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Packers vs. 49ers, Part II: Same or Different Result?

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Packers vs. 49ers, Part II: Same or Different Result?

The Green Bay Packers' 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card Round set up a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated Green Bay 30-22 in the season opener at Lambeau Field.

Each coach has admitted this week that both teams are vastly different than the versions that faced off back in Week 1. Will that dynamic change the outcome of Saturday's Divisional Round matchup in San Francisco? Here's my take on why the second bout between these NFC heavyweights could either be different or the same:

Why it could be different

  1. Packers have evolved on offense: In the season opener, Green Bay was little more than an extension of the offense that crumbled under its own weight in the previous postseason. The Packers handed off to Cedric Benson just nine times for 18 yards, and by the second half, Mike McCarthy had all but abandoned the run. Over the last four months, McCarthy has evolved. The Packers have averaged almost 30 rushing attempts a game since Week 9, and the result has been the NFL's No. 12 overall rushing offense over that span (122.5 yards/game). McCarthy will still want his four receivers on the field for a high percentage of snaps—forcing the 49ers into a dime defense, where one interior linebacker exits—but nine rushing attempts won't happen again Saturday. The Packers have finally started to establish a more physical identity running the football.
  2. Kaepernick's double-edged sword, Smith's health: Two important changes from the 49ers side: A switch at quarterback, and the health of All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith. Colin Kaepernick, not Alex Smith, will start under center for the 49ers Saturday, and that reality might just represent a double-edged sword for Green Bay. An ultra-athletic quarterback with a big arm, Kaepernick opens up the 49ers playbook and makes his offense even more difficult to defend. In games against Chicago and New England, Kaepernick was very impressive. But he's also a quarterback with seven career starts and zero playoff appearances, so everything about the atmosphere will be new to him Saturday. Both the Rams and Seahawks also found ways to make Kaepernick very average during the regular season. On the defensive side, Justin Smith continues to battle with a partially torn triceps. He's practiced this week and will likely play, but how limited he is in his functional strength remains to be seen. The 49ers defense looked awfully vulnerable with Smith out of the lineup, and Aldon Smith failed to register a sack without his strong-man defensive end helping to anchor the edge and stunt outside. His health Saturday could swing this game either way.
  3. Aaron Rodgers, playoff mode: The Packers quarterback talked at length last week about establishing a legacy in the postseason, but his legacy in the most important games is already impressive. Rodgers is the NFL's leader in playoff passer rating, and his three 300-yard games are tied for first in franchise history. He now gets a chance to go home to California, with an opportunity to knock out his former favorite team and the franchise that passed on him in the 2005 NFL draft from the postseason. Talk about adding to the legacy. The 49ers did a better job against Rodgers in the season opener than the numbers suggest (303 yards, 2 TDs, INT), but he's starting to heat up late in 2012-13. Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception in 177 pass attempts, and his 11 touchdowns over the last four weeks rank first in the NFL. Expect there to be an edge to Rodgers' game Saturday.
Why it won't be different
  1. The dreaded word, blueprint: No one likes to hear the word blueprint, especially against Rodgers and the Packers offense. But if there's any defense that can pull off such a winning plan, it's this 49ers team. Not only can Vic Fangio's defense get pressure without blitzing, but San Francisco can also stop the run with just six players in the box. In the season opener, the 49ers played All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis on less than 70 percent of the total snaps, yet still shut down the Packers run game in nickel and dime defenses. Fellow interior linebacker NaVorro Bowman is just as good if not better at stopping the run. If the Packers can't run the football against six-man fronts Saturday, it might not matter how "in the zone" Rodgers is. The 49ers will load the secondary with players and get after Rodgers with a talented four-man rush that includes Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks) and Ahmad Brooks (6.5).
  2. Pound, pound, pound, with a chance to throw: Colin Kaepernick isn't Eli Manning, and it's difficult to envision him slicing and dicing a veteran secondary solely through the air. But what Kaepernick can do is provide a passing element to an otherwise dominant running game. For the Packers defense, that equation has been trouble in 2012. The 49ers ran for 176 yards in the first meeting, and Alex Smith was efficient in the passing game. Manning threw three touchdowns in New York, but the Giants also rushed for nearly 150 yards on the ground. The Vikings rode Adrian Peterson in Week 17, but also received a flawless effort from Christian Ponder. Kaepernick and the 49ers can replicate that plan Saturday. While the Packers contained Peterson in the Wild Card Round, Joe Webb was incapable of making plays in the passing game. The same won't be the case for Kaepernick, even in his first playoff start.
  3. Rested and ready: In the lead up to Week 17 in Minnesota, most of the Packers talked about the opportunity to get rested and healthy by winning and securing a first-round bye. That didn't happen, and now it's the 49ers' luxury. Instead of preparing for a playoff game this past week, Jim Harbaugh's 49ers were able to rest tired bodies and do extra work scouting, especially of the Packers. Eric Branch of the San Francisco Gate Chronicle reported Saturday night that the 49ers were using practice squad receivers to mimic Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, and a reserve tight end as Jermichael Finley. The San Francisco defense will be prepared to face the Packers offense, who was at full strength in September when the 49ers mostly contained them. On offense, a week off should help a power running team more than it would a timing, passing offense like the Packers.

Note: Hat-tip to Greg Bedard at the Boston Globe for the format of this story.

Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (40) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Paul's picture

Another reason why it could be different, is the different personel in the GB defensive backfield this time around. In the opener, Bush was the starter opposite Tramon and played 42 defensive snaps. On Saturday, Shields and Hayward will be able to challenge SF's receivers much more effectively.

KazooPackFan's picture

Here's another difference, a word used several times above, but not as a name. Saturday. Our run game improved dramatically with our revised o-line, including the replacement of Jeff Saturday. Ineffective in September, and every game since. That could be a very meaningful difference in running the ball against 6 in the box.

Doug In Sandpoint's picture

I think we are getting way too tied up in analyzing what happened in week one. Every week is different. Just look at recent history with the Vikings to see. Those games were only 6 days apart and the result was entirely different.

Going back to week one to figure out what is going to happen in the playoffs is pretty foolish. Everything has completely changed. I've even changed my underwear 3 times since then and showered twice so I know what I'm talking about.

Zach Kruse's picture

Isn't that the basis of everything I wrote here? Change? Don't see your point, Doug.

Evan's picture

3 times since week 1? Fancy boy.

Ruppert's picture

Real men go commando, bro.

Kparis99's picture

A real fan would have been wearing the same underwear since Super Bowl XLV.

Evan's picture

If you add up the 2 showers and 3 underwear changes, I think we have the explanation for the 5 losses this season. I thought we all agreed no showers or changes of clothing all season??

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Doesn't add up. We only have 4 losses this year. Good thinking though!

Doug In Sandpoint's picture

Tried that after Superbowl II. the 70's, 80's and half the 90's were rough decades.

Evan's picture

"The 49ers were using practice squad receivers to mimic Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, and a reserve tight end as Jermichael Finley."

I'm curious what this entails and what exactly it accomplishes. If the PS player doesn't have Cobb's abilities, then what good does slapping on an #18 jersey really do?

some guy's picture

Even if the scout squad guy doesn't have the physical abilities, he can be coached to mimic the tendencies of the player he's portraying. So maybe you don't get a feel for how fast Cobb is or how strong Jordy is, but you get an idea of how they'd react in a given situation at least. And they'll generally try to pick someone who can reasonably approximate the person they're portraying. Wide receivers will play athletic QBs, they'll grab a wiggly punt returner type to emulate your slot guy, etc.

Charlie M's picture

I'm with Evan on this one. If these guys could "reasonably approximate the person they're portraying" they'd be starting somewhere instead of PSers and reserves. Its just PR to show how crazy dedicated and smart Harbaugh is. It will not have one ounce of effect on the outcome of the game.

Evan's picture

Yeah, I guess I can see the tendencies part of it. But I feel like if you're practicing all week against a PS guy pretending to be Cobb, memorizing his tendencies, come game time you're going to be ill prepared for how fast and shifty and precise the real Cobb is. It seems it would have minimal advantages, if any. Certainly not much more than can be gained from watching a lot of tape. Strikes me as more gimmicky than anything (and I know the Packers have done it in the past as well).

Zach Kruse's picture

Every single team, during every single week, runs scout offense and defense. It's usually with the guys that don't play. So it's more than just a gimmick. It's a prep tool that every team uses. Formations, tendencies, actual plays—all run during scout defense and offense. The Packers don't have a guy with the exact skill set of Colin Kaepernick, but that won't stop them from getting a scout look this week in practice.

Evan's picture

Yeah, I get that all teams practice against scout offenses and defenses during the week - that makes sense as they're practicing against real schemes, formations and plays that the opposing team is known to use.

But my question is specifically about back-up players pretending to be specific players on the opposing team. That seems sort of silly to me.

Charlie M's picture

Exactly my point, Zach. An article saying that the 49ers scout team is wearing 18,87, and 88 jerseys is pointless fluff for Harbaugh showing that he is so smart because this happened before the Packers-Vikings game.

Zach Kruse's picture

The point of that last paragraph was more that the 49ers had an extra week to scout looks for Green Bay's offense. I get what you guys are saying, however.

Evan's picture

Yeah, I wasn't saying anything about you including that bit of info - just questioning the logic of it in general.

I seem to remember reading about some guy on the Packers pretending to be Vick before the 2010 playoffs. I guess that worked out pretty well...

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

To me, this game is all about our ability to deal with Kaep, and the read-option. Their WR corps is depleted, I'm not worried about Kaep beating us with his arm (though I do envision a couple 'chunk' plays given up through the air), I'm worried about them rushing for 250 and 35+ minutes off the clock. I'm very curious to see how Dom calls this game.

GBP 4 LIFE

Ruppert's picture

If we keep A-Rod relatively clean, I think we win this thing.

This is purely subjective analysis (because I'm too lazy and cheap to analyze every snap this year), but I believe that, as the year went on, McCarthy actually starting calling more and more plays to take advantage of what's available underneath and running the ball instead of blatantly ignoring what the defense is showing and just going 4- and 5-wide and trying to run our passing game. Remember the first half against Seattle???

For all I know, he'll revert right back to passing 50 times if we go down 4-0. IDK.

But we're in a better position this time around, IMO. Refer also to my comments on the prior 49ers game blog post.

http://cheeseheadtv.com/blog/looking-ahead-to-san-francisco/comment-page...

Evan's picture

I think it has less to do with McCarthy calling plays to take advantage of the underneath stuff and more to do with Rodgers actually throwing the ball to those guys.

Ruppert's picture

And you could very well be right. One way or another, I think found success being a bit more conservative, and I hope and think both McC and A-Rod are in agreement with that philosophy at the present time.

Evan's picture

No doubt. If they stay patient and take what the defense gives them they'll be in very good shape offensively.

packsmack25's picture

No, McCarthy has called a lot of slow-developing plays. Plus Rodgers holds on and takes sacks instead of giving the other team freebies. It's a bad combo.

Evan's picture

True. But often there are check downs available that Rodgers simply ignores. In the last few weeks he's started taking them more.

Nick Perry's picture

Exactly! Without Bush playing defense and no Manningham out there for the 49ers, this becomes a totally different game . In week one the Packers were a team playing with several rookies without a single game of experience. They've played 17 games together and that's huge difference. Throw in that huge chip Rodgers plays with, playing 60 miles from where he grew up, lookout 49ers. Could be one for the ages by Rodgers.

KMAC's picture

The Pack has a run comparable running game to the Seahawks who spanked the 40-whiners's fanny. But the Hawks didn't have last year's MVP . Rodgers will carve up their secondary like a Thanksgiving Butterball. The Pack has the blueprint to execute an all-out beat down.

They will set the edge and bottle up an aging Gore and Matthews and Co. will pressure the hell out of Collin and then an INT or 2 will fall into the ams of the Packer secondary. Packers by 6 in a valiant but failed comeback effort by San Fran.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

"The Pack has a run comparable running game to the Seahawks"

Disagree completely.

Evan's picture

Yeah, that's nonsense. But I do sense a big game from DuJuan coming.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Would be welcome. Can't have #12 be the leading rusher like week one... Wouldn't be good.

Lucky953's picture

Rodgers plays better with a chip on his shoulder. He'll have one this game. I think he lights them up for 3 TDs and 330 yds. +2 on turnovers, Charles with a pic. Injuries plus self-doubt created in Seattle game doom the Niners. Harbaugh barely shakes McCarthy'a hand.

some guy's picture

"Fellow interior linebacker NaVorro Bowman is just as good if not better at stopping the run."

No need for all these qualifications. He's their best inside backer, period. The scary part is that this isn't about Willis having slipped, because he hasn't. Bowman's just that good.

PadLevel's picture

McCarthy better be ready for all the formations and multiple looks Harbaugh is going to throw at us. More than anything it is Harbaugh's ingenuity that I fear when facing the 49ers. Harbaugh has a veteran team that can run all the plays in that huge playbook and execute them to perfection. I think the key would be to play a disciplined, "take what the defense gives" type of offense. Which means NOT going for the kill shot on 3rd & 2, NOT trying to run Kuhn up the middle into a wall of humanity, NOT wasting plays by trying the quick lateral bubble screens. I hope to see more slants, more screens to Dujuan, Check-downs to Dujuan up the middle and when they are in man-coverage some planned rushes by Aaron.

jay's picture

For sure. Thanks for me being intoxicated but, alot of the Defense was built from Mike Singletary.. I think he really gave the spark to them that they have now, also how long can they keep that firing burning?

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Yes.

John's picture

The Packers are beat up and looked anemic offensively during the second half against the Vikings. On the other hand, the 49ers are rested and ready to win at home. I predict a 49er route of the Packers. The score will be 38-14, if not worse.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Go BF your Montana figurine 9er fan. You fool nobody here.

Bomdad's picture

What color is the Visitors locker room at the Stick? I hope it's a green room!

Devil Doc's picture

One of the big things mentioned is the "evolution" of the Packers run game. The 49ers quickly turned our offense into a 1 dimensional team, which played right into thier strength.

The importance of establishing a run game this time around is much greater than Rodgers picking apart the 9ers defense. MM hopefully will make better in-game adjustments as well.

In the game that the 49ers got beat down by the Seahawks, thier top rusher was Kaepernick. IMO, that has to be the focal point this weekend. MAKE Kaepernick beat us, and make decisions under pressure. Stop SFs run game, and the Packers will control this game from start to finish.

GO PACK GO!!!

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