The word that Packer fans fear, Blueprint. With each loss, fans feared that opponents now had a perfectly laid map of how to beat the Packers. However, reviewing this weekend’s Divisional Round opponent, the “blueprint” might actually work in the Packers favor.
This Saturday the Packers travel to San Francisco for a rematch of their week one loss to the 49ers. In the week one match up, San Francisco out played the Packers in every facet of the game.
The Packers had one turnover, an Aaron Rodgers interception, the Niners had none. The Packers committed 10 penalties, the Niners were penalized 6 times. San Francisco gained 53 more yards and held the ball for 6 full minutes longer than Green Bay. The NFL didn’t credit the Packers defense with a single pass defended in that game.
Both teams are dramatically different than they were in week one. San Francisco has a new starting quarterback. The star running back on the Packers now was selling cars in week one. Jarrett Bush played 64% of the Packers defensive snaps against the Niners, since he has averaged 4% of defensive snaps. In week 1, David Akers converted three field goals, one from 63 yards. Now Akers is competing with Billy Cundiff for kicking duties.
But more so than the differences, then the progressions of each team and the game to game wear and tear, examining the Niners recent loss to the Seattle Seahawks may hold the key to how and why the Packers can win on Saturday.
Since switching to Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, the 49ers offense has become more multi-dimensional. Kaepernick has gained 415 yards rushing, 301 of those coming since assuming the starting quarterback role. A mobile quarterback with an accurate arm can carry the team, but the knock-out blow comes when you couple that with a strong running back performance.
In Week 16, Frank Gore ran for only 28 yards. Combined with Kaepernick’s 31, the team totaled only 82 yards on the ground that day. The 49ers converted on 27% of their third downs and their only touchdown came in “garbage time” at the end of the game. If the Packers can limit Gore and Kaepernick on the ground, the 49ers offense will stall.
The Packers run defense improved versus Adrian Peterson last Saturday, limiting him to 99 yards rushing, down 100 from his previous week’s total. However, the Packers also gave up 68 yards on the ground to Vikings quarterback Joe Webb.
With the return of Charles Woodson and improved play from Neal and Raji on the defensive line, the Packers defense will need to work on containment much like they did last Saturday. If they can limit Kaepernick and Gore’s ground game, the Packers will win.
But the defense won’t just have to contain, they need to capitalize on San Francisco’s mistakes. In all of the 49ers losses this season, they have committed at least one turnover. In week 16, the Niners fumbled the ball twice, losing one, and threw one interception. In the regular season the Packers defense has caught 18 interceptions, averaging one a game. It will be crucial for the Packers defense to create and capitalize on turnovers Saturday.
Another key from the Niners loss to the Seahawks was the difference in redzone production. In Week 16, Seattle was in the red zone 4 times and converted on all of them. San Francisco was 1 out of four. The Packers offense has been scattered all season, with injuries and personal changes, yet over the last four games have a 90% red zone scoring rate. If the Packers can maintain their recent offensive production and step up defensively, they will easily be looking at a trip to the NFC Championship game.
Jayme Joers is a writer at CheeseheadTV’s Eat More Cheese and co-host of CheeseheadRadio part of the Packers Talk Radio Network at Packertalk.com. You can contact her via twitter at @jaymelee1 or email at Jaymelee1@gmail.com.