Packers at 49ers: 2013 NFL Playoff Game Preview
Packers at 49ers
(12-5) Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
The Packers are 4-4 on the road, while the 49ers are 6-1-1 at home. This NFC divisional weekend tilt is a Week 1 rematch. The 49ers won at Lambeau Field 30-22 in a game that was not as close as the eight-point final margin of victory. Alex Smith, Kendall Hunter and Cedric Benson were all prominent in that game, but all will miss this game (Smith is the only one who may play, but he would require an injury to Colin Kaepernick for that to happen).
This game features a dozen Pro Bowl players, and six of those are from the 49ers defense. This game is in San Francisco on the strength of San Fran's Week 17 win coupled with the Packers' Week 17 loss to close the season.
This is the second straight season that the 49ers have earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They are 25-8-1 under Jim Harbaugh, including 1-1 in the playoffs. His counterpart Mike McCarthy is 80-41, including 6-3 in the playoffs.
This slide show article will look at the running games for both teams, and the passing games for both teams. I will also take a ,look at the two defenses. Let's start with some stat comparisons.
The Packers average 25 points per game on the road, while the 49ers average 25 points per game at home. The Packers allow 25 points per game on the road, while the 49ers are awesome, allowing just 14 points per game at Candlestick Park. The Packers allow 345 yards on the road, while the Niners yield a measly 273 yards per game at home.
The Packers score pretty consistently, while the 49ers do most of their scoring in the second half.
The last page of this slideshow article has links to all of my other divisional round previews, and a link to all of my articles as the 2013 NFL Playoffs Insider for Rant Sports.
49ers Passing Game
This season Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick each had 218 pass attempts. Smith was replaced by Kaepernick due to injury, but when Smith returned to health he remained sidelined as head coach Jim Harbaugh made the practically unprecedented call of staying with Kaepernick. Smith losing his job despite returning to health was a stunner, but he was sacked 24 times and Kaepernick was dropped just 16 times. Harbaugh prefers a quarterback that can beat you with his running ability if/when a play breaks down.
Kaepernick went 5-2 as a starter, and 3-0 at Candlestick Park. He had four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) with zero interceptions at home. His quarterback rating at Candlestick is a very impressive 109.4. In the Niners' Week 1 win over the Packers we saw Kaepernick have one rush and it went for 17 yards.
Michael Crabtree had a career season, and he is a BFF for Kaepernick. The second-year quarterback looks for Crabtree way more often than any other 49ers pass catcher.
In the 2012 NFL Playoffs we saw Vernon Davis carry the load for San Francisco. He was awesome, but Kaepernick-to-Davis is not exactly on fire. When Kaepernick throws to the tight ends he is very efficient, but the 49ers are just not targeting that position in their passing game lately. #RML in this game will be whether Davis can be effective. I would think the 49ers will need multiple key catches from Davis in this game. Davis does appear to be over any concussion issues so hopefully he can get going with Kaepernick.
The Packers pass defense is no joke. They are ranked #11 overall vs the pass, and they have eight interceptions on the road which is top-10 quality. They have dropped the opposing quarterback 47 times, 22 of those on the road.
Clay Matthews is back, and he has 6.0 sacks in his last four games (including 2.0 sacks on wild-card weekend). For the season he had 13.0 sacks, 5.0 of those were on the road. Green Bay will need Matthews to be the guy disrupting Kaepernick's rhythm.
Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward leads the Packers with six interceptions, and incredibly all of those have come on the road. The Pack won four road games this season, and Hayward had one interception in all of them (two in a win at the Houston Texans).
49ers Ground Game
The 49ers have the No. 4-ranked running game in the NFL. Frank Gore is very consistent, averaging 1,100-plus rushing yards per season and 4.7 yards per carry in his career. San Francisco has won the last nine games in which Gore has gone north of 100 rushing yards. The last 21 times that Gore has had at least 75 yards from scrimmage (rushing yards + receiving yards) the 49ers are 20-0-1 (18-0-1 in the Harbaugh era).
Gore averages a whopping 5.3 yards per carry at home, and five of his eight touchdowns came at home. In Week 1 at Lambeau Field Gore had 112 yards on 16 carries (7.0 yards per carry) plus a touchdown.
The 49ers are a team that likes to run, and they win games through their defense and running game. In wins they average 33 rushes for 174 rushing yards (against the Packers they ran 32 times for 186 yards). In losses they average just 23 rushes so we see this offense is built around their running attack.
