Linebackers Clay Matthews (52) and Erik Walden (93) and defensive end Ryan Pickett (right) of the Green Bay Packers will have to deal with a successful 49ers running attack. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Green Bay Packers know much has changed since they last faced the 49ers in Game 1 of the 2012 season.
After losing to San Francisco in that game 30-22 and starting the season 2-3, Green Bay turned things around and became the team everyone expected, winning the NFC North and finishing 11-5. The Niners, meanwhile, made the shift to quarterback Colin Kaepernick in midseason, which gives them a different personality on offense, with Kaepernick’s ability to throw deep and run out of more varied formations, particularly out of the option-read “pistol” sets Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada.
Yet as the Packers prepare for the 11-4-1 Niners in this Saturday’s division-round playoff game at 5 p.m. at Candlestick Park, they know one thing remains the same: defensively, they must deal with a large, physical 49ers offensive line that can take over a game.
In the team’s first meeting, San Francisco rushed for 186 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt. Frank Gore led the way with 112 yards on just 16 carries (7 yards per pop) and broke free for a 23-yard scoring run.
The Packers, under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, were able to hold the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, somewhat in check in their win over the Vikings this past weekend (99 yards, an achievement considering the yardage Peterson had gained in recent weeks, and that he’d rushed for 409 yards combined in two previous games against Green Bay this season).
Capers said his defense was able to contained Peterson by playing a tougher, more physical game than it had in recent weeks, and he knows his unit will have to get ready to do it again Saturday against the 49ers.
“So much of this game is a matchup game, how you match up with different people,” Capers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the win over the Vikings. “If you consider your opponent physical, then you better rise to the occasion and be physical yourself.”
In the first game of the season against the 49ers, San Francisco went to un ultra power running game to control the football, the clock and keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers off the field. The Niners – as they did much of the season – went with extra blockers, such as Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore and successfully ran at the heart of the defense.
“Their style, you’re going to see them in more big-people, multiple tight-end sets,” Capers said of the 49ers. “They’ll bring in multiple linemen. They’ll run personnel groups that most teams only run in goal-line situations and they’ll run them first-and-10.
“So you have to be prepared for that.”
The Packers’ front three of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson will need a big game Saturday, holding their own against a big offensive line that averages 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds.
Pickett, in fact, says he’s looking forward to taking another crack at stopping Gore & Co. on the ground.
“They’re pretty physical,” Pickett told the Journal Sentinel, “but our front seven is physical.”
Capers says he likes the way his defense has come together as the season has progressed, and its performance in holding Peterson in check gives him a good feeling heading into the rematch Saturday against the 49ers.
“I think we can attack you in different ways,” Capers told the Associated Press. “I think we’ve got more athletic ability on our defense this year than we had. I think these young guys have given us more athletic ability, more speed, more pass rush ability.
Strong safety Morgan Burnett, in his third season, has been exceptional against the run, and led Green Bay in tackles this season with 123, just ahead of the 120 by linebacker A.J. Hawk.
To see what the Packers have to say about all this, check out the sports section at our affiliate station in Milwaukee, Today's TMJ4.com