Green Bay Packers: An Early Look at the Week Ahead

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DuJuan Harris
Harris has emerged as Green Bay’s offensive X-factor over the past month

The Green Bay Packers finally won a home playoff game, their first since 2008.  They defeated the Minnesota Vikings and they’re now moving forward to the Divisional Round of the playoffs and will travel to San Francisco to  face the 49ers.

That the Packers beat Minnesota should still be front of mind and reason to celebrate.  I say “should” because while I believe in the “24 hour rule” (whereby you give yourself 24 hours to revel a win or wallow in a loss), for some reason I have already moved on and am thinking critically about next week’s game.

Since there is no NFC North Preview this week (and I am ecstatic about which team in the division is the only one left standing!), I’ll focus on an early look at the week ahead and what the win over Minnesota told us about what to expect.

One Big Positive

The Packers have found a running game.  DuJuan Harris, who was claimed off waivers just a few weeks ago, has sparked the ground game and also added a valuable check down for Aaron Rodgers.  Time and time again, Harris was not only a safety valve for Aaron Rodgers but the Packers got a ton of production from him in the passing game.

How scary is the thought that an already-potent Green Bay offense may also have a formidable screen game?  Technically it’s part of the passing game but a well-timed screen can act just like a run.  It draws in an active defense like San Francisco’s and can burn them if they over pursue.

Harris was arguably Green Bay’s MVP against the Vikings in the playoff game.  He gets the tough yards after contact and has the ability to cut back and find holes in the run game.  If head coach Mike McCarthy is going to go with the “hot hand” at running back, it’s Harris, hands down.

By the time a defense is worn down late in games, Ryan Grant is there to spell Harris.  The run game is churning just as it did late in 2010, their last championship season.  If San Francisco has to focus more on stopping the run, they may take their eye off the pass just long enough for Rodgers to make them pay for it.

Francisco gets very disciplined play from its front seven but a well-timed and executed screen or draw to Harris could neutralize the defensive penetration and even more importantly, the 49ers extremely potent pass rush.

One Big Concern

I was going to talk about the play calling but decided to go in a different direction.

As much as the offensive line has struggled in pass protection this season,  Aaron Rodgers has also done himself no favors at times.  He is too stagnant in the pocket while waiting for a play to develop and he ends up a sitting duck.

A few times against Minnesota in the playoff game, he appeared to duck in anticipation of a sack when the defender hadn’t yet gotten there.  I’m glad he has the internal clock and awareness that the rush is likely coming, but make a decision, Aaron!  Last week, his split second hesitation to run cost him a step and the Vikings forced a fumble when Rodgers was hit from behind.  Against the 49ers, everything will have to be quick on offense to negate a very active defense.

Instead of trying to move around to at least make it that much more difficult for a defender to reach him, Rodgers seems to just stand there waiting to get crushed.  I realize he can’t get out of every sack and that some pass rushers are just  flat-out good.  But what makes it more difficult to watch is that Rodgers is so good on the run and has shown a great ability to get yards with his feet.  We know he can get mobile.

What’s even more baffling about the sacks that are faulted to Rodgers is that we’re talking about one of the best quarterbacks in the league in his fifth season as a starter.  Much like Brett Favre was notorious for trying to squeeze throws into tight coverage, Rodgers’ Achilles heel is his occasional lack of pocket presence.  Favre never really did correct his issue and we will probably always see Rodgers walk himself into a few takedowns every game.

Against the 49ers pass rush, Rodgers can’t give them any freebies.  As is, San Francisco will likely pester Rodgers and the offensive line all day.  They’ll force quick throws and will surely get their positive plays against the Packers.  The key is to minimize those and make the 9ers earn every single one.  Rodgers already has plenty of pressure on him to make plays when he does have time to throw.  He can’t negate those with lost yards due to a sack on the very next play.

It Could Get Ugly If. . .

Dom Capers and the defense think they can stop the 49ers offense with any sort of “soft” zone.  I am not going to wish for the impossible and that Capers might abandon the zone altogether.  That’s just not going to happen.  But I watched a Packers team that had Minnesota by the throat and weren’t able to put them away because they were playing prevent.

The old cliché is that the prevent defense only prevents wins.  It didn’t in this past game, but Minnesota shouldn’t have ever been in position to get back into it.  They were however, because the secondary fell asleep and allowed a ridiculous 50 yard touchdown to bring the Vikings within two scores.

San Francisco’s pass catchers are on an entirely different level than are Minnesota’s.  It will likely take a Packer interception or two to earn a win in San Francisco.  Those won’t come sitting back and waiting.  Mistakes like a badly blown coverage or missed tackles will be too much to overcome as Green Bay faces the remaining playoff field.

I can’t compare Vikings quarterback Joe Webb to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but both are mobile.  Green Bay had success containing Webb as the game went on.  If they can do the same to Kaepernick, the Green Bay secondary may benefit from playing more press and man coverage.  Disrupting the timing of the 9ers offense is what can lead to forced errors and turnovers.  As I said, Green Bay is going to likely need a few to win this next game.

However Capers and the defense slice and dice it, they will have to be aggressive and take some chances.  They can’t abandon who they are and play a completely different style, but this is the playoffs and they only get one chance to advance.  Having Charles Woodson back could be the wild card the Green Bay defense needs.

The Week Ahead

Green Bay has one week to work through all of these aspects.  Will they be favorites to win at San Francisco?  No.  Can they still win?  Absolutely.  If it sounds like I’m calling for near perfection from the Packers to get a win, it’s because I am.  This is the postseason and these are today’s 49ers.

Throw out all of the history between these two teams.  Green Bay’s dominance over San Francisco is a thing of the past and it won’t help them this week.  The 49ers ended a long drought in the series and soundly beat the Packers in Green Bay in week one this season.  The 9ers will be plenty confident that they can do so again in front of the home crowd.

I’m paging the Packers’ A-game and I hope they answer the call!

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • http://www.HawgNSonsTV.Com HawgNSonsTV

    The Packers will dominate this game from start to finish!

  • Sven

    The Packers will be ready for this game. Both these teams are different than they were in week 1.

    The Packers are much more soundon defense, and the offense has played much sharper lately than early in the season.

  • GBPD AN

    I agree with Jason, the Pack will have to play an A+ game to beat the niners. The Packers are loaded with weapons on offense, but,if our Oline doesn’t do there job against the best front 7 in football, Rogers will not have enough time to work his magic. Barclay has slipped the last 2 games and Newhouse has his own limitations. the Forty Niners are loaded with Pro Bowl players on defense including their secondary.their DBs will jam our receivers in the 5 yard zone and knock them off their routes.

    To me, The X Factor for this game (offensively) will be the health of Alex Smith. If his tricep does not hold up, the 49ers are a whole different defense. without Alex Smith, Aldon Smith is much less effective. Aldon Smith has to set the edge and play the Run more without Alex in front of him. Aldon Smith also loses some of his pass rush ability without Alex in front of him.

    I like our defense much better than the defense that played the 49ers in week 1. I agree that Dom Capers has to play an aggressive game, no soft zone coverage.

    another big factor in this game will be the turnover battle which the Packers must win. A strong special team performance will also be beneficial.I hope the Packers can beat the 49ers next week because if they do, I believe the Packers will be playing in the Super Bowl. I like our chances at Atlanta or at home against either Seattle or Washington. Go Packers!

  • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

    GBPD, I am thinking you mean Justin Smith. His health will, no doubt, be a big factor for the 9ers pass rush

  • GBPDAN

    Your right Jason…my bad… Justin smith..hes such a big part of that D. They dont look the same on D with out him. It took Ray Lewis half the season to return from a torn tricep. Justin Smith has a partially torn tricep, he will play, but maybe he wont be as effective. I was hoping that the niners would have had to play this weekend, probably I would have aggravated Smiths tricep.

    I’m not trying to wish ill upon somebody, but the Packers are missing Bishop, Smith, Bolaga and Perry. Just hoping things even themselves out.

    • http://allgbp.com Charlie B

      I think you mean “you’re”

  • Jim

    I’m struggling with this analysis. It’s a bit of “The sky is falling in”. We are ignoring the facts. They scored 10 points… and 7 in the last 3 + minutes. I know it isn’t popular with the stats guys RE: yards but McCarthy and Capers do not loose many games with a lead. It happens limitedly, but guys like Jason would crucify Capers if they took chances and lost due to a big play. The results are that McCarthy wins with a lead.

    • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

      This isn’t about stats. Never has been in my book. It’s about wins. If GB can win, it really doesn’t matter how they do it.

      What this is about is what happened yesterday and how it applies to the 9ers, a completely different opponent. It’s an early “what if”.

      Take a look at San Fran and how the teams that beat them played them. Then take a look at how SF won most of their games. The soft zone will get the Packers killed on Saturday, believe me.

  • Russell

    I like the defensive scheme against the Vikqeens. I think Capers will utilize a similar approach against the niners. Discipline is the key.
    Offensively, The Packers are a different team then they were in week 1. We now have a better running attack. Rodgers is more patient on drives getting rid of the ball quickly and not going for the home run so often as in week 1.
    I like our chances in this game.
    Packers 27 49ers 24

  • Sterling Sharpe

    Where is COW42 today??? Where’s that moron at??? I thought the Packers were one and done and that the “SOFT PACKERS” were going to get run out of Lambeau by the mighty Vikings!!!

    From now on his opinion should be a complete joke…cause like I said…the Packers made adjustments and kicked the crap out of the Vikings.

    Those soft Packers held AP to under 100 yards.

    COW42….you are a coward….and I hope you never come on this site again…cause your opinions are ignorant, childish, and meaningless….cause they hold no water.

    • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

      @Sterling Sharpe… cow42 and Big T are consoling each other as we speak. Lets just be happy that they found each other and aren’t trolling here spewing their negative attitudes and ignorant ideas and thoughts.

      • Big T

        @Nick Ferry… can you find any post I made predicting a Viqueens win. Nope it doesn’t exist. I am and always will be a true Packer fan. The difference between us is the fact that I will be honest in my assessments. I guess some people can’t handle the truth…

    • Chad Toporski

      As much as cow drives me and a lot of other people nuts sometimes, I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring out the name-calling.

      • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

        Agreed. Cow hasn’t even posted on this. Come on guys. Intelligent conversation and disagreement is fine as long as it’s not curt.

    • cow42

      whatever.

      49’ers by 3 scores… 17 or so.

      they’re just a better team.

      by the way…
      RS is the greatest source of football knowledge on the planet.

  • ax

    hi im from mexico and i love the packers also im owner of the packers and in my opinion,i think that our D LINE is in great moment and this games are very emotional and mental…rodgers is THROWING A LOT OF TARGETS and dujuan harris OMG..hes a beast and is our second most important player in offense right now…we need a same kind of play calls like the 2nd quarter vs vikings…blitz blitz blitz vs kaepernick…the history is in our side and the momentum too…our packers play better when we are underdogs

  • Vic.

    Aren’t you the one that picked the ViQueens? Please pick the 9ers this week.

    • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

      Yes, Vic, I did. At the time, I didn’t like the matchup even though the setting was to be different. Had we known that Ponder would sit, it may have been a different story. Haven’t made my final decision on pick this week yet.

  • Tarynfor12

    I don’t know how much he’ll play but when Moss is on the field,don’t lose sight of the Packer killer.It only takes a couple of big catches to do the job.

  • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

    There’s a huge key to this game against the 49ers. Eric Waldon holding the edge against the 49ers. In week one Perry’s 1st regular season as a Pro he struggled. He struggled against the run and defending the pass. This is not a knock on Perry. If Waldon can play at the level he did Saturday night that will be huge in the outcome of this game. Like Saturday night, the Packers have to be disciplined and not over pursue. If that happens and the offense can give Rodgers time, I think this Packers team can give the 49ers fits. Hell, if Seattle can pass against them and Brady can put 35 on them in a blink I love our receivers and Rodgers in this game.

  • White92

    Capers might play more soft zone than you would like. A mobile QB is very dangerous when everyone is playing man. Maybe Woodson is a spy? Just a thought.

