Ugh, not a game I feel comfortable predicting. I think the Packers are definitely the better overall team and that they should win, but I’m just not very confident asserting that they will.
As I’ve said before, I would like for the Packers to win and for Kaepernick to have a bad game so that Jim Harbaugh’s ego gets knocked down a few pegs. I do think Kaepernick might have a turnover or two (especially sack fumble when he’s trying to make something happen). But the truth is, the guy is pretty good for a young QB. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure. While he’s handled it pretty well thus far – especially in light of the controversy his promotion has caused – the playoffs are different, especially when playing a highly regarded Packers team.
The most important factor in the game Saturday is the play of our O-Line. Keeping Rodgers upright and giving him time to make good decisions will be critical. And good run blocking could really help give SF some defensive headaches (because they’d have to account for an aspect of our offense they likely are not very concerned about.)
A close second to the O-Line is the play of our D-Line. If they can do a decent job stopping the run, getting a pass rush and not getting pushed around too much, I think the Packers stand a really good chance of winning. In this game in particular, I just think winning the defensive line of scrimmage battle will be critical. I’m not sure we have the talent or depth to do this but a big effort from anyone lining up on the line (D-Line, OLBs rushing the QB, Woodson making Kaepernick uneasy…) is critical. Of course Clay Matthews will be significant Saturday. If he can generate enough pressure it could lead to mistakes by Kaepernick and rhythm issues for the 49ers offense. But a quiet key to the game may be the play of Erik Walden and Dezman Moses. Walden was active against the Vikes and if these 2 guys in particular can get some quality pressure on Kaepernick again, I think we can count on a few costly mistakes by the 2nd year player.
Woodson should factor into the pass rush as well. I’m guessing Capers is super pumped about having the chance to use Woodson in mysterious ways against a young QB. And I’m guessing Kaepernick is at least a little bit concerned about having to guess what the ball-hawking Woodson will be doing on each play. Woodson could be a big factor Saturday.
The play of AJ Hawk and Brad Jones will be important in the run game in particular. (I just don’t count on them helping much at all in the passing game). Hawk had a great first 2/3 of the season and has since been iffy, and even downright bad in a couple of the closing games. If he can elevate his play and Brad Jones can learn to tackle lower, we could be OK. As I’ve said before, Jones hits powerful running backs too high (like he did a few times to AP and others) and because the RBs usually have momentum, they push him back way farther than they would if he tackled lower. And Frank Gore is a powerful dude – so hit him low Brad.
Our secondary’s overall play is of course important too, but I have some confidence that the secondary will do a good job on Crabtree and Moss, especially if we get our pass rush going.
Vernon Davis is a guy I worry about. It would seem to me to be just like Jim Harbaugh to intentionally make a guy like Davis disappear (6 catches in his last 6 games – for the fastest TE ever to play…) only to have him re-emerge in the playoffs. Frankly, it would be a really smart idea considering that the Pack probably hasn’t put too much prep in accounting for Davis. He’s a good player and way too valuable to go unused – especially against a team that has historically struggled mightily against TEs. In fact, the 49ers couldn’t ask for a much better match-up considering how slow our two ILBs are.
I will be very interested to see what McCarthy does with DuJuan Harris in this one. I am absolutely positive the 49ers defense is being coached to do everything possible to cause a Harris fumble. He’s a young dude and they know a fumble could really disrupt his confidence/rhythm and the rhythm of the offense. It is, after all, quite risky to give a no-name guy who really only started playing in the last month or so, the ball a bunch. Still, I think we need to give the guy a chance to show his stuff. If he gets going (either running it or catching screens) it could really open up the passing game. I also happen to think he’s the one guy on our offense who can match the level of intensity/aggressiveness that the 49ers D will definitely be playing with. He adds an element of power and aggressiveness to an otherwise finesse offense (kind of like Benson did). All this said, if he pukes up the ball once or twice or is generally not getting the job done, I hope Starks is healthy enough to jump in there as he’s the next best back.
I want to use the no huddle. It gives the offense a huge advantage especially with a QB who is so in command of things as Rodgers is. This would present significant issues for SF.
Rodgers and McCarthy should be thinking a lot about which particular DBs they want to exploit in this matchup. We have the amazing luxury of having 4 standout WRs plus Finley. As good as the 49ers D is and as well as their 2 starting DBs have played, we should really think hard about forcing their #3 and #4 DBs to have the games of their lives in order to stop us.
It has to be concerning for both teams that Akers and Crosby are still the kickers. In what is sure to be a close, hard-fought game, every point counts big-time. Throw in a crappy field and…I’ll stop now in hopes of bringing positive energy to Crosby. He has had a small comeback in recent weeks and the truth is that now is the time that matters most. So step up Mason.
I’m surprised by the number of experts who are picking the Packers. SF is a very good team. This will be a very good game that I can see going either way frankly. In the end, I’ll go 23-20, Packers.