The Past: Do we really need to remind ourselves of the past? Sometimes it seems like certainly match-ups become one sided rivalries; in the 1990’s the Packers seemed never able to beat the Dallas Cowboys and recently it’s seemed like the Packers have always gotten better of the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears but the team that seems to give the Aaron Rodgers Packers the most problems is the Jim Harbaugh lead San Francisco 49ers. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick stole the show in their last playoff meeting, setting a new record for yards on the ground for a quarterback and added 263 yards in the air and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers just couldn’t get anything going against the stout 49ers defense and was stymied into a 1 dimensional passing attack.
The Packers drew the unfortunate luck of having to see their rivals right out of the gate this season with similar results. Again Aaron Rodgers couldn’t get much going against the defense, the running game lead by two rookies just wasn’t ready and the defense fell apart, this time only through the passing game as Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and 3 touchdowns and made aging receiver Anquan Boldin look like the second coming of Jerry Rice.
Since then the Packers have mostly been licking their wounds quietly with bigger issues to fry such as replacing Rodgers for 8 games while his shoulder blade recovered, or having to find a new defensive line and linebacking core as players shuffled in due to injuries. Getting to the playoffs was essentially a pipe dream until week 17 (the Packers at the lowest had a 6% shot at getting into the playoffs), when they secured their playoff berth with a miracle 4th down touchdown from Rodgers to Randall Cobb, who was also coming back from a horrific bone break of his own. While neither the Packers nor the Bears were really expected to fare all that well in the playoffs, getting in is an accomplishment on its own, especially considering the wretched season they had to endure just to get to this point.
The Present: The Packers get their 3rd shot at breaking the 49ers and this time they might have a legitimately different strategy. The 49ers have never had to deal with a balanced Packers offense that is willing and capable of running the ball; during their week 1 matchup, rookie Eddie Lacy had his rookie mistakes and the Packers’ offensive line was still unsure of how this whole running game thing was supposed to work. Well if there is any silver lining to Rodgers breaking his collar bone, its that the whole offense was forced to start running the ball as a means of matriculating the ball down the field instead of just adding diversity to the offensive game plan and that is something that the 49ers haven’t seen yet.
How the 49ers ultimately decide to play Eddie Lacy will largely determine the outcome of the game. If the 49ers can stop the running game early and force Rodgers and his receivers to throw the ball, the 49ers will likely win; not only has it worked for them in the past but Rodgers will be even more unwilling to take a big hit with his healing collar bone and thus will likely not be extending plays for as long as he normally would. However if the Packers can force the 49ers to respect both the run and the pass, it’s likely that the 49ers defense will have a long night as Rodgers can dissect them with both his arm and his mind.
For the 49ers offense, they’ve shown a lot of their cards to the Packers with the read-option, the spread offense as well as the traditional ground and pound but luckily for them the Packers haven’t been able to stop everything all in the same game. Perhaps most dangerous is how Colin Kaepernick fares, if he’s given time and a pocket, he’ll dissect an already weak defensive secondary. If they try to contain him, he’s a dangerous runner (just ask Erik Walden). Perhaps the only strategy that the Packers haven’t tried on Kaepernick is to confuse him; while Kapernick has played like a veteran, really this is basically his second season and he still hasn’t seen everything the NFL defense can throw at him. A heavy dose of Dom Capers magic featuring corner back blitzes, strange formations and amoeba defenses might be the best option for a defense that has taken a steady tumble since the beginning of the season.
The Future: Typically this section is for offseason matters like the salary cap, free agency and the draft, but since this is the playoffs it seems wise to talk about playoff scenarios. Whoever wins this matchup will play either the Carolina Panthers or the Seattle Seahawks, who have the 1st and 2nd seeds in the NFC. The determining factor will be the winner of the Philadelphia-New Orleans game; if Philadelphia wins then they will play the Carolina Panthers while the winner of the Packers game will play the Seattle Seahawks while if the New Orleans Saints wins then they get the first crack at beating the Seahawks while the winner of the Packers game will face Carolina. Packers fans should be rooting for the Saints this weekend as the Seahawks, by virtue of being the 1st seed in the NFC, will have the benefit of playing all their playoff games at home.
One possible distraction that the 49ers might have is that black monday claimed a total of 6 head coaching positions and several teams are interested in the 49ers coordinators, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has had interviews in the past and apparently really wants the Detroit Lions job while defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is another hot name that was rumored to have been a coaching candidate for several teams last year. While the 49ers will likely bar any interviews with their coordinators while they are in the playoffs, fans and the media a like have speculated on the distraction that something like this will cause.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.