By Jerrell Richardson
The 49ers and Packers will meet for the third time in two seasons this Sunday, when San Francisco travels to Lambeau Field to take on the NFC North champs. With wins over Green Bay in the past two meetings, one in last year’s divisional round of the playoffs and the other in Week 1 of this season, the 49ers have plenty of reasons to be confident. However, both of those games were at Candlestick and with this pivotal game in Green Bay, the Packers are not exactly scared. Although the 49ers are by far the more balanced and complete team, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers who is more than capable of leading his team to a win. The key for a 49er victory will start and end with containing number 12. Something that is not going to be easy, but considering the playmakers the 49ers have on defense, certainly not out of the question.
When Green Bay Has the Ball: Advantage Packers
There is no good news for the 49ers defense as they get ready for their opening round opponent. It was hard enough preparing for the Packers, when they could focus solely on Rodgers, but now there is a running game to worry about. Green Bay is arguably the most balanced offense in the league, finishing the regular season as the sixth best passing team and seventh best at running the ball. The only silver lining is that the 49ers have a balanced defense that can keep up with the juggernaut that is the Green Bay offense.
When they want to throw the ball, Rodgers will have his pick of options. He will first look to the sure handed Jordy Nelson who totaled 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, but Rodgers also has wide receiver James Jones, a big target who was second on the team with 59 receptions, and Randall Cobb, the team’s most explosive weapon was just recently activated. Cobb is a dual threat who when not catching passes, will also be used to help a running attack, which for the first time in recent memory is actually formidable.
While it’s Eddie Lacy who will get the majority of the carries this Sunday, the Packers have a one-two punch of Lacy and James Starks that has made the Green Bay running threat real. Lacy is the workhorse, taking over half of the team’s total carries on his way to 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, Starks is the big play back, with a 5.5 yard per rush average on his 89 carries and three touchdowns.
San Francisco is going to give up yards and points, so the key will be making the Packers earn them. The 49ers will need big performances from every level of the defense as all will be under fire the entire game. The team has been better against the run than the pass this season, and have to like their chances of neutralizing Lacy and Starks. If able to do this they can put all the pressure on the Packers passing attack, which despite being Green Bay’s strong suit, is the best way for the San Francisco defense to get Rodgers off the field.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
While they want to avoid getting into a high-scoring affair with Rodgers, if needed, the offense should be able to keep pace. In Week 1, Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin torched the Packers defense to the tune of 34 points, and that was with no help from the running game. Green Bay, who will be without Clay Matthews has failed to stop their opponents from running or passing the ball this year and will need an inspired performance to stop a 49er offense that if not consistent, is at least balanced.
Like their offense, the Green Bay defense is also balanced, but not in a good way. They are 25th against the rush, and 24th against the pass. Going strictly by the numbers they should be able to deal with the San Francisco passing attack that is ranked 30th, but this stat is not an accurate measure of a passing game that has improved considerably as of late. It also can’t be ignored that Kaepernick has already had success against this same secondary, without Michael Crabtree on the field.
The San Francisco running game is still getting used to playing without fullback Bruce Miller, but already proved that they move the ball against the Packers without a strong running attack. Since their Week 1 meeting, he 49ers running game has been dominant for the most part, ending the regular season ranked third in the NFL. If the 49ers get a strong performance from Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, which is not a reach, then the flood gates could open and it could be the Packers trying to keep up with San Francisco, and not the other way around.
Win Or Go Home
It’s the playoffs so every team is talented. This means the 49ers will face a very tough test just to get out of the opening round. Despite having the better record between the two, San Francisco is being asked to go on the road, in a very hostile environment, with both harsh weather and fan base, to take on the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers. Each side has gone through a lot to get to this point and will not go down without a fight. San Francisco has plenty to be confident about and simply put they are the better team. Their opponent though is not only at home but has a quarterback who thrived in this exact situation and will be the best player on the field. Good thing for the 49ers this is a team sport and if they play their brand of football, they will win.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.