Today is part 2 of my 2 part series Better Know a Divisional Rival! After examining the offensive comparisons between the two teams, I will now examine that defensive ones, focusing on pass defense, rush defense, and pass rush.
Overall, both of these teams are good defensive teams. Or, rather, the 49ers are elite with a -14.3% DVOA (remember, negative DVOAs for defense is good), which is good for second best in the league. The Packers, will still ranked high, have a -7.3% DVOA for eighth best. Both teams' weighted DVOAs are slightly behind their season norms, meaning that both defenses are slumping right now.
I don't think this will surprise anybody, but over the course of the season, the 49ers have had a much better running defense than the Packers. The 49ers have the second best rushing defense with a -19.7%, while the Packers fully show off their Achilles' heel on defense with a middle of the pack -6.4%. I think this bears out what most people have observed: the 49ers have an incredible front seven and the Packers have struggled against the run. The key for 49ers is how Justin Smith plays. I anticipate, however, that even if he is out or whatnot, the 49ers should have a good showing. The other members of that front seven are all strong against the run (for the most part), and Green Bay has struggled to run the ball this season. As I said in my concluding remarks yesterday, the 49ers will need to find a way to run the ball this game. Based upon the Packers' season to date against the rush, I think that should be possible, if not likely.
In this category, the two teams are much closer, according to Football Outsiders. The 49ers have a -10.3% passing DVOA - good for sixth in the league - and the Packers are right behind them at -8.1%. Again, this isn't too surprising. We all know why: Dashon Goldson is really emerging, Chris Culliver has been shoring up his game, and Patrick Willis continues to be awesome in all regards. What's most interesting at looking at the number is how well the 49ers' specific passing attack matches up against the Packers. Who has been emerging recently? Michael Crabtree, our number one receiver. And the Packers' DVOA against number one receivers this season? An atrocious 16.3% (remember, defense wants a negative number). This is in contrast to how well they have managed other WRs and TEs. I wrote earlier that we need Vernon Davis to show up this game, but maybe not... The Packers are also really bad at covering RBs. This might open up some passing opportunities for LaMichael James or Frank Gore.
Advantage: 49ers, but it's pretty close.
This is the category I want to be better in. Unfortunately, the Packers have a pretty sweet pass rush. Clay Matthews put on a clinic recently, so let's hope that doesn't continue. That said, Anthony Davis has been really amping up his game. According to Pro Football Focus, a website that ranks individual players on a play by play basis, Anthony Davis' play against the pass rush has been excellent the last few weeks, even at an elite level, perhaps. But, the Packers do have a lot of weapons, while the 49ers' main weapon in Aldon Smith has been neutralized in recent weeks. Again, a lot depends upon Justin Smith, but is looks like we might have to recognize the supremacy of the Packers' pass rush.
So, at the end of the day, the two teams do match up quite closely. The 49ers actually have some pretty sweet advantages over the Packers in areas of the game that will likely be necessary to dominate in order to win. That said, how great is the Aaron Rodgers advantage? A great QB in the modern NFL can totally wipe out all other advantages in a few plays. And, Mr. Rodgers is clearly a great QB.