By Jerrell Richardson
There is still a lot of football to be played, but there is a lot riding on the game Saturday between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. The winner will most likely be the odds on favorite to make it to the Super Bowl, but more importantly, a loss will mark a very disappointing end to the season for the loser. If Green Bay falls, it will be the second straight season they are out of the playoffs in just the second round, and if San Francisco loses they will fail to get a single post season win after a season of legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Both teams are talented enough to win, and for the 49ers to continue their season, there are 3 things that must go in their favor.
These two teams have two very different offensive approaches to the game. Green Bay wants to start by spreading out the formation and passing the ball. Once they hit a few passes and get into their rhythm the pace quickens. This not only allows them to build on their momentum, but it will also keep the same defensive personnel on the field, wearing down the 49ers and creating mismatches that they can continue to exploit. Once rolling the Packers are impossible to stop, so to prevent this, the defense and offense must work together to control the pace of the game.
On the offensive side of the ball they must be able to sustain drives and use both the run and pass to drain the clock. This will keep Rodgers on the sideline, which is the only place on a football field that he is not dangerous. Defensively they must win the battle on1st down and getting off the field on 3rd down. If they can prevent yards on first down, then it will completely take the run out of the equation, as with an already limited rushing attack, the Packers would not make a habit of running on 2nd and long. By keeping Green Bay in long 2nd and 3rd down situations, it will prevent the short passes from Rodgers that can render the pass rush useless. The 49ers MUST get off the field on 3rd down which also comes down to making plays. If the defensse can do these things, they will force punts, thus limiting Aaron Rodgers, which is the first key to the game.
Both teams threw 8 interceptions and as a team lost 8 fumbles during the regular seaon, but between the two quarterbacks, there is no question as to who is more likely to make a mistake in this game. The Packers have forced 18 interceptions this season, 4 more then San Francisco and will be looking to confuse, frustrate and eventually force Colin Kaepernick into a pick. The hard hitting 49ers may not be able to get to the ball in the air, but have a reputation of dislodging the ball from runners and will look to make Green Bay receivers aware of their footsteps and make them pay when they do make a catch. If there are zero turnovers in this game it favors the 49ers who don’t rely on them nearly as much as the high risk high reward mentality of the Packers defensively. The second key to this game will be winning the turnover battle, which will be just as difficult as containing Mr. Rodgers.
The 49ers are a different team when playing with the lead. If they can get points on the board early and often it will take a lot of pressure off their defense, which is going to be tested for 4 quarters. San Francisco would obviously prefer to play with a lead, but just getting on the board and showing that they can score if needed will allow the entire team to play with more confidence. They can’t afford to let Green Bay open up any type of lead, as it can spell trouble for a 49ers team that has had it’s share of struggles this year when falling behind. This also ties into the first two keys for a victory as if they are scoring, the 49ers are also most likely controlling the pace and not turning the ball over. It would also do the team well to get David Akers an early field goal attempt, that he can hopefully make to get his mind back on track, as there is a very good chance that he will be called upon to win, tie or attempt a field goal that has a huge bearing on the outcome of the game.
A Team Effort
Winning a game in the NFL is hard, and its multiplied when entering the playoffs. It’s win or go home, and the 49ers are facing a team that is a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. No matter how it occurs, if San Francisco loses it will be no positive way to spin it. However, if they can protect the ball and get into a rhythm offensively they should be able to keep up with Rodgers. If the defense can get off the field and keep Green Bay out of 3rd and short then they can do enough to limit the damage of the Packers offense. It will take a complete team effort, but if everyone just does their job, and nothing more, the 49ers will escape with a narrow victory.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.