4

January

Cory’s Corner: Vernon Davis is a nightmare for Packers

When the weather is under 40°, Vernon Davis has four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

When the weather is under 40°, Vernon Davis has four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Packers fans have taken a beating by many folks leading up to Sunday’s playoff game.

The green and gold faction has been accused of being soft for the biblical cold that is supposed to engulf the upper Midwest like a tiny blanket that always keeps your feet freezing.

But thanks to sponsors that kicked in the final dough to mark the 320th straight sellout on Sunday while keeping the last time the Packers didn’t sell out was January 1983.

So, a blackout and empty frozen aluminum bleachers won’t be a problem.

But Vernon Davis will be.

At a chiseled 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Davis might be the most impressive looking athlete on the field Sunday. He’s a huge target that can catch, run and he regularly makes safeties and cornerbacks fold up like lawn chairs. Think of Davis as a carbon copy of Packers’ tight end Jermichael Finley, except a little more sure handed and sure headed.

In a game in which it will feel like -17° at kickoff and drop 7° three hours later, the ball will contract which will make the vertical passing game much more difficult.

Enter Davis. He is second on the team in targets and he has set career highs with touchdowns (13) and yards per reception (16.3). The eighth year tight end has shown this year he’s a favorite of Colin Kaepernick when it matters because of his 52 grabs, 38 percent of them have been made on third down.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants to keep this worn and weary defense off the field as much as possible. And now with Michael Crabtree back from injury and playing well, the Packers won’t have the luxury of double teaming Davis because they also have to deal with quasi tight end Anquan Boldin as the other receiver.

Which means, a linebacker will more than likely be matched up with Davis for much of the game.  Which is music to San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and Davis’ ears. He can run circles around just about any linebacker in the league — sans his own — and he can run over most defensive backs.

7

January

Packers-49ers: Williams vs. Crabtree a matchup to watch

Packers CB Tramon Williams faces a tough task against 49ers WR Michael Crabtree

Packers CB Tramon Williams faces a tough task against 49ers WR Michael Crabtree

When the 49ers turned to Colin Kaepernick as their starting quarterback, they added yet another dimension to an already dangerous team.

Kaepernick made the first start of his NFL career Nov. 19 against the Chicago Bears. He started the final seven games of the season, throwing 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. In four of his seven starts, Kaepernick posted a passer rating of over 100.

And the 49ers’ newfound success at quarterback has allowed wide receiver Michael Crabtree to emerge as a go-to receiver.

Over the past five weeks, Crabtree has been one of the hottest receivers in football. Since week 13, Crabtree is averaging seven catches and 107.6 yards per game. Tight end Vernon Davis, another dangerous weapon for Kaepernick, is averaging just 1.2 catches and 12.2 yards per game over that same five-game span.

The 49ers went 3-2 over the final five weeks of the regular season. Those numbers suggest that teams are focusing on taking Davis out of the game, which has allowed Crabtree to evolve into the true No. 1 receiver in San Francisco.

And on Saturday, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams will face is toughest opponent since Dec. 16 against Brandon Marshall. Williams has been up-and-down during the 2012-13 season. He turned in his worst performance of the season in week 17 at Minnesota, according to Pro Football Focus.

But his +3.6 PFF grade this week at Lambeau Field was his second-highest of the season. With the way Crabtree is playing for the 49ers, the Packers will need Williams to be at his best Saturday night.

ProFootballFocus.com rated Crabtree as the league’s seventh-best wide receiver in the regular season. Williams graded out as the 60th-best cornerback according to PFF.

Crabtree has caught at least seven passes in four of the 49ers’ last five games. Williams has allowed more than three receptions just once over the past five games. He allowed four receptions for 51 yards against Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions in week 14, according to PFF.

So something’s gotta give this weekend when the 49ers have the ball.

In the season opener at Lambeau Field, Crabtree caught seven of the eight passes thrown his way for 76 yards. PFF charged Williams with allowing four of those receptions for a total of 42 yards. But when the 49ers take the field on Jan. 12, their offense is very different than it was in week one.

6

September

2012 NFL Regular Season Week 1: Packers – 49ers Preview

Clay Matthews Alex Smith

This is our first chance to see if the Packers pass rush is truly improved.

It’s here. Finally, it’s here.

The draft? Done.  Training camp? Finished.  Preseason? Completed.

The dress rehearsals are done and the games that count are upon us.  The curtain on the 2012 NFL season has been raised and the march to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans begins in earnest this weekend.

The Green Bay Packers kick off their 2012 campaign Sunday at Lambeau Field against the San Francisco 49ers.  Many thought when last season’s playoffs began that this would be the NFC Championship Game, but thanks to the New York Giants the Packers’ season ended prematurely.

The regular season opener is the first big test to see if the Packers have fixed their defense, the Achilles heel that doomed their run at a second straight Super Bowl title a year ago.  It’s also a chance for reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to begin to make his case for a second straight award and that the Packers offense is still as lethal as ever.

How do the Packers stack up against 49ers? Let’s first take a look at their opponent

Scouting the 49ers

Last year, the Packers faced one of the top offenses in the league during their season opener in the New Orleans Saints.  This year, they face one of the best defenses in the 49ers.

When you talk about the 49ers’ defense, you start with linebacker Patrick Willis.  Willis anchors a linebacker group that is one of the best in the NFL against the run. He was an All-Pro selection along with NaVorrow Bowman and helped the 49ers allow only 77.3 rushing yards per gain.  With defensive end Justin Smith leading the group up front, the 49ers figure to again have a very stout rush defense.

A strong defense allows the 49ers to make their opponents one dimensional which in turn allows their secondary to go on the hunt for interceptions.  San Francisco finished 16th in pass defense last season despite decent years by safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Carlos Rogers whom both were selected to the Pro Bowl.

Despite coach Jim Harbaugh’s background, the offense remains the weak link for the 49ers.  Alex Smith was re-signed by the team only after a secret attempt to sign Peyton Manning became public.  The 49ers still don’t quite know what they have in Smith despite having a career season in 2011 and nearly leading the team to the Super Bowl.

4

December

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.