Despite losing to the San Francisco 49ers at home on the opening day of the season, the Green Bay Packers head over to the Bay area as slight favorites due to both teams’ endings to this season.
But that 22-30 loss was part of a 2-3 start. Since then, the Packers have gone 9-2, including wins in Houston and Chicago. Unlike the 49ers, there have been no problems at quarterback for the 2010 season champions.
Aaron Rodgers is everything to the Packers. Rodgers finished the season with 4295 yards, 39 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions, but he’s also the Packers’ second best rushed with 259 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. The Packers finished 20th in the regular season on the ground with 106.4 yards per game.
And that’s the only problem when having Rodgers as your quarterback. Everything has been built around him and his abilities, it almost makes the team one dimensional in a way, with the running game forgotten too often. In the first loss to the 49ers this season, Rodgers tried to go deep every time, and the Niners’ linebackers simply dropped back. The Packers dropped back to pass on 52 of their 61 plays against the 49ers on week 1 and also didn’t use a running back on half of their plays. It’ll be a different sight this time.
On the other side, the 49ers are hoping Colin Kaepernick proves he was a good choice by being more than just a facilitator to the running game. The Packers have given up a lot of yards to the Minnesota Vikings over the previous games, and the Niners love to run the ball as well, ranking 4th in the NFL with 155.7 yards per game. Frank Gore ran for 112 yards in the opener to the season and finished with over 1200 yards.
A big key for Kaepernick will be finally using Vernon Davis, who enjoyed life under Alex Smith (5 TDs, 0 INT last postseason), but has caught passes for only 61 yards and 0 touchdowns over the last six games. The tight end has scored in all four games he’s played against the Packers, totaling 351 yards, and he had 10 receptions for 292 yards with four TDs in two postseason games last year.
Another important battle will be stopping Aldon Smith from getting to Rodgers. Related or not, Smith hardly gets sacks when Justin Smith, his teammate, isn’t on the field. The Niners as a team sack at half the efficiency they usually do when Justin Smith is off the field.
Predictions – Aaron Rodgers is great, but it feels like the weaknesses the Packers have will be exploited by a team that will simply go to its strengths. Despite the MVP’iness of Rodgers, it might not be enough.