You'll have to excuse Trevor Woods, everyone. He's busy freezing his tail off, sticking his tongue to a frozen flag pole, skating on thin ice and any other cold-related phrase or reference you can think of. Why, you ask? He's in Green Bay right now, preparing to risk his life for the love of Forty-Niner football. Now, he's from Indiana, so he's better prepared for this sort of thing than I am, being from California but living in Australia. Good luck, Trevor. We're all jealous and all pulling for you to live.
As far as the questions go, they were all about this weekend's opening round playoff tilt against the Packers. There's nothing else worth talking about right now. And without further ado...
Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to prepare for the cold. I guess you could chuck footballs to the receivers in a meat freezer or some other Rocky Balboa-esque training method. Fortunately many of the 49ers have experience playing in the cold. Colin Kaepernick went to school in Reno, Anquan Boldin played for the Ravens, Vernon Davis played college ball in Maryland, Joe Staley at Central Michigan, Mike Iupati at Idaho and the list goes on and on. This doesn't include where these guys grew up and whether they played cold weather football in high school. The 49ers players are just as likely to have played in the cold before their NFL careers as the Packers.
I think people have misconceptions about weather helping the running game. Cold, on its own, doesn't have nearly as much effect on the game as precipitation or wind. Precipitation tends to lead to poorer tackling. You see the run game helped when you get guys the ball in space, which teams can do just as well by passing the ball. If the field gets soggy or somehow less-than-perfect, it can make keeping your footing harder. If an offensive player loses his footing with the ball, he's down and the play is over. If the defensive player loses footing, it's frequently a touchdown. That can hurt the 49ers. The Packers are going to be poor on defense whether it's a snow storm or in a dome. The 49ers, on the other hand, have something to lose by losing their footing. As to whether poor weather helps the passing or running game, we'll find out tomorrow.
Oh, and I don't expect to see LaMichael James any more than usual. But he'll have the ball on returns and while I'm worried about his frozen hands, I'm excited to see him with the ball in space (same as every other week).
49ers on Offense
Bruce Miller was getting somewhere in the mid-30's snaps per game in the few games I've gone back to check. In the last two games, Will Tukuafu and Anthony Dixon combined for around the mid-20's, with a roughly even split between them, though a few of Dixon's snaps could be at halfback. The other event that's having an impact on personnel (possibly a bigger impact) is the return to health of our receivers. We now have three receivers we can comfortably put on the field in Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton. We've definitely seen an increase in two receiver sets and I'd expect this to continue. You want to have your five best skill position players on the field as much as circumstance dictates or allows. Our four obvious ones are Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Boldin and Crabtree. Who the 5th one is (when Joe Staley's not split out wide) depends on down, distance and other situational factors, not to mention Roman's tendencies. It had frequently been Miller, especially with the WR corps dinged up. Now it may be Vance McDonald, Patton or Dixon depending on what we need.
Quinton Patton saw action on 12 offensive plays against Arizona last week and I don't expect that to change much, unless we fall behind. What we should see is a willingness on Kaepernick's part to throw to him, which is something many guys running routes for our team do not get to enjoy. His catch to set up the game-winning kick was a thing of beauty and that's the kind of grab that only Crabs and Boldin have made this year. We may even see more plays where he's the primary read. But I expect us to play with a lead in this one and thus, use few three receiver sets.
49ers on Defense
Yes, we should. Our pass rush has lagged and we've started giving up big plays in the passing game. All this, just as our offense is hitting its stride. Smells a bit like the way the 2012 campaign ended for us, without dwelling or wanting to get too negative about it. I'm going to go on and predict that we lay too many points on the Pack for them to beat us at the bottom of the post and giving up a few big plays against them is forgivable. But if we win this weekend, we'll likely be playing at Carolina and at Seattle (with the order being irrelevant) and those are two defenses that we scored 3, 9 and 19 against. Tough defenses have stifled us all year long and one big pass play may be just enough to tilt the score in their favor.
#channel49 that seems all well but we have to get there if we blitz, only 2 sacks the past 2 games on less than mobile QB's— Chris Endicott (@ChrisEndicott1) January 3, 2014
While, what Chris tweeted is less of a question and more of a #TRUTH, the point is there. We've got to get pressure on the quarterback. It's something that we've done just enough of over the course of the year to make our secondary effective. We don't bring extra rushers very often and the four-man rush has lagged the past couple of weeks. We don't want to be asking the same 'chicken and egg' question all offseason that we did last year. One thing I'd like to see is Corey Lemonier getting some more reps, either at OLB or DE in the nickel and dime, especially if we get a lead. Brooks hasn't been great the last two weeks and we need someone to get a hurry or two.
General Game Q's
I'm also fairly confident in this game, Kyle. While I will concede that Green Bay's offense is better than ours with Aaron Rodgers healthy, our defense is infinitely better than theirs. Green Bay's defense is the worst of any team in the playoffs and I don't envision Rodgers and Company being able to keep up with the avalanche of points I expect us to put up. We played 9 games against teams that gave up an average of 22 points per game or more on the season (Green Bay gave up nearly 27 per game, for the record).
- Week 1, SF 34, GB 28
- Week 4, SF 35, STL 11
- Week 5, SF 34, HOU 3
- Week 7, SF 31, TEN 17
- Week 8, SF 42, JAX 10
- Week 12, SF 27, WAS 6
- Week 13, SF 23, STL 13
- Week 15, SF 33, TB 14
- Week 16, SF 34, ATL 24
I realize the arbitrary nature of that exercise, but what I want to illustrate is that we score points against bad defenses and we don't lose when we score points. The closest we've come to losing a shoot out this year was the 23-20 loss at New Orleans. The last time we lost a game in which we scored 21 or more was the Super Bowl and the time before that was in 2011, Week 2, against Dallas (we scored 24).
It'll be 8:30 am on Monday morning when the game starts for me here in Australia, Richard. If I'm drinking anything other than a cup of tea I'll be a neglectful parent and probably running the risk of either a divorce or future prosecution. As for Trevor, he'll be breaking beer cubes out of his plastic cup while squinting through two scarves and a ski mask at the frozen tundra. Special guest Oscar, drunk in the Lone Star State is my best guess.
49ers 38, Packers 27