As we get ready for the divisional round of the playoffs, there seems to be an infinite amount of storylines surrounding the match-up between the Green Bay and San Francisco.
In case you've had ESPN on at some point this week, you may have caught some special interest piece about how Aaron Rodgers is from Northern California. No way! Yes way. His dad, Ed Rodgers, even owns and runs a chiropractic care practice in Chico. OMG!
And as fascinating as all that is, the headlines we'd like to focus on here at Niners Nation are the ones that directly affect the match-up. After doing a bit of internet browsing, I have collected some interesting storylines that will directly affect this weekend's game.
Though, you've all heard plenty about Justin Smith this week, so I decided to stay clear of that one. So, without further delay...
Packers’ offensive line, not so sharp
The key to this weekend's game may very well be in the trenches, which should bode well for San Francisco. The Packers have incurred major injuries this season, including losing two starters on the offensive line in C Jeff Saturday and RT Bryan Bulaga.
Green Bay's offensive line allowed 51 sacks on Rodgers in 2012, which was enough to finish for 2nd-most in the NFL. Fortunately for the Packers, he does tend to get rid of the ball with some zest. Rodgers' quick release has allowed him to beat pressure and put together 11 regular season wins despite a struggling offensive line.
But when Rodgers is under duress, he can be beaten. Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young spoke about the upcoming match-up on a conference call this week. Young had this to say about Rodgers versus San Francisco's front:
"Aaron Rodgers will beat you if he’s protected. If you can bring four guys and put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, you can beat him," Young said. The Hall of Fame passer alluded to the importance of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith being present and accounted for. If they are having a strong day, it's the 49ers' game to lose.
Michael Crabtree "anxious" for second chance
1 catch, 3 yards -- that was the stat-line for the 49ers wide receivers in the 2011-12 NFC title game. It was all Michael Crabtree and company could muster against the Giants, and it just wasn't enough. I would not say the performance has haunted Crabtree, but it certainly does not sit well with him.
"With how bad I did last year, in my opinion, I feel like I didn't do what I was supposed to do. I feel like I get another chance. We're back again and ready to win," Crabtree said at the Week 17 post-game presser.
He has developed a strong connection with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and hit career-highs across the board this season. Like a ticking time bomb, the fourth-year pro looks ready to explode in this year's postseason.
"I feel like this year is different. It’s a different year. I feel like all we have to do is go out there and do our job. And as a whole, we should be alright…I wouldn’t say [I’m] comfortable, I’d say ‘anxious.’ I really want to get out there and play. I don’t like talking about it much – I like playing," Crabtree said to the media in the locker room this week.
Can Colin Kaepernick win it with his arm?
One of the main concerns the 49ers have going into this one is falling behind and the potential change of play-calling to follow. On a few occasions, San Francisco has strayed from their game plan when getting behind the eight-ball.
With the young gunslinger behind center, Greg Roman has leaned on Kaepernick to pull them through. He's been more efficient pushing the ball downfield, finding his receivers and extending the play with his legs. Though, there is the worry that Rodgers draws Kaepernick into a shootout, and the veteran bests the QB with only 7 career starts.
Although in wins against New Orleans and New England, Kaepernick only had 25 attempts in each game. It was a perfect amount, and Kaepernick was able to deliver. The difference this time around is that the stakes will be higher, as it's win or go home.
Kaepernick has best rating on passes 21+ yards in air, 16-28 510 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 126.5 rating #49ers— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) January 10, 2013
ST advantage: Packers?
In his breakdown of the 49ers-Packers game, Fooch gave the edge to Green Bay’s special teams and I have to agree. Going into a playoff game with two kickers on the roster is not a way to inspire confidence in your special teams unit.
And although Mason Crosby is at the bottom of the league, he remains the unquestioned starter for Green Bay, which is more than San Francisco can say.
Beyond the place kickers, Ted Ginn Jr. can be considered a non-factor. He has not been an asset to the 49ers at all in 2012. It will be up to someone like rookie RB LaMichael James to be the X-factor in this one. When the Niners desperately needed a play, James returned a kickoff 62 yards into New England territory to setup a game-winning TD.