The Green Bay Packers will host the San Francisco 49ers in a Sunday NFL Wildcard Playoff game. The two teams met in week one of the 2013 season with the 49ers coming away with a 34-28 win. In that game, the Packers did an outstanding job of containing the Niners’ run game. The 49ers’ leading rusher that day was Frank Gore with 44 yards and 1 touchdown.
However, Colin Kaepernick made up for the poor ground game by throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Leading the Niners in receiving was Anquan Boldin who turned in a 208-yard, 1 touchdown performance.
It seems like that was a lifetime ago. The Packers are an entirely different team from 17 weeks ago.
With that in mind, here are five key match-ups heading into Sunday’s game:
5) A.J. Hawk vs. Frank Gore
The Packers run defense has been like a sieve lately. With Johnny Jolly on IR and Josh Boyd going down last week, their D-line is as thin as ever. Look for the 49ers to attack the box early and often with Gore on the Frozen Tundra. A.J. Hawk must make tackles for losses and set the stage for the run unit.
4) Jordy Nelson vs. Tarell Brown
Carlos Rogers, the 49ers top cornerback, will undergo an MRI on his hamstring. This means the next man up is Tarell Brown. Jordy Nelson is Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite target. With Rogers injury, look for Jordy to be targeted even more than he was last week.
3) Eddie Lacy vs. Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis
Eddie Lacy is a grinder, but so is the top duo NFL MLB’s. The Packers will look to run the ball to set up their play-action and control the time of possession. Look for a fistfight for every inch when the Packers run between the tackles.
2) Nick Perry and Mike Neal vs. Collin Kaepernick
With Clay Matthews out, Kaepernick will try to set the edge with the read-option and pass. Kaepernick will target Anquan Boldin if the Packers go zone coverage, and Vernon Davis if the Packers go man with a OLB on Davis. The Packers OLB’s must bring their A-game.
1) David Bakhtiari vs. Justin Smith
The Chicago Bears brought a lot of pressure at Aaron Rodgers last week and were successful. Look for the 49ers to do the same. David Bakhtiari struggled against Julius Peppers and now faces a more daunting challenge against Justin Smith. If Bakhtiari can’t keep Aaron Rodgers upright, the Packers offense will struggle mightily.