So too does the 49ers postseason begin with the Packers. This time, however, the stakes are much higher with it being a divisional playoff game.
The Green Bay Packers (11-5) make a trip to the Bay Area to face the San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) in this 2nd round playoff game. These two teams met back in week 1 when the 49ers beat the Packers in Green Bay 30-22. The Packers have already won a playoff game in which they beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10. San Francisco was able to get a bye week after barely edging out Green Bay for the #2 seed.
Another notable difference with this match up is the starting QB for the 49ers. Alex Smith was the man who lead San Francisco to victory in week 1 while it will be Colin Kaepernick starting against Green Bay this weekend. Kaepernick took over for Smith after Alex sustained a concussion in week 10 against the Rams and has been the starting quarterback ever since. The 25 year old out of Nevada will make his first postseason start this Saturday. Nerves do not seem to be an issue for him.
“I think it’s because I’ve been playing football for so long,” Kaepernick said. “I think I’ve said before, this is my 17th year of football. So, football is football once you get on the field.”
It is a meeting of the dreams for Kaepernick, persay, as he wrote to himself at a young age. Colin wrote in the 4th grade that he wanted to grow up to become an NFL quarterback for either the 49ers or the Packers. It’s ironic that of all the possible divisional opponents that Kaepernick starts for one of those teams while playing against the other.
As for the pass defense Colin will face, there is certainly Clay Matthews who leads the Packers in sacks with 13.5 in 2012. But there is also returning safety Charles Woodson to worry about. Woodson made his return to the game vs. the Vikings this last weekend after sustaining a collarbone injury. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman is certainly aware of the talent Woodson still possesses.
“They can do a lot of things with him in the secondary and also around the front,” Roman said. “Very good blitzer. He’s a very good run defender, and he’s a very good pass defender, very physical in coverage and has created a lot of turnovers in his career. So, Charles Woodson’s a difference maker.”
One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the quarterback for Green Bay. The numbers may have gone down slightly from last season, but Aaron Rodgers still had a monster year in 2012 with 4,295 passing yards, 39 touchdown passes, and only 8 interceptions. Rodgers was effective last week vs. the Vikings going 23/33 for 274 passing yards and 1 touchdown pass.
While Green Bay has to feel confident in their QB, Aaron Rodgers knows how good that San Francisco defense can be.
“It’s one of the top defenses in the league, if not the best,” Rodgers said during a conference call Tuesday. “A lot of playmakers all over the field at every level – d-line, linebackers, secondary. They make a lot of plays on the football, fly to the football, tackle well, get after the passer. … It’s a big-time defense.”
In that week 1 loss to the 49ers, Aaron Rodgers threw for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns but also threw one interception in the 4th quarter to 49ers LB Navarro Bowman. The very next play, San Francisco HB Frank Gore ran for a 23 yard touchdown to put the 49ers ahead by 15, sealing the win at Lambeau. Rodgers might need to commit zero mistakes to overcome the 49ers at Candlestick.
Aaron Rodgers and that offense might have an easier time against the 49ers this Saturday depending on the health of Justin Smith. The pro bowl defensive tackle has been out since the 2nd half of the New England game in week 15 with an arm injury. Since then, the defensive front has been noticeably weaker trying to figure out how to fill the gap. Smith is expected to play Saturday vs. the Packers who should be able to give a boost to the defense if healthy.
“For another defensive end to try and come in and fill his shoes, it’s going to be big shoes to fill,” 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks said. “I’m just glad for him to come back. He creates a lot of havoc in the backfield, he creates a lot of double teams and that gets other guys to make more plays.”
The ultimate example of that? Aldon Smith who plays right beside the DT for most plays and has 19.5 sacks this season, all before Justin’s injury. The front 7 will be a lot better at protecting against the pass of Green Bay’s with Justin Smith out there.
Rush defense, however, might not be something to worry about too much from the Packers. Green Bay is ranked 20th in the league in rushing averaging 106.4 yards per game on the ground. Green Bay is actually 22nd in yards per carry (3.9). Meanwhile, the 49ers have one the best rush defenses in the country allowing just 94.2 rushing yards per game (4th best) and allowing just 3.9 yards per carry (3rd best). The Packers might’ve brought back Ryan Grant but they are still lacking a solid ground game.
As for San Francisco, while their rushing attack might’ve have taken a hit with the loss of Kendall Hunter, they have shown they can still run the ball. LaMichael James has come in averaging 4.6 yards per carry in place of Hunter as the #2 back. Frank Gore’s per carry average has fallen to under 5 (4.7) but can still be very effective in the postseason.
What can we expect Saturday at Candlestick? It could turn out to be very similar to the Saints-49ers game last January which could make for another exciting finish.
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Written by Daniel Trucios