Saturday’s NFC Divisional Round game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers is far from the week 1 match up that saw the 49ers win 30-22 on the road. Not only will there be a change in venue, there is the substantial change with the 49ers offense. Colin Kaepernick has become the new starter, but will look to repeat the week 1 success of then-starter Alex Smith. While this is an enormous difference from that game, it is one of a few different things to watch for.
1. Randall Cobb vs. Carlos Rogers/Chris Culliver/Special Teams unit
Cobb does it all. He catches, runs, returns punts, returns kicks, and is a playmaker. Cobb burned the 49ers in week 1 with 9 catches for 77 yards, 150 total return yards, and a return touchdown. This guy is hands down a major threat when the ball is in his hand. The 49ers had success containing Wes Welker of the Patriots in week 16, so there is hope that they found a successful formula for handling these slot receivers that seem to cause them so much trouble. Cobb has become one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets, so limiting him will be of the utmost importance for the 49ers defense.
They’ll also have to handle coverage assignments well on special teams when/if they kick to Cobb. He beat the ST badly earlier in the year, and the 49ers can ill-afford to allow a big return game in the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers is dangerous enough as it is; don’t give him a short field too.
2. Justin Smith vs. Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang
The 49ers’ workhorse defensive tackle/end is expected to play, giving the defense a big boost. Smith will be playing with a partially torn triceps; so how effective he will be remains to be seen. But if Smith is near to his healthy form, the 49ers will have a great opportunity to win. Smith routinely takes on two linemen, resulting in many sacks for other guys like Aldon Smith. If the 49erswant to win, they will have to make Aaron Rodgers a fixture of the ground. The Packers have allowed just over three sacks per game (51 total), good for second-worst only to the Arizona Cardinals. Smith’s play against Newhouse and Lang will play a large role in dictating the success of the 49ers pass rush.
3. Dom Capers vs. Greg Roman and Colin Kaepernick
Capers is a veteran defensive coordinator, and will look to mask his coverages against the 49ers quarterback making just his eighth career start. Capers will surely dial up delayed blitzes and give Kaepernick different defensive looks on the same play. It’ll be up to Roman and Kaepernick to be prepared for the confusion. Roman’s play calling has been suspect at times, but he’ll need his A-game today against a Packers defense that is as healthy as it has been for a few weeks. They will have all of their weapons at their disposal, and will look to force Kaepernick to beat them.
4. Frank Gore vs. the Packers’ Front Seven
Part of this lies with Roman calling runs. If the 49ers are successful with the run game, they’ll have a great chance at winning this game. Gore needs to have at least 25 carries, if he gets less; the Packers are in prime position to win. Despite Kaepernick’s big play ability, he is still a young and inexperienced quarterback. So the 49ers will need to lean on Gore and the run game. Not only does an effective run game give your team time of possession, it’ll keep Rodgers and company off the field. The Packers strength obviously lies with the offense, so the longer they’re off the field, the better the 49ers’ chances are.
5. David Akers vs. Mason Crosby
The magic number with these two is 25: the combined number of missed field goals between the two kickers. Both have been able to keep their jobs, but the struggles have been a season-long issue. Both of these men will undoubtedly have opportunities to put points on the board, and the one that converts will put his team in a position to win. And just because the football gods like for a dramatic finish, one of these two will have a chance to win it as time is expiring, right?
This is going to be a great playoff game, so as Terrell Owens said, “Get yo popcorn ready.”
Final Score: 49ers advance to their second straight NFC Championship with a 31-27 win.1011396