Game Preview: Time for the Green Bay Packers to make the San Francisco 49ers pay

By
Updated: January 12, 2013

The Green Bay Packers will look to establish the run game with running back DuJuan Harris.

Rematch time

The Green Bay Packers (12-5) won a home playoff game last week against the Minnesota Vikings (10-7). Now that they have that monkey off their bank, they can turn their attention to the task at hand: beating the San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) on the road at Candlestick Park in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

This will be the the two teams have squared off in the postseason and the first since the 1998 Wild Card round, when the 49ers defeated the Packers in a controversial game that proved to be the last time either head coach Mike McCarthy or defensive end Reggie White took the field for Green Bay. This time the prize on the line is a trip to the NFC Championship Game. The winner of this game will host the conference championship if the Seattle Seahawks (12-5) manage to knock off the No. 1 seeded Atlanta Falcons (13-3) tomorrow.

This controversial play from the 1998 Wild Card game remains a sore point for many Green Bay Packers fans.

The Packers have not been the glitzy, flashy, finesse team that they were in 2011, when they went 15-1 in the regular season but lost in the Divisional Round to the New York Giants. Neither have they consistently dominated teams on the scoreboard the way they did last year. Head coach Mike McCarthy insists that’s because he has brought this team along slowly to ensure they peak when it matters the most.

So if the best Packers football is yet to be played, as McCarthy would have us believe, can Green Bay beat on the road a team who beat them at Lambeau Field earlier in the season?

Question of pressure

For most of the season, the 49ers had one of the better pass rush units in the league. The defense tied for 11th in the league with 38 sacks.

The two players that gave offensive lines nightmares, though, were San Francisco’s version of the Mr. Smiths: linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive end Justin Smith. Although Justin Smith’s stat line wasn’t spectacular (), he seemed to serve as a catalyst for Aldon Smith to wreak havoc. Until Justin Smith went down with a triceps tear in Week 14, Aldon Smith was on pace to finish the season with 24 sacks, which would have shattered Michael Strahan’s single-season record (22.5).

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith is expected to play this evening, but it’s uncertain how effective he will be with a torn triceps muscle.

After Justin Smith’s injury, Aldon Smith ceased to be as effective and never registered another sack. In fact, the drop-off in production was so precipitous that the San Francisco Chronicle speculated .

Both Smiths are expected to play this evening, but the question is how dominant will they be? Green Bay’s offensive line is shaky at the best of times; they were downright atrocious against San Francisco in their first outing. Although they only gave up three sacks, they were unable to get anything going in the run game. If they don’t have to face a punishing pass rush, it will be a major break for the Packers offense.

Special teams struggles

Both of these teams feature placekickers who have had terrible 2012 campaigns, and both have chosen to stand by their man. David Akers missed an incredible 13 kicks this year en route to a 69 percent field goal percentage. On the bright side, he did tie the NFL record for longest field goal with a 63-yard kick against Green Bay, so it’s clear he has the leg strength. For his part, Mason Crosby missed 12 kicks — including two from 30-39 yards and three from 40-49 yards — and finished with an even lower field goal percentage (63.6%).

Green Bay Packers placekicker Mason Crosby was a picture of despair in the midst of his slump. He says all is well now, though.

Interestingly, though, Crosby hasn’t missed since Week 15, when the coaching staff sent him home for two days with the flu. Bill Michaels related on his radio show last week that Crosby told him that could have happened to him. He said he laid in bed and did absolutely nothing for two days.

When he got back to practice later in the week, he assumed he would have to work hard to regain his leg strength, but instead, he felt great. His leg was strong and his accuracy had returned. He said that he realized then that what had happened is that he had gotten so obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with his kicking that he had overworked his legs, kicking up to 50 times a day in an attempt to root out the underlying problem.

The upshot is that Crosby had made his last five consecutive attempts, including one against the Vikings in the Wild Card round. If this contest comes down to one last game-winning kick, everyone watching the game — from McCarthy to the fans in the bar — will probably be catching his breath, wondering if Crosby really has that mysterious “it” back. In any case, McCarthy will do whatever it takes to put Crosby in the best possible position to make any kicks required.

Getting Gored

It was obvious that the defense was not prepared for running back Frank Gore in Week 1. He shredded them to the tune of 112 yards on 16 carries, an embarrassing 7.0 yards per carry; he also ran for a score. Only twice the rest of the season did he produce a performance comparable to that: in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills (14 carries, 106 yards, 7.6 ypc, 1 touchdown) and in Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks (16 carries, 131 yards, 8-0 ypc). Since then his efficiency has declined markedly, but he still finished the season with eight touchdowns and a respectable 1,214 yards at 4.7 ypc.

