The San Francisco 49ers are a very talented football team. Still, it will take a lot, even at home, for them to beat the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.
Most notably, Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP and the Super Bowl 45 MVP. Rodgers threw 39 touchdowns against eight interceptions in the regular season, and he has the potential to shred the best defenses the NFL has to offer. Yes, that means the 49ers.
That’s not to say Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Willis and the 49ers can’t win, though. They have a wealth of talent and the ability to win it all.
But how will they take down Green Bay? Here are four keys to success for the men in red and gold.
1. Pressure on Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is skilled at avoiding sacks, but he has been sacked 51 times this year, which is the most in the NFL.
The Packers have a horrible offensive line, and the 49ers have a talented defensive line. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith anchor this unit, and while Justin has been hurt, he should be fine for Saturday night. Justin doesn’t pile up on sacks, but he bulldozes lineman, which opens up gaps for the other Smith.
San Francisco also blitzes linebackers and cornerbacks, and they gave the Packer O-line a hard time when they met in Week 1. Sending more guys makes life easier for the Smith’s, but it also increases the already high-risk of Rodgers finding an open man on a short pass. Rodgers is a very smart, strong and mobile quarterback. Plus, he’s accurate when throwing to any targets.
Rodgers won’t be intimidated, but he can be limited. Both Smith’s can have a field day, but the secondary needs to do it’s job too.
2. Perform Better on Special Teams
The 49ers have struggled on special teams lately, and they know better than anyone how costly error in this area can be.
Kyle Williams cost them last year, and the kicking game has not been good this year. Ted Ginn Jr. looks scared when returning punts, and if he muffs a punt and/or the kicker misses a field goal, San Francisco could be in trouble.
Last year in the NFC Championship game, the defense harassed Eli Manning while Alex Smith threw two touchdowns. Because of Williams’s blunders, however, the 49ers lost at home. That could very well happen again, even if the offense and defense play well. Simply put, special teams control a lot.
Green Bay has an erratic kicker in Mason Crosby, but Akers has missed a kick in three straight games and five of six. Cundiff isn’t any better, and it will be crucial that the 49ers don’t leave anything in the hands of their kicker or punt returner. Andy Lee is a great punter, but very rarely do you see a game left in the hands of a punter.
Don’t expect special teams to kill the 49ers, but expect it to play a part. If they can’t find success on special teams, their chances of winning definitely decrease.
3. Using the Run to Make Kaepernick More Effective
Colin Kaepernick has lots of talent, but there is a simple way to make him even more effective.
Ever since Kaepernick got inserted into the starting lineup, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has gotten pass-happy and abandoned the stellar running game that got the 49ers to this point. Frank Gore is a spectacular running back, and while he isn’t as effective in the option,LaMichael James has the explosiveness needed to complement Kaepernick.
If Roman abandons the run and goes into panic mode, Green Bay’s 17th-ranked run defense won’t have to worry about the ground game and the man who averaged seven yards per carry and scored a touchdown (Gore) against them in Week 1. Instead, they will be able to contain Kaepernick and win the game.
With Gore as a threat, though, windows will open up for Kaepernick. He is a deep threat, so if Green Bay keys in too much on the run, the 49ers can try and catch them off-balance with a deep pass. It will make things much easier for the 49ers, and it will give a defense that was known last year as one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history, a tough time.
4. Take the Early Lead, Use Home-Field as a Factor
When you think of loud stadiums, the Seahawks’ stadium comes to mind. But the 49ers can make Candlestick Park rock, too.
Last year’s playoff games at Candlestick were tough games for the opponents, and the 49ers can make this game the same. It won’t be easy for the Packers to jump out ahead and drown out the crowd. If he 49ers can build some early momentum and seize the early advantage, they will have this facet on their side.
San Francisco took a 17-0 lead on the Saints in the Divisional game last year, and the crowd was a factor. They relinquished that lead, but that probably won’t happen again. Green Bay will probably have to abandon the run and put it all on Rodgers and the offensive line. If a turnover is forced because of the poor offensive line, it could break the Packers.
The 49ers can definitely go on top early. That is, if they want Kaepernick to go deep. Or, if they are balanced and keep the Packers off-balance, that could also give them an early lead. They need to get going from the start, however, if they want to beat Green Bay because Roman’s play-calling is definitely a concern when playing from behind.
Can the 49ers come back and win if needed? Yes. Is it likely? No.