As we get ready for Saturday's 49ers-Packers division round matchup, I took a few minutes to chat with Devin Shanley from Acme Packing Company, our Packers blog. We discussed both sides of the ball, but I figured I'd break this down into separate posts about the offense and defense.
This first post focuses on the always potent Packers offense. My primary concern about this game stems from the fact that Aaron Rodgers will be lining up across from the 49ers on Saturday. It is safe to say he will be motivated by his previous Draft day slight. I realize Rodgers has done plenty to prove himself since the 2005 NFL Draft, but he strikes me as the kind of guy who uses those slights every day of his career. Similar to Jim Harbaugh in that manner.
The Packers are getting healthy at wide receiver, and hoping they have found a solid running back option in DuJuan Harris. Really, the 49ers defense against the Packers offense will come down to "containment" as opposed to "stopping". Aaron Rodgers will get plenty of passing yards, but the key is to make them relatively innocuous yards. The 49ers defense can go into bend-but-don't-break mode, and while that can work fine, it is key to keep the yards in between the 20s, as opposed to in the red zone.
Niners Nation: The Packers seem to be getting healthier in their wide receiver corps, aside from a banged up Jordy Nelson. What concerns, if any, exist about timing with Aaron Rodgers in the passing game?
Acme Packing Company: There probably two concerns I would have about timing with the passing game. The first would be for the ability of the receivers to get off press coverage quick enough in the short passes. When they do the offense is lethal and the pass protection is fine. When they don't then nightmares like what happened in New York happen. The second is just a minor quibble with Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers. The last two weeks they have lacked a bit of chemistry with some route choices. Typically it's Nelson cutting the route short and Rodgers throwing deep. It was only a couple of plays but consistent enough to raise my eyebrow.
NN: Going into more detail, what kind of role has Randall Cobb developed? He got off to a solid start against the 49ers and has been impressive all year. What has changed for him since Week 1?
APC: The growth of Randall Cobb for me is twofold, there's the growth on Cobb's end and the growth on Rodgers' end. On Cobb's end he has become much more consistent with his routes this year and knows the offense much better. As a result he has great chemistry with Aaron Rodgers and shows an ability to get open unlike many receivers in the league. This is caused him to be a big play guy. When the Packers need a critical third down or game winning touchdown there's a good chance it's going to Cobb.
For Rodgers the growth of Cobb and injuries to the receivers caused him to look a bit too much towards Cobb. During the middle of the season he was targeting Cobb too much and caused defenses to key in on Cobb. I love me some Cobb, but he works best when there is another two or three options in the offense. This allows the Packers to create mismatches with Cobb in where the line him up and use the many talents he has to offer. The last few weeks this over reliance on Cobb has gone down with the rise of James Jones, the return to Greg Jennings, and Jermichael Finley actually catching the passes thrown to him.
NN: Tell us about DuJuan Harris and what to expect from the Packers rushing attack.
APC: DuJuan Harris is a bit different from the prototypical Packers' running back. Usually the Packers like running back who are big enough to run between the tackles but also have the second gear to break out big runs. When push comes to shove though the size matters more than the speed. So they keep getting guys like Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, and James Starks. They are okay, but rather middling.
Harris is a bit more like Maurice Jones-Drew. He's short and quick but has plenty of power. He runs like a little bowling ball out there. Small enough that he can get lost in traffic but hard enough that he's typically able to gut out an extra yard or two after first contact.
His best features though are his vision and quickness. Packers fans have loved watching him run because he can see the holes developing and then have the one cut and go to hit that hole fast.
He's not MJD, AD, or Frank Gore, but he's a tough SOB running the football and helps give the Packers some balance in the running game. As he's learned the playbook he's also shown himself to be a capable blocker and screen pass option as well.