Green Bay Packers – San Francisco 49ers Preview: NFL Week 13: A Running Start?
Last week the Green Bay Packers fell on a last second field goal, losing to the Atlanta Falcons 20-17 and snapping the Packers’ four-game winning streak. Now the San Francisco 49ers, fresh off of a Monday Night win, come to Lambeau hoping to pull an upset.
While the Atlanta game was by no means a devastating loss, the Packers now likely will not get home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs although they still can get the number two seed and a first round bye should they be able to wrestle the NFC North from the Chicago Bears.
This week, the Packers return home for the first time in four weeks to face the “underachieving” San Francisco 49ers.
I use quotation marks there because somehow the 49ers are only a game out of first place in their division despite their record of 4-7. That’s how bad the NFC West is this year. A 7-9 record could be enough to make the playoffs.
If the Packers want any motivation, it’s that. They could end up sitting at home for the playoffs with a 10-6 record while a team at 7-9 gets in.
There’s a major problem with that logic, but that’s a debate for another day.
Breaking down the 49ers
For the first time since Week 1, the Packers face a dual threat quarterback in 49ers starter Troy Smith. Since taking over for Alex Smith (no relation), Troy has provided a spark to an offense that badly needed one. Troy Smith’s running ability added a whole other dimension to an offense that already featured two talented pass catchers.
Those pass catchers are wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Davis is one of the best tight ends in football who plays in a style similar to the Packers’ Jermichael Finley. He’s fast, physical, and not afraid to go up and over defenders to make the catch.
Crabtree is just as big a threat. His speed and soft hands make him a dangerous perimeter receiver. The Packers’ corners will have their hands full with him.
The 49ers rushing attack should have died when Frank Gore was lost for the season this week with a hip injury. However, the suddenly revived Michael Westbrook picked right up where Gore left off. When he’s healthy, Westbrook is one of the best and most versatile backs in the league as he was a favorite target of Donovan McNabb during their time with the Eagles. He should see plenty of carries as well as passes on Sunday.
On defense, the star is linebacker Patrick Willis. The Pro Bowler can cover sideline-to-sideline and can play the pass as well as the run. He is definitely the renaissance man of the 49ers defense.
Corner Nate Clements leads the 49ers secondary. Now a 10th year veteran, Clements still remains a disruptive force. He will have a challenge this week with Greg Jennings, but that will still be one of the more intriguing matchups this Sunday.
When the Packers have the ball….
December is here as is the cold weather. Usually in the NFL that’s a sign to get the running game going.
It’s no secret that the Packers have struggled to run the ball this season but if there ever was a time to get Brandon Jackson going now would be a good one. Even though Aaron Rodgers is playing very well right now, Mike McCarthy can’t expect the Packers to be so one dimensional and make a Super Bowl run.
Look for heavy doses of Jackson with Rodgers still playing lights out. While the saying goes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (ie the Packers’ passing attack), the rushing attack has got to get going. NOW.
When the 49ers have the ball….
San Francisco knows the Packers struggled at times against Michael Vick in Week 1 at Philadelphia so they will likely try and use Troy Smith’s rushing ability as much as his passing ability.
To stop him, the Packers will likely have to bring two linebackers around in hopes to block him in. Keeping Smith in the pocket is key to the Packers being successful on defense.
Shutting down Davis, Crabtree, and Westbrook is also crucial. Tramon Williams will likely draw Crabtree and Charles Woodson will have his hands full with Davis.
Three keys to the game
1. Don’t fall into the trap
On paper, the Packers should win this game easily. The same was said against the Redskins and Dolphins.
The Packers can’t overlook this team. McCarthy preaches “one game at a time” and the players would be wise to listen. Don’t pay attention to the Bears. Do your job and let the rest fall into place.
2. Run, Brandon, Run!
It bears repeating. You have to be able to run the ball to make a playoff run. Jackson has to get going soon or the Packers will have trouble when they reach the playoffs.
That said, there is hope. Dimitri Nance has shown flashes and if he can’t go this week, we could finally get our long awaited look at James Starks.
The question for this game is how much of an impact can Starks make if Nance can’t go? It’s his first game so everything is on the table.
3. The Claymaker Returns?
After being neutralized by the Falcons last week, Clay Matthews is key to the Packers stopping the versatile Westbrook and Smith.
With a motor that never quits, and with the raucous Lambeau crowd behind him, look for Matthews to have a big game and expand his NFL-leading sack total.
Packers 28, 49ers 17
This game shouldn’t be this close, but I will never underestimate a team coached by a man who will drop his pants in front of his players to prove a point.
Jackson could have a big game and with Rodgers being in the groove he is, the Packers offense will be too much for the 49ers to handle.
The Packers defense struggles a bit with the versatile weapons of the 49ers, but they make enough plays for the Packers to win somewhat comfortably.
Oh, and NO I don’t think Mike Singletary gets fired this week after losing to the Packers.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke