49ers’ X-Factors vs. Packers: Vernon Davis and LaMichael James


November 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis (85) against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers defeated the Saints 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow the San Francisco 49ers take on the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. These two teams faced off in Week 1, as the Niners soundly handled the Packers in their 30-22 victory at Lambeau field.

This time the Packers come to Candlestick park as both of these teams are vastly different from the two teams that matched up during Week 1.  The Packers are hitting their stride at the right time and Aaron Rodgers is playing at his peak. The Niners still possess the superior defense, but the big change is on the offensive side of the ball with Colin Kaepernick now at the helm, and injuries to several key players.

So this new Niners’ offense is going to have look for explosive plays to ensure a victory. I feel the two players that will provide the Niners with that explosive “X-factor” are going to be tight end Vernon Davis and running back LaMichael James. I am excluding Colin Kaepernick because he must have a good game for the Niners to win, anyway.

Vernon Davis has been non-existent in the second half of the season. In his first nine games of the season with Alex Smith as the quarterback, Davis accumulated 29 receptions for 404 yards and four touchdowns. In Kaepernick’s first game as the starter, Davis had six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. The following six games saw him not even equal the numbers that he put up in that one game alone as he had a combined six catches for 61 yards and no touchdowns.

Obviously, Davis needs to step up his play and produce. He is one of the most physically gifted players in the NFL, so getting the ball in his hands is crucial. Last year in the playoffs, Davis was an absolute monster, shredding defenses to the tune of 10 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns in just two games.

Getting the ball in Davis’s hands accomplishes more than just putting up big numbers, though. It allows other players to thrive because opposing defenses have to account for the vertical threat that Davis presents. It stretches the safeties and linebackers a little deeper into coverage, which opens up the middle of the field for Michael Crabtree to operate underneath, and for Frank Gore to find bigger running lanes. Getting into that second and third level will be another result of Davis’s vertical threat.  By getting Davis involved in the game plan, the Niners will dictate the way they want to run their offense.

LaMichael James, meanwhile, is a player that has several factors that are positive advantages going into Saturday’s contest.  The main advantage that James possesses, is the lack of game film that the Packers will have on him. Green Bay will not be able to predict how the Niners intend to use James, which is magnified by his ability to be used in a multitude of ways.

James, like Davis, has the ability to hit the homerun on one touch. The Packers rank sixth worst in the NFL in average yards per carry at 4.5 yards, and they are middle of the pack in rushing yards per game, allowing 118.5 yards. James’s big play ability could be a major factor against a Packers’ defense that has been gashed at times this season.

The other area where James is crucial on the kick off return team. He actually leads the team in yards per return with an average of 29.8 yards, and he has proven his ability to provide a spark to the offense with his kick return ability. His 62 yard return against New England, started the San Francisco’s offense, as they scored the go ahead touchdown on the very next play. The coaching staff needs to ultilize James’s athleticism to take advantage of a soft Packers’ run defense.

The Niners are going to have to score a lot of points to have a chance against this rolling Packers’ offense, and the key to keep the offense moving, are the explosive plays. They need to use their two most athletic players in Vernon Davis and LaMichael James to provide those big, shock plays, which can spark the offense and keep the Packers’ defense guessing. I predict that one or both of these players are going to have to step up if the Niners are going beat Packers on Saturday.