Speculation spectacles: Wondering about the outcome of a Green Bay Packers vs.Carolina Panthers match-up


Would the Green Bay Packers defense have had a chance against the Carolina Panthers?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Green Bay Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers by a single field goal, 23-20, and as we put on our speculation spectacles this morning we take a look at yesterday’s 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers game and wonder, what if?

What if the Packers had sneaked out of Lambeau Field with a win over the Niners? They were a play or two away from doing so.

Would Cam Newton have scorched the Packers defense and would have the Panthers’ acclaimed defense been dominant against the Packers run and pass offense?

We’ll never know, but if we look at the final score of yesterday’s game, the Panthers, known for their stiff defense, gave up 23 points to the Niners on their home court – the same number the Packers defense gave up a week before at Lambeau Field.

The Packers defensive line played well against the Niners, with the exception of containing Colin Kaepernick.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

While Packers nemesis Colin Kaepernick was held in check by the Panthers on the ground, that was the biggest difference between Green Bay and Carolina’s defensive efforts. In the air against the Packers, Kaepernick completed 16-of-30 passes for 227 yards, a 7.6-yard average. He threw one touchdown, but also threw one pick against the Packers.

The big hurt came on the ground once again – he picked up 98 yards on just seven carries against Green Bay, with his longest run being 42 yards. His most damaging run came on the final drive when he scrambled around Jarrett Bush for 11 yards and a first down to sustain the game-winning drive. Bush played to the inside and Kaepernick easily broke to the outside for the first down.

Against Carolina, Kaepernick was stonewalled on his rushing attempts, picking up only 15 yards on eight carries – the biggest difference between Carolina and Green Bay’s rush defenses. However, Carolina did give up 84 yards on 18 carries to Frank Gore and another 27 yards on nine carries to Kendall Hunter.

It was the Niners defense that spelled the difference in yesterday’s game, holding Carolina to 350 total yards. Newton threw for 267 yards on 16 completions and ran for another 54 yards. But when it came down to crunch time, it was the Niners who came up big on the defensive side of the ball, sacking Newton five times.

Last week, Aaron Rodgers admittedly played one of his poorest games in some time, throwing for just 177 yards and completing 17-of-26 passes against the Niners. He failed to complete a pass in the first quarter.

The Packers rush stats against the Niners were much better from their running backs. Eddie Lacy ran 21 times for 81 yards and James Starks added 29 yards on five carries. The Panthers were led by Newton’s 54 yards on the ground, while the Niners threw up a wall against the Panthers’ running backs – Mike Tolbert carried only eight times for 20 yards, while DeAngelo Williams carried five times for 13 yards.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin KaepernickMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports photograph

In the end, it was the big plays for the Niners on defense, coupled with consistency from their receivers that made a difference against the Panthers and allowed them to win the game and plan for their trip to the NFC Championship game against their division rival Seattle Seahawks.

Many have criticized the Packers defense for not having what it takes to win in the Playoffs. When you consider that the Panthers, who were a top 10 defense this past season, had trouble holding the Niners in check on their home field, one has to wonder about just how far away the Packers are from a run at the Super Bowl.

One of the greatest criticisms against the Packers in 2013 has been on their run defense … and while Kaepernick gashed them for nearly 100 yards at critical points in their Wildcard game, the Packers run defense was actually pretty stout in that playoff game.

Here’s what Ben Stockwell over at Profootballfocus.com had to say about the matter:

"The defensive line has not been a strength for the Packers this season but up against a physical and relentless offensive line … they put in one of their better displays as a group this season to slow the 49ers’ ground game. Notching his third-highest snap count (47) of the season, Ryan Pickett (+2.6 run defense) tied a season-high with three defensive stops and was able to outwork Jonathan Goodwin over the nose while still being effective against Anthony Davis when he lined up to the outside. Joining him in this solid display were Mike Daniels (+1.0 run defense) and Josh Boyd (+1.5 run defense) who only just topped Pickett’s snap count in combination. Daniels also chipped in with three stops which included a sack of Kaepernick as he tried to escape on another scramble early in the third quarter. One exception to this strong showing was B.J. Raji who was largely invisible for the first three quarters of the game only notching his first stop of the game on the 49ers’ final run as they setup their game-winning field goal."

Does this all mean that the Packers would have carried their own against the Panthers had they pulled out the win the week before against the Niners? Of course, we’ll never know, but the statistics point to the fact that the Packers could have easily made it a game … and with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, there may have been the opportunity to earn a trip back to Seattle to avenge the “Fail Mary.”

But we’ll take off our speculation spectacles now and deal with the reality. The Packers will need to bolster their defensive line, their linebacking corps and, most importantly, their situation at safety.

But in my mind, maybe Aaron Rodgers is right when he says that this Packers team has closed one window of opportunity and opened another for a run at the Super Bowl.

What do you think? Are the Packers that far away?