The San Francisco 49ers are hosting the Green bay Packers at Candlestick Park on Saturday evening. In one of the most anticipated playoff games this weekend, this match up features the 49ers 11th ranked offense in yardage and scoring and the Packers 11th ranked defense in the same categories. This is a rematch of week one, in which the 49ers beat the Packers 30-22, but both teams have seen major changes and this does not feel like a rematch. Either winning team will travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons or host the Seattle Seahawks, depending on the winner of Sunday’s early game. Here we look at the match ups and stories to consider.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Green Bay Secondary
The biggest change for the 49ers between their week one win and this playoff game is Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco has changed their offense to best fit what Kaepernick can do. The switch from Alex Smith and their typical pro style power run game to Kaepernick and an option attack has added multiple dimensions to the 49ers offense. Michael Crabtree has seen the best production of his career since Kaepernick took over, totaling 46 receptions for 665 yards and 6 touchdowns since Kaepernick took over as a starter. Vernon Davis has decreased in production though, catching only 6 passes in the last 6 games. Davis and Crabtree are the 49ers best weapons in the passing game, with Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham both on injured reserve. While the Packers have great talent and depth at cornerback, with veteran Tramon Williams and Sam Shields having great seasons, and rookie Casey Hayward, one of the more talented young corners, covering the slot. The 49ers don’t go to three wide receivers often, but Hayward has been used as a blitzer as well, and getting Hayward into the game on passing downs may be part of the Green Bay game plan. Getting safety Charles Woodson healthy will only increase the Packers aggressiveness, looking to cause sophomore signal caller Kaepernick to make mistakes. Kaepernick will need to use both Crabtree and Davis effectively in the pass game, or the Packers talented secondary will easily be able to isolate one weapon or the other and blitz freely from multiple spots.
Frank Gore vs. Green Bay Run Defense
Frank Gore rushed for 1214 yards, only 3 less yards than last year, yet had 24 less carries and the same amount of touchdowns (8). The amount of capable talent he shares the backfield with could be the reason. Kaepernick and Gore have worked the option game to the success of four different runners. Kaepernick is averaging 6.6 yards per carry for 415 yards and 5 touchdowns, and before going to the injured reserve, Kendall Hunter had 371 yards. Lamichael James took over as Gore’s backup, and his speed and elusiveness has been pairing effectively for 125 yards to end the season. The 49ers 4th ranked rushing offense is a consistent and dangerous multi-headed attack, that has pounded San Francisco to it’s first round bye, and controlled defenses this year with time of possession and physicality. The Packers have been average against the run, ranked 17th. Green Bay has had problems in their front seven, adapting to injuries on their defensive line and linebackers. Nose tackle BJ Raji had an amazing game last week against the Vikings, and his pressure opens up AJ Hawk to attack the rusher. In what may be the most critical match of this game, the Green Bay Packers will need to shore up their run defense or the 49ers may control this game as they did the last.
Offensive vs. Defensive Lines
The 49ers have two Pro-Bowlers on their offensive line, as Mike Iupati and Joe Staley have been carrying the 49ers line to success in the run game. Overlooked may be the fact the 49ers gave up the 10th most sacks. Facing the Packers, and their 4th best pass rush in the NFL, will be a particular challenge for the 49ers. The aforementioned BJ Raji is disruptive in the run game, and dangerous against the pass. Raji will be tasked will pressuring the middle against center Jonathan Goodwin, and his need for a double team opens up the Packers outstanding linebacker Clay Mathews. Mathews gets one on one matches because of the pressure on the inside from Raji, and Mathews has beaten those isolated matches for 13 sacks in the regular season, and 2 last week against the Vikings. Pass protection will be particularly important; Green Bay likes to bring pressure from any position on defense. Staley versus Mathews will be important, as the Packers will try to isolate Mathews on Staley, and Kaepernick had better be on his game against one of the leagues best pass rushers in Mathews. The 49ers blitz protection and shifts may tell the tale for their offense, having been skilled at using pulling lineman, wham blocks, and backside cuts to maximize rushing potential and support pass protection.