10

January

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers: Week 1 vs. Now

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick played very little in the first meeting between these teams. He will be a big focus of the Green Bay defense on Saturday

Some would simply look at this season’s week one matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers to start breaking down this upcoming Saturday’s divisional playoff game.  But each of these teams has made a sizable change between Week 1 and now.

So what are the changes?  The 49ers have a new starting quarterback in Colin Kaepernick and the Packers have found a more productive running game.  Let’s examine each of these factors as it relates to this upcoming game.

Quarterback

This is the biggest change for San Francisco.  In the week one matchup at Green Bay, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was the starter and he was extremely efficient.  He was 20 for 26 with two touchdowns and no interceptions.  It helped that Frank Gore added over 100 yards rushing and with Smith not under any real pressure all day.  The 49ers were able to beat the Packers for the first time since 1999 and the game wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

In a week 10 game against the St. Louis Rams, Smith suffered a concussion and had to leave the game.  That would be his last start and action during the 2012 season.  Smith was forced to miss the next week’s game when he was not cleared to return.

Back up quarterback Colin Kaepernick filled in for Smith and threw for two touchdowns in the team’s next game, a Monday Night win over the Chicago Bears.  From there, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh declared that he would continue with the “hot hand” and keep Kaepernick under center.

Kaepernick helped the 9ers get to 12 wins an secure the NFC’s second seed entering the playoffs.  He finished the season with 10 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.  He had over 400 yards rushing on the season and added another five touchdowns on the run.

In his only snap against the Packers in week one, Kaepernick ran for 17 yards and a big first down.  Green Bay has plenty of film on him and needs to focus hard on his mobility this week.  It’s Kaepernick’s first career playoff start, but he is coming in with a lot of confidence and it’s a home game.

6

January

Green Bay Packers: An Early Look at the Week Ahead

DuJuan Harris

Harris has emerged as Green Bay’s offensive X-factor over the past month

The Green Bay Packers finally won a home playoff game, their first since 2008.  They defeated the Minnesota Vikings and they’re now moving forward to the Divisional Round of the playoffs and will travel to San Francisco to  face the 49ers.

That the Packers beat Minnesota should still be front of mind and reason to celebrate.  I say “should” because while I believe in the “24 hour rule” (whereby you give yourself 24 hours to revel a win or wallow in a loss), for some reason I have already moved on and am thinking critically about next week’s game.

Since there is no NFC North Preview this week (and I am ecstatic about which team in the division is the only one left standing!), I’ll focus on an early look at the week ahead and what the win over Minnesota told us about what to expect.

One Big Positive

The Packers have found a running game.  DuJuan Harris, who was claimed off waivers just a few weeks ago, has sparked the ground game and also added a valuable check down for Aaron Rodgers.  Time and time again, Harris was not only a safety valve for Aaron Rodgers but the Packers got a ton of production from him in the passing game.

How scary is the thought that an already-potent Green Bay offense may also have a formidable screen game?  Technically it’s part of the passing game but a well-timed screen can act just like a run.  It draws in an active defense like San Francisco’s and can burn them if they over pursue.

Harris was arguably Green Bay’s MVP against the Vikings in the playoff game.  He gets the tough yards after contact and has the ability to cut back and find holes in the run game.  If head coach Mike McCarthy is going to go with the “hot hand” at running back, it’s Harris, hands down.

By the time a defense is worn down late in games, Ryan Grant is there to spell Harris.  The run game is churning just as it did late in 2010, their last championship season.  If San Francisco has to focus more on stopping the run, they may take their eye off the pass just long enough for Rodgers to make them pay for it.