Some would simply look at this season’s week one matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers to start breaking down this upcoming Saturday’s divisional playoff game. But each of these teams has made a sizable change between Week 1 and now.
So what are the changes? The 49ers have a new starting quarterback in Colin Kaepernick and the Packers have found a more productive running game. Let’s examine each of these factors as it relates to this upcoming game.
This is the biggest change for San Francisco. In the week one matchup at Green Bay, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was the starter and he was extremely efficient. He was 20 for 26 with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It helped that Frank Gore added over 100 yards rushing and with Smith not under any real pressure all day. The 49ers were able to beat the Packers for the first time since 1999 and the game wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
In a week 10 game against the St. Louis Rams, Smith suffered a concussion and had to leave the game. That would be his last start and action during the 2012 season. Smith was forced to miss the next week’s game when he was not cleared to return.
Back up quarterback Colin Kaepernick filled in for Smith and threw for two touchdowns in the team’s next game, a Monday Night win over the Chicago Bears. From there, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh declared that he would continue with the “hot hand” and keep Kaepernick under center.
Kaepernick helped the 9ers get to 12 wins an secure the NFC’s second seed entering the playoffs. He finished the season with 10 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. He had over 400 yards rushing on the season and added another five touchdowns on the run.
In his only snap against the Packers in week one, Kaepernick ran for 17 yards and a big first down. Green Bay has plenty of film on him and needs to focus hard on his mobility this week. It’s Kaepernick’s first career playoff start, but he is coming in with a lot of confidence and it’s a home game.
The Packers obviously still have Aaron Rodgers under center and it’s a good thing they do. It will take a Pro Bowl-like effort from any quarterback to beat this 49ers team and fortunately for the Packers, Rodgers is just that: a Pro Bowl quarterback nearly every week.
If the offensive line can give Rodgers time and if he can get out of his own way when a play just isn’t there, Green Bay has a fighting chance to win this game.
This is where Green Bay differs most from week one. In that game, Rodgers attempted 44 passes. I don’t even have to look at the box score to tell you that it was not a balanced offensive attack that day for the Packers. But over the past month, Green Bay has found new life in their ground game.
Normally, a waiver pickup like DuJuan Harris would be considered an unlikely source of a late season spark for a playoff team. But the Packers have consistently found diamonds in the rough off the street who have been big contributors. This one just happens to have come at a near perfect time for Green Bay.
Harris takes some of the pressure off of Rodgers and gives opposing defenses something to think about. San Francisco’s front is very solid and I don’t expect a big day from Harris. But his role here is more to set up everything else. A screen here or a delay there can freeze the 9er defense long enough on the next snap to allow Rodgers to hit it big.
If the San Francisco pass rush is having success, Harris could also become a good safety valve as he was last week against the Vikings.
In the first meeting this season, 9ers running back Frank Gore posted over 100 yards and a touchdown in his team’s win at Lambeau Field. It can’t happen again, plain and simple. Since week seven, Gore hasn’t gone over 100 yards in a single game. Ironically that is when Kaepernick took over at quarterback.
What Does It All Mean?
While neither team has undergone a total overhaul, it is a whole new contest between them this time around. Besides, the playoffs always seem to bring about an added “X-factor” that teams can’t really prepare for. The 49ers are three point favorites at home and since most home teams automatically get 2.5 points in their favor, the odds makers are essentially calling this one a toss up.
We all made our predictions but as the week moves along, I am becoming more certain of one thing: I am really not certain who wins this game. The changes add a fun element and give anyone with an audience something else to analyze about this game.
The NFL is all about adjustments, preparation and focus. We will see who wins that battle on Saturday night!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: