181 rushings yards. Two rushing touchdowns. 267 passing yards and two more touchdowns. That’s the damage quarterback Colin Kaepernick dealt to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs en route to a 45-31 victory.
With the 53-man roster set for the season, the Packers can focus their full attention towards their impending rematch with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, where an even younger Green Bay defense will be tasked with stopping San Francisco’s running game and the dynamic threat that Kaepernick poses as a quarterback.
For the Packers, there are questions on both sides of the ball. The focus will be on their running game, which consists of veteran James Starks and two rookies in second- and fourth-rounder Eddy Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
Lacy is an between-the-tackles workhorse kind of back, while Franklin is a good change of pace, but throwing these rookies in against a defense that ranked among the best in the NFL will certainly be a challenge all its own. Despite the loss of Greg Jennings to the Minnesota Vikings and Donald Driver to retirement, the trio of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones will continue to keep the Packers’ passing attack thriving.
Of course, there’s also the offensive line they have to run behind, especially at the tackle position. With the season-ending loss of one of its top two lineman in left tackle Bryan Bulaga, it will be up to rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari to protect Aaron Rodgers‘s blindside.
On the right side, second-year man Don Barclay was chosen as the starter over Marshall Newhouse, who started on the left side last season but was unable to assert himself to the coaches as a long-term option. How they defend the likes of Aldon Smith on the edge could mean the difference.
On the other side, the 49ers will be keeping their focus on All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews, and the Packers will be looking for improvement from 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry in his second season.
Of course, their defense must contain the much debated zone-read that the 49ers are able to run to near perfection. Last time, the Packers got gashed for 181 rushing yards by Kaepernick in this offense, which set playoff records and established Kaepernick even more as a quarterback.
They must also contend with the running back duo of Frank Gore and LaMichael James, and they must also face Kaepernick’s strong arm without the aid of one of their best cornerbacks in Casey Hayward, who is ruled out due to a hamstring injury.
This will likely force fifth-round pick Micah Hyde into action in the slot position, which the 49ers may try to take advantage of early. While the 49ers will be without Crabtree for some time, they still have Vernon Davis at tight end, and the addition of Anquan Boldin will certainly give the young 49ers quarterback a very reliable possession receiver.
When all is said and done, both teams are the cream of the crop in the NFC. The course of this game, however, will ultimately be determined by how the Packers contain the 49ers’ zone=read. If it’s anything like the playoffs, it could be a long night for the Pack.