The Green Bay Packers defense must figure out how to avoid being Gored by the stiff-arm move of San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore.

Even if Gore does not pose quite the dominant threat he did in the first half of the season, the defense cannot afford to overlook him this time. They especially cannot yet young quarterback Colin Kaepernick to ride Gore like a horse and only pass when it’s convenient for him. Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense is predicated on shutting down the run and making teams one dimensional. With linebacker for the game, Green Bay should have their full complement of run stoppers available.

If Capers can find a way to force Kaepernick to beat his defense through the air, it will drastically increase Green Bay’s chances of advancing to the next round. After that, it will be incumbent upon the defensive backs to shut down San Francisco’s talented trio of receiving threats: wide receivers Michael Crabtree (seven receptions for 76 yards in the first meeting) and Randy Moss (four catches, 47 yards, one touchdown) and tight end Vernon Davis (three catches, 43 yards, one touchdown).

Alex Smith’s career in San Francisco hasn’t gone quite the way he might have hoped.

Prediction

The top storyline going into this game is that of revenge. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has carefully cultivated his image as a player who elevates his game when fueled by a grudge. He surely harbors a grudge against the team he grew up wanting to play for, the team who passed him over for a quarterback that is now riding their bench.

The X-factor ins this game will no doubt be Green Bay’s rushing attack. If upstart running back DuJuan Harris can continue his string of success tonight, the 49ers defensive line won’t be able to abuse the offensive line as they did in the first go-round. Even 70 or 80 yards from the shifty little back would do wonders for Rodgers’ peace of mind in the pocket.

Clichéd as it may sounds, these are in fact two different teams from the last time they met. The Packers seem to be piecing things together and are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all season, while the 49ers looked vulnerable in the last few weeks of the regular season. Although I have been nervous about the possibility of this match-up for weeks, I genuinely believe that the Packers have made great strides in addressing their attitude problems from last season and even the first few weeks of this season. Their confidence has been tempered with an understanding of their own weaknesses and the realization that every unit of this team must pull its weight if they are to bring another championship home.

As long as Mike McCarthy does not allow this team to take two quarters off, they will punch their ticket to the NFC Championship.

Final score: Packers 27, 49ers 21

About the author(s)

Rourke Douglas Decker covers the Green Bay Packers beat for Water Cooler Sports. He resides with his family in the Twin Cities. He can be reached for questions or comments at . Connect with .

356 comments
Reesypieces Graduates in 14 days
Reesypieces Graduates in 14 days

Woodson is gone

Jennings ??? 

Finley gone

Saturday gone

Starks gone

grant gone

green gone

Newhouse gone

Tramon needs to be gone

Capers  trash. 

ScarletandCream
ScarletandCream

Okay, somebody call the designated driver,....take me home, and fuck me.

Houndog
Houndog

I can't believe the Ninerz 2 coordinators aren't both being courted!

ScarletandCream
ScarletandCream

Even booze and spastic sex won't cure this pain,.....but it won't hurt either.

Houndog
Houndog

Now the Ninerz D can just tee off on Rodgers and kill the poor fucker!

Rourke
Rourke

My original prediction for this game, the one I had planned to put in this article, was SF 34, GB 21. But everyone was so excited and pumped up over the past few days that I got caught up in the fever and rolled with it. I feel dumb now.

Rourke
Rourke

This game is over. This offense has no ability to make 14-point comebacks.

Houndog
Houndog

This one's over, the D just ain't good enough!

Houndog
Houndog

How did Hawk get that deep

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

 that's an awful lot to ask. 

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

 He's thrashing the Packers as badly, maybe even worse, than he thrashed the Bears earlier this season.

ScarletandCream
ScarletandCream

@Talk is cheap – except when Congress does it. At some point you may have to explain that to the guys here.

Houndog
Houndog

LOL, no, we're getting whupped!

Rourke
Rourke

 That's what I was wondering. Why is he out in the secondary?

ScarletandCream
ScarletandCream

@Talk is cheap – except when Congress does it. ...well you haven't told me.

Rourke
Rourke

 It's some of both. They're making dumb mistakes, but they're also getting dominated in every phase of the game.

This is a team that had it not been for two punt-return fumbles last year in the NFCCG, probably would have won it all.

Houndog
Houndog

  Yep, no D, shitty O-line

Rourke
Rourke

They are certainly a better-coached team.

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

  I got three hands.

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

  If your butt hurts just rub some salve on it.

ScarletandCream
ScarletandCream

@Talk is cheap – except when Congress does it. Okay.