believe they’re more than up to the task.
On offense the Packers bring an improved and more diverse run game and the healthiest group of receivers they’ve had since week 1. Add Aaron Rodgers’ ability to create plays on the move and the 49ers have defensive challenges of their own. DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant have been getting most of the carries in the run game lately, but Alex Green is healthy and word has it that James Starks is close to being able to play again. I think Harris could have a big impact on this game because he’s small and can get into and out of smaller holes than the other Packers RBs can. Against the 49ers stout D line and LBs, those holes just might be small too!
Both teams have been dealing with inconsistency in their kicking games. San Francisco PK David Akers and Green Bay PK Mason Crosby have both had disappointing seasons. The difference between the two is that Crosby has been kicking better of late. Neither team wants to see this game come down to a FG to win it, but I’d have more confidence in Crosby than Akers.
The playing surface at Candlestick has been getting some press for its bad condition. After the Seahawks-Redskins game last weekend playing conditions (in that case atrocious conditions) were brought into sharp focus. I don’t know that the surface at the Stick is going to make a difference. Generally the offense has the advantage on poor surfaces because they know where they’re going and the defenses have to react. Hopefully this game won’t be affected by the surface upon which these two excellent teams are playing.
The Packers players were in large measure ignored for in-season honors this year. It’s my belief that it’s time for those players who felt slighted by the writers and voters to put their best effort on the field Saturday night and make believers out of some people. People outside Packer Nation that is. We already know how good they are!
We’ll all be burdened with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as commentators for the game on Saturday night. Every now and then we all have to take one for the team. I’ll have more to say about them in the Fearsome Predictions section below.
Here are some things I’ll be looking for while I watch the game:
Packers offensive line. The Packers O line has been more or less stable for a few weeks now. That’s not to say they have the kind of experience playing together they would like to have, but there’s nothing they can do about that now. Evan Dietrich-Smith is an upgrade at center simply because he can move better than previous starter Jeff Saturday. Don Barclay has provided some well-received work, especially in the run game, at RT replacing the injured Bryan Bulaga. Newhouse at LT, Lang at LG, and Sitton at RG are who and what they are.
Many pundits are pointing to the Packers collective O line as a team weakness. I’m not so sure. The 49ers will make some plays on defense. But the Packers O line will make some as well. I don’t think they’re the weakness others seem to want them to be. I’ll be watching these guys to see how they handle 49ers pass rushers- especially Aldon Smith and Bowman. Which guy will the Packers decide to help with extra blockers? If Justin Smith can play he’ll still be nursing a torn muscle, which usually doesn’t work out too well for whatever the muscle is supposed to be attached to. I’ll be watching to see how long 94 in red lasts if he gets in there.
Packers run game. As of late the Packers have been able to move the ball on the ground. If they can keep that up against the 49ers it will bode well for their chances to win this game. I don’t believe either team will rush consistently well against the other because the run defenses are both too good. Harris can do things the other Packers RBs can’t, and I’ll be watching to see how the Packers utilize him in this game. I don’t expect to see much of Cobbernicus in the backfield this time around, but it worked fairly well in the first game. I’ll be watching for the Packers to use the run to set up the pass. See- this game really is simple.
Packers passing game. The Packers receivers come into this game almost as healthy as they were in week 1. They know how important it will be for them to create separation and to fight for YAC. They know every dropped pass will sting and every bad route will be obvious. They’ll have to play their best game of the season in order to be open when called upon to make a play and catch everything that comes close to them. I’ll be watching to see how Finley and the other TEs do in the potentially soft middle of the 49ers defense and how well the WRs block on the outside- for run plays and for each other.
I expect QB Aaron Rodgers to have to turn sideways to go though doors because the chip on his shoulder is so big Saturday night. By now everybody knows where Rodgers is from, how the 49ers took Smith over him, and how he still resents it. If all of that helps to fuel 12’s passion for excellence and drives him to succeed to excess I’m fine with that. I just don’t want to see Rodgers lose his composure should the Packers go through a rough stretch in this game. Not that I expect him to do so, but this is as big a game as Aaron has played and he’ll have to be up to the task for the whole contest in order for the Packers to win it. I’ll be looking for him to deal the ball to everybody with touch, accuracy, and velocity when required. He’s the best in the league. He just has to play like it. Anyone for another heaping helping of Rodgers legacy-building?
