The Packers travel west to face the San Francisco 49ers for the next round of the playoffs. Before the Vikings game I mentioned that it’s this time of year that will truly define the way the Packers season goes. Last week the Packers were able to overcome some demons, both shedding off the specter of another one and done playoff season as well as a chance for redemption against Adrian Peterson. Of course as we know now both of these concerns were addressed and the Packers had a great win.
This week the team can further define the season by facing a single issue, specifically how the Packers respond to a physical team. In case you forgot, the Packers played the 49ers in the first week of the season. If you want to watch a single game that showed everything the Packers have done wrong over the past two years you are probably not going to find a better single example than this particular game. The team tried to live too much by the big play, passed way too much, could not run on the few times they tried it, and was blown off the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Both teams have changed their offensive identities since then, but many of the core principles remain. The 49ers are a physical team that likes to hit on defense and run on offense. The Packers are still a pass first offense and defense a bit more comfortable defending the pass than the run.
To win the Packers are going to have to show that they can win in a physical match up. They need to win in the trenches and show that they are more than just a finesse team. They need to tackle consistently and with an attitude. The five to watch reflect this and the players to watch are players who need to play tough and disciplined football in order for the Packers to advance to the NFC Championship game.
LT Marshall Newhouse – Coming into the playoffs there were exactly two pass rushers I thought would give Newhouse problems. Aldon Smith is one and Von Miller is the other. This week the Packers face Aldon Smith. Smith is a combination of speed and power that always frustrates Newhouse. It takes more than just good technique to stop him and Newhouse may not have enough other tools to beat him. The good news is that Smith is overcome a shoulder injury which may limit some of the power. Even more good news is that Smith does not look the same without Justin Smith in the lineup. Justin Smith should play this weekend but it’s unclear how effective he will be. No matter what Newhouse needs to do his job this week and protect Aaron Rodgers, if Newhouse can do this the Packers should be able to win….if he can’t though it could be a long night.
OLB Erik Walden / Dezman Moses – There are two Packers here but does it matter which one I’m talking about? In the end the Packers defense is only going to go as far as each of these players can do the same thing….play smart and keep contain. Both of these guys have struggled with this at times for different reasons. Moses is primarily a pass rusher and so he sometimes gets caught peeking too much into the backfield. Walden also peeks into the backfield, but he also has struggled with tackling save last week’s performance against the Vikings. If these two can do their job opposite Clay Matthews then the Packers should be able to funnel the 49er running game to the center of the field and shut it down.
CB Tramon Williams – Williams has been a bit of a forgotten man in the secondary this year. Sam Shields has made some great interceptions down the stretch and greatly improved his play. Casey Hayward has led the team in interceptions and was a key playmaker on the defensive side of the ball this year. Williams has had a quiet year, but a year where he has faced some of the best WR talent in the l league and made them all a nonfactor to the outcome of the game. This week that continues with 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree who is having a break out year this year. If Williams can continue his steady coverage of Crabtree, and step up a bit more in run support, then the Packers defense should be in great shape on Saturday.
WR Greg Jennings – Short passes and YAC are going to be key for the offense this week, and no one in the Packers’ receiving unit does that better than Jennings. Cobb is electric with the ball, but to watch Jennings with the football is a thing of beauty. Making sure Jennings has a chance to make plays ensures that Rodgers gets the ball out of his hands quickly and should keep the offense moving….something they were unable to do in the previous meeting of these two teams.
DB Charles Woodson – The 49ers defense has all the pieces that requires Woodson to have a big game. They have a big TE that requires a hybrid S/CB to effectively cover in Vernon Davis. They have a very good running game that will require tackling support from Woodson. They also have a young quarterback who has been known to take some chances with the football. The Niners lose games where they lose the turnover battle, and so having a veteran with a nose for making the big play is absolutely essential. Woodson may be the X factor for the Packers defense this Saturday.
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