If the Green Bay Packers want to play in their second NFC Championship game in three years, they must get past the physical and talented San Francisco 49ers this weekend. It will all come down to protection for the Packers when they take on the 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoff game.
It is no secret that Aaron Rodgers is the key if Green Bay wants to keep their season alive. The Packers must do everything in their power to protect Rodgers in the pocket and if the front five cannot get the job done by themselves then head coach Mike McCarthy must call plays in which extra protection will be given.
Expect to see packages in which the Packers will keep running backs and tight ends in the backfield to help tackles Marshall Newhouse and rookie Don Barclay. Also, watch for tight end Jermichael Finley to chip block San Francisco’s defensive ends and outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage before he runs out into the open field.
Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times during the regular season and the 49ers know dropping the reigning MVP will be the only way they can win the football game. San Francisco got to Rodgers three times in Week 1 but they will try every way possible to get to him more than that Saturday night. The 49ers were tied for ninth in sacks with 41 but Aldon Smith’s 19 ½ led the NFC. San Francisco believes Smith will win his one on one battle with Newhouse every time which means the defense will concentrate their pressure elsewhere along the line.
Green Bay’s offensive line will have to be ferocious and play more physical than they have all season. Newhouse must give the performance of his career to date and Barclay will have to hang in there the best he can. The interior lineman will have their hands full with defensive tackle Justin Smith, as long as he remains healthy during the game. Rodgers will have to get rid of the ball quickly and not always look for the play that will gain the most yardage.
Another way the Packers can provide quality protection for Rodgers is by running the ball well. Cedric Benson was the only running back for Green Bay to rush the football in the season opener and he was only able to muster 18 yards on nine carries. The Packers finished the day with 45 rushing yards, but something tells me it will be a different story this time around.
DuJuan Harris rushed for 70 yards on 14 carries against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17 and another 47 yards in Green Bay’s Wild Card win last week, including a touchdown. Harris also hauled in five receptions for 53 yards and has proven to be one more weapon for Rodgers. Veteran Ryan Grant is also chomping at the bit to have an impact for the Packers since returning to the team. His breakout performance could happen at any time as McCarthy has stated he will roll with Grant if he gets the hot hand.
Green Bay has all the right players on both sides of the ball to be victorious. It will just be a matter of giving Rodgers enough time to survey the field and make a play. If he is able to pick apart the 49ers’ defense, I just do not see how quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense can keep up on the score board.