  • Jason J

    Jason, I noticed that about two of the sacks Rodgers took. I was yelling at him through my tv to take off. He had escape routes to move around and extend the play, but he just stayed in the pocket until protection broke down. Against the 49ers he will definitely have to use his mobility and move out of the pocket if he can’t make a quick throw.

  • Oppy

    I am concerned about who plays Vernon Davis.

    I think the Packers are susceptible to being attacked with speed down the seam, and that’s Vernon Davis’ forte.

    Charles, IMO, has the smarts but not the wheels, and I don’t know what the answer is. Brad jones off the line, and then passing Davis on to… I don’t know, Burnett I guess? MD Jennings has the speed but not the physicality, Jeron McMillian has the speed and strength, but probably not the awareness..

    Other than that, this game is going to be all about keeping Kaepernick in the pocket and maintaining gap integrity between the tackles to limit Gore..

    I think the offense rolls.

  • Since ’61

    The upcoming game with the 49ers will be a big test for the Packers O-line. The Pack should utilize the moving pocket to neutralize the 49ers rush and get Rodgers moving, this will take advantage of Rodgers ability to throw on the run and simultaneously keep him from becoming a sitting duck in the pocket. Pack defense needs to get off the field on third downs. Thanks, Since ’61

  • Jeff

    The Packers are better than the 49ers. If you get the 49ers in an up tempo game like Seattle did and like the Pats did in the second half , you beat the 9ers. Does anyone understand that the 49ers have an untested playoff quarterback with Kaperneck ? I fell the 49ers must win the turnover battle by 2 or more to win this game. You say history does not matter , well , the Packers have only lost one game in Frisco since 1974 and the one loss was bogus , Scott MacGarrahan recovered a Jerry Rice fumble that was not allowed in that game. History means alot , the Packers have never won in Indianapolis and they have never won a playoff game in Dallas but they have owned the 9ers for 40 years and those streaks either way in the NFL ae hard to break. Do you really think Rodgers is going to let the team beat him in the playoffs that snubbed him with the first round pick ? Through the years the 9ers have not been good in home playoff games , it is not great home field advantage , their fans are not that into it. The Packers have talent and playoff experience at quarterback big time in this game and the Packers have much more firepower. The 49ers can not outscore them in a playoff game. Packers have experience in winning big road playoff games, the 49ers choked at home in the playoffs last year.

    • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

      The Packers have never won a playoff game in Dallas? They won one of THE biggest playoff games in Dallas not even 2 years ago! Of course, it wasn’t against the Cowboys, but I never pass up an opportunity to talk about XLV.

      The 9ers beat the Packers for the first time since ’99 back in September. All of these streaks and tendencies are out the window, to me. Still I think GB has a good chance to come out with a win but I’m not overly confident until I see them start strong, and they will need to.

  • Jeff

    The Packers offense has been unstoppable in the playoffs on the road scoring an average of 33 points against some very good defenses
    Lets say they score 5 points below their average and score 28 , The 49ers are not going over 28 in this game , they do not have the weapons to do that , they are a grind out team. The 49ers home field avantage is nowhere near the advantage Arizona , Philly , Atlanta , and Chicago have

  • Jeff

    I mean in he Troy Aikman era the Packers never woon a playoff game there.

  • Jeff

    Yep , I agree , if the Packers start fast they would be in great shape because the 9ers are not a comback team. I feel very good about it because this franchise has always done very well there. The Bears have lost 9 in a row in Frisco and have got blown out in all of them games , it really is amazing how certain teams do well in places in some dont. Going into Houston this year I knew thaat the Packers have never lost in Houston even to the Oilers.

  • Slim11

    The last time I saw it, the 49ers are three point (3!) favorites to beat GB in SF. Three points is automatically given to the home team when the odds are determined. This tells me the game is a toss-up.

    I like the way the Packers played against the Vikings last weekend. It good seeing Woodson back AND contributing. With Worthy out, the d-line rotation cencerns me a little.

    The new-found running game is what was missing in week one. The 49ers are going to have some tough times if Harris continues playing the was he has.