Packers defensive line / LBs. The big guys up front and their roving LBs will be hard pressed to ensure that neither Gore nor Kaepernick have room to ramble past them and make explosive gains on the ground. Their work will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game. They played well against Minnesota last week. They’ll need an even better performance this week. This is the playoffs. Every team left standing is good. The Packers defense has come a long way since last year and they’re also better than they were in week 1. I think the 49ers are in for a surprise. I’ll be watching to see how well the guys up front are getting off the blocks and flowing to the ball, and how often they get to Kaepernick.
Packers DBs. The Packers DBs will face a better passing attack this week than last, coupled with a QB who can move around, extend plays, and make things happen with his feet. Bad things. The Packers DBs will have to ensure their coverage is tight and that their tackling is effective. The presence of Charles Woodson, with his bigger shoulder pads, lineman’s facemask and all, should allow Capers to do some things with his defense he wasn’t able to do previously. I’ll be watching to see just what those things are, and how effective they are. I’ll also be watching for the DBs to step up and tackle when called upon to do so.
Packers special teams. Crosby will have to be on top of his game this week. Masthay will be called upon to flip the field via his talented right foot. The Packers coverage teams will have to tackle and block effectively if Cobbernicus and Ross will be effective on returns. None of this is any revelation. But I think there will be a big play on special teams in this game, and it will favor the Packers. I’ll be watching to see who makes the tackles and the blocks, and for 18 or 10 to go long with a return…maybe for six.
DISCLAIMER: The writer assumes no responsibility and claims no expertise in the area of predicting random occurrences during sporting contests. If something accidentally occurs that the writer predicted, it is entirely coincidental and not the fault of, nor can credit be attributed to, the writer. Blah-blah-legalese-blah.
- Aaron Rodgers will throw for three touchdowns and run for another. He’ll have his best game of this season. He will be throwing on the move, from the pocket, under duress, and with guys hanging on him or getting ready to hit him. He will once again make the 49ers see what it’s like to go up against a real QB.
- John Kuhn will score at least one TD. After all…it’s the playoffs!
- DuJuan Harris will lead the Packers in rushing yards.
- Greg Jennings will lead the Packers in receiving yards.
- Ryan Grant will be the second leading rusher for the Packers.
- The Packers will have over 100 return yards.
- Rodgers will be sacked three times.
- Mason Crosby will not miss a kick.
- Cobbernicus will catch at least one TD pass.
- Kaepernick will be sacked four times. Matthews will have two of them. Woodson will get one.
- Kaepernick will be picked twice. Shields will get one, and Woodson the other.
- The Packers will have fewer penalty yards than the 49ers.
- The Packers will have more first downs than the 49ers.
- The national television audience will be treated to several close-up shots of the playing surface and commentary about how it either is, or is not, affecting player performance. Every time somebody slips or falls down. For the whole game. And please, for the love of peet, let there be no serious joint injuries Saturday!
- The national television audience will be mistreated to the usual Aikman quips and complaints. For this game Troy’s big bruised brain will compel him to throw out at least two “I don’t think that should be a penalty / I don’t see a penalty there / I don’t agree with that call” calls and a couple of “that was a textbook tackle / that was outside the rules / he didn’t lead with his helmet / he led with his helmet” laments as well.
- The national television audience will be shown Aaron Rodgers’ hometown of Chico, the llama farm he lived on for a while as a kid, his family in attendance at the game, and how he looked when he attended both Butte CC and Cal.
- The national television audience will be treated to mentions and highlights from the classic Packers –Niners playoff games of the 90s. Unfortunately for Packers fans, those highlights will inevitably include “The Catch” but not “The Fumble” that preceded it.
Because the game will be played Saturday night and will be nationally televised, we plan to watch the game from the comfort of our comfortable couch. We’ll be making plenty of noise, wishing we were at the game, and rooting for a Packers victory!
I’ll be tweeting random thoughts on the game and the telecast to all those who dare to follow at @PackersTX.
Watch LombardiAve.com for the post game analysis.
Bring it 49ers! It’s win or go home! Go Pack GO!