All this week, people have been saying that the Packers and the 49ers "match up" well. They are, apparently, a good pairing. I tend to agree, but what does that mean about the actual game? Well, I think a comparison in anticipation is well worth checking out. I was initially thinking of writing a post that just compared different positions, like the 49ers' o-line vs. the Packers' o-line. In thinking about this post, though, I started to realize that such an article probably isn't that insightful. In regards to the o-line, for example, I could talk about how much Frank Gore contributes in the pass blocking schemes, thus making the o-line look better. Thus, I am going to compare the two teams in three major areas of performance - one set for offense in this article and one set for defense in another. For offense, I will examine the passing games, the running games, and pass protection; on defense, pass defense, rush defense, and pass rush.
First off, just in general, the teams are exceptionally close in talent. The 49ers' total DVOA this season was 29.9%, compared to the Packers, who come in at 26.6%. The weighed DVOA rankings (which places an emphasis on team efficiency in the most recent games) has the Packers at 24.1 % with the 49ers just ahead at 24.2%.
This game might be decided by whether or not Aaron Rodgers gets pressured. Fortunately for us, the Packers don't have the greatest pass protection. In fact, according to Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate, the Packers are second to last with 8.6%. The 49ers? Just a couple of spots above them at 8.5%. That said, the Packers have given up 51 sacks in comparison to the 49ers' 41. In addition, the Packers have injury problems affecting their pass protection, while the 49ers have Frank Gore, pass blocking extraordinaire. Moreover, since Colin Kaepernick has taken over as QB, the 49ers have been climbing up the rankings slowly. Kaep still has pass protection problems (let's run backwards 15 yards before getting sacked!), but he is so much more comfortable in the pocket than Alex Smith.
In my mind, this was a blow out. I thought for sure that the Packers were the better passing team. And they are, but not by as much as I initially thought. First off, the Packers have a larger plethora of receiving threats. Even though Michael Crabtree is ranked higher than all the Packers' receivers (with 332 DYAR which is eighth in the league, 20.4% DVOA for 14th, and darn good 67% catch rate), the Niners don't have anybody else even close to Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson, who are all ranking within the top 17 according to DYAR and top 12 according to DVOA. However, Vernon Davis is having a better season than Jermichael Finley, even though the former has essentially disappeared recently. The biggie, though? Quarterback, obviously. I'll get this out of the way: Aaron Rodgers is a better QB. That's pretty indisputable. That said, Kaepernick has been very good. In fact, according to DVOA, Kaep is the 3rd best QB in the league at 25.7% with Mr. Rodgers right behind him at 23.3%. In DYAR, though, which measures how consistently good a player is, Rodgers obliterates Colin 1,395 to 553. Another favorite stat of mine ANY/A+, which is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt equalized onto an equal scale for every player with average being 100, has Colin at 121 and Rodgers at 118. Cherry picking? Of course. Rodgers is much better than Kaep in other areas. Just, you know, Colin's good.
Here's a no question one. Even though Frank Gore has been slowing down recently, he is still having a fantastic season. At 268 DYAR (remember, doing good things consistently), he is the fourth best RB in the league. He is at the same ranking when you take into consideration his DVOA of 17.4%. In contrast, the Packers don't really even have a RB that is the go to guy. They have had success with a stable of guys sharing the load, be it Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green, Ryan Grant, or new comer DuJuan Harris. But the running game just does not thrive like it does for the 49ers. This is borne out when examining the o-lines too. The 49ers' o-line is FO's number one rated run blocking team, while Green Bay's is number 25.
As was the key to success in the first game of the season, I think the key to success on Saturday will be maintaining a strong run game while abusing the shoddy pass protection of the Packers. The Aaron Rodgers factor is considerable, as is their advantage in the passing game. If we allow him to get into a rhythm, the offensive clash will likely not result in our favor. As it stands, the Packers have a total offensive DVOA of 19.5%, which is good for 3rd in the league, while we have a DVOA of 17.0% for 5th place. Almost all of their offensive success comes from their pass game (40.6% DVOA) rather than from their running game (-0.8%). Our running game is much better (12.6%), even if our passing game is a nice (33.2%). What this means, though, is that the Packers' passing attack is so good, it has made up for and surpassed any deficiencies that may have existed due to their lack of running game. Due to the passing nature of the modern NFL, if we get into an offensive shootout, it is likely that we lose the game.
In the next installment of my comparison, I will look at the two teams' defensive capacities.