The only potentially worrisome thing about San Fran's running game is they have fumbled seven times, but luckily they lost just one of those. The Packers defense is terrible at forcing and recovering fumbles.
Green Bay is No. 17 overall vs the run, but they yield an average of 4.5 yards per carry which is near the very bottom of the NFL.
Packers Passing Attack
The Packers have the No. 9 overall passing game in the NFL. On the road there are some unreal stats. Check out Aaron Rodgers: 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the road. Wow. On the road the Pack attack is feast or famine as we see those numbers, but add the fact that Rodgers was sacked a whopping 34 times away from Lambeau Field. Yikes.
In his career Rodgers is 2-1 vs the 49ers (all three games in Green Bay...Rodgers has never played in San Francisco) with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He averages an impressive 315 pass yards per game vs San Francisco, and in that week 1 tilt he was 30 for 44 (303 yards) with a pair of touchdowns and one interception.
James Jones had 14 touchdown catches this season, eight of those came on the road. Jordy Nelson had six of his seven touchdowns on the road, and Randall Cobb scored four of his eight touchdowns away from Lambeau.
In their last road game we saw Greg Jennings go off for 120 yards, and a pair of touchdown catches. Even more depth for this pass attack is Jermichael Finley who has 30 catches in 39 targets on the road.
Even new running back DuJuan Harris was thrown to six times in their wild-card weekend win. He had a key drop, but he caught the other five passes for 53 yards.
The 49ers solid vs the pass. Overall they are ranked #4 vs the pass, but they have just 14 interceptions. Dashon Goldson leads the team with three interceptions, and all of those picks came at home.
A #RML in this game is the whole Smith/Smith situation. Justin Smith is back at practise, but he looks less than 100% as he is dealing with triceps issues. His presence is massive for this defense. The only Niner who gets sacks at home is their sack-master Aldon Smith who has 12.0 of his 19.5 sacks at Candlestick. The 49ers have just 5.0 sacks at home from players than Aldon (yikes). The thing is that Aldon has zero sacks the past three weeks since Justin Smith has been out. These two work in tandem tremendously well as Aldon finishes the opportunities that Justin sets up.
The 49ers are not built to play from behind so Smith and Smith will need to perform on Saturday to keep Rodgers from being able to impose his will on this game.
Packers Ground Game
One month ago DuJuan Harris was promoted to the NFL roster of the Green Bay Packers. Including his playoff game he has 51 rushes for 204 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and the Packers seem very intrigued with him. It looks like he will be their featured running back for this playoff run. The Packers are in the bottom third for all rushing stats so we see why they have no problem giving someone new like Harris a chance. For the season the Packers average a measly 3.9 yards per carry on the road, and they have just two road rushing touchdowns (yikes).
Cedric Benson and John Kuhn had one and two yard touchdown plunges on the road this season, so the Pack are hoping that Harris can be more explosive and get one into the end-zone from further out than one or two yards. October 7, 2012 was the last time that Green Bay scored a road touchdown (that is zero rushing touchdowns in their last six road games).
Harris is a potential X-factor in this game (Divisional weekend X-factor article coming soon!) as the Packers butter their bread through their passing game so if they can add contributions from their running game they may be impossible to beat.
The 49ers are #4 overall vs the run. They yield just 3.7 yards per carry which is third best in the NFL. They have allowed just seven touchdowns on the ground which is fourth best in the NFL.
NFC Divisional Tilt - Packers at 49ers
The winner of this game will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVII (in my opinion, anyway). I like the Packers in this game, and by extension I like the Packers to win the NFC.
The emergence of DuJuan Harris has added another dimension to the Packers offense, and I simply love what their passing game can do. We hear the idea that great defenses travel well, I think this Packers offense travels well. The best way to beat the Niners is to force them to play from behind. San Fran is built to get a lead and then use that defense and running game to bring it home. I think the Packers can build a double-digit lead and impose their high-scoring will on this game.
The 49ers need Justin Smith to play, and they need Aldon Smith to wreak havoc. They will need Frank Gore to be great, and Kaepernick-to-Crabtree plus Kaepernick-to-Davis will have to provide touchdowns.
At the end of the day I see too much here for the Packers, and I think they will win this football game.
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Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons game preview is HERE.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos game preview is HERE.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots game preview is HERE.
All of my articles as the 2013 NFL Playoffs Insider for Rant Sports are RIGHT HERE.