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.

20

January

Green Bay Packers: 4 Stats That Sum Up 2011-12 Struggles

Packers TE Jermichael Finley led his position in drops with 14.

It might be difficult to say that a team that won 15 regular season games went through many “struggles,” but the truth is that the 2011-12 Green Bay Packers had their fair share of significant flaws that were successfully covered up for most of the season. In the end, all four of them came back to bite the Packers in their 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Round.

The weaknesses I speak of could be summarized by a high percentage of Packers fans. But while those defects pass the eye test, they also pass the stat test. Using numbers from Pro Football Focus, we can take a closer look at just how poorly the Packers played in certain areas of the game this season.

Missed tackles: 109

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was very adamant during his final press conference about how the lacking fundamentals in his team’s tackling was a major disappointment for the Packers’ 2011 season. This stat re-enforces McCarthy’s worries. The Packers missed 109 tackles this season, which amounts to almost 6.5 a game over the 17. In comparison, the San Francisco 49ers missed just 65 over that same amount of games. Charles Woodson led the way with 18, but he had plenty of company. Tramon Williams had 16, Charlie Peprah 11, Sam Shields 10, Morgan Burnett nine and both A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop eight. That’s simply too many missed plays from too many players for a defense to be as consistently good as you’re looking for in the NFL. Also, PFF had the Packers down for eight missed tackles last Sunday against the Giants.

Drops: 52

If there was one flaw that consistently showed up in an otherwise machine-like performance from the Packers offense, it was drops. The Packers put 52 catchable passes on the ground in 2011, which was good for over three a game over 17. Jermichael Finley was the biggest culprit with 14, a number that led all NFL tight ends by at least five drops, and Donald Driver finished second with eight. James Jones had six, Greg Jennings five, Randall Cobb four and Jordy Nelson three. The running backs had 10 (James Starks four, John Kuhn and Ryan Grant three). In a pass-heavy offense like the Packers run, a certain amount of drops are excusable. But not 52. The same can be said for seven in one game, which is exactly the number Green Bay had against the Giants. It’s hard to be consistent on the biggest stage with that kind of catching percentage.

16

January

Packers vs. Giants: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 37-20 Loss to New York

The Giants pointed their ship to the NFC Championship Game with a 37-20 win over the Packers. (Photo: Darron Cummings, GBPG)

The Green Bay Packers (15-2) picked an awful time to play their worst game of the 2011 season, and the New York Giants more than capitalized on it Sunday in knocking the defending champions out of the playoffs with a 37-20 win at Lambeau Field in the NFC Divisional Round.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Capping a tough week

There was some this week, including Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who opined that the Packers could be more focused on Sunday in light of the terrible tragedy that struck that the Packers family early this week. But maybe those people underestimated how difficult the transition could be from a Friday funeral to a Sunday football game.

The Packers made their fair share of mental mistakes on the offensive side of the football—dropped passes, missed throws, back-breaking fumbles—that were very uncharacteristic of the Packers in 2011. Could that have partly been due to a week of grieving for the Philbin family and missing their offensive coordinator? Professional football players get paid a lot of money to separate the two, but these guys are human beings, not football robots.

2. Rusting the machine

Hindsight is 20/20, but you’d have to think Mike McCarthy will do some self-reflection on his decision to sit starters during the final week of the season. His team Sunday looked like one who hadn’t played a full game together in three weeks. The Packers offense, in particular, was never able to find the kind of rhythm that seemed so easy to achieve during the regular season.

Depending on who you ask, the Packers dropped five to eight passes on Sunday. Every single one of them was a momentum-killer. They also lost three fumbles—as many as they had all season—on their way to a season-high four turnovers. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the quarterback was far from his best on a night when the Packers needed him to be.

Would playing the starters in Week 17 have made a difference in any of those? Maybe, maybe not. But the Packers certainly looked like a rusty football team on Sunday. Execution all-around was in short supply.

3. More of the same

15

January

Packers vs. Giants: 5 Things to Watch in NFC Divisional Round

Peprah was burned for a TD on the Giants' first offensive series.

The Green Bay Packers (15-1, NFC No. 1) host the New York Giants (10-7, NFC No. 4) Sunday in the NFC’s Divisional Round of the 2012 playoffs.

The basics 

When: 3:30 CST, Sunday, January 15, 2012.

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.

TV: FOX; Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; NFL Sunday Drive; Westwood One.

Series: Packers lead, 31-23-2 (Giants won last playoff meeting, 23-20 (OT) on Jan. 20, 2008 in NFC Championship Game).

Five things to watch

1. Rookie factor

Not since Desmond Howard have the Packers had a special teams weapon that could routinely flip field position. They have one now in rookie Randall Cobb, and you better believe that teams are treating him as such. As the season wore on, more and more teams hedged their bets and kicked away from Cobb.

At the very least, Cobb can ensure the Packers aren’t playing offense from the shadow of their own goal posts Sunday. And if the Giants give him enough chances, Cobb can break that one big play that can turn the game.

2. Opposite rush

Expecting a breakout performance from the Packers’ outside linebacker position after 16 games of mediocrity (that’s putting it nicely) is overly optimistic. But there is some hope that the Packers can get something from a player opposite Clay Matthews Sunday.

Brad Jones showed some life in Week 17 with a hustle sack and a couple of stops in the running game. He’ll likely get the majority of the early snaps against the Giants. In addition, Erik Walden had one of his better pass rushing games of the season back in Week 13 in New York. A solid performance from either player, or preferably both, would be a huge lift for the Packers defense.

3. Big Fella catchin’ on

For all the criticism Jermichael Finley took during most of the regular season, the Packers’ enigmatic tight end really started to come on during the last five games of the season. A five-game stretch that saw him catch 19 passes for 254 yards and three scores started in New York, where Finley went for 87 yards, including a huge catch on the Packers’ game-winning drive, and a first-half touchdown.

8

January

Packers To Face New York Giants Next Sunday in NFC Divisional Round

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will take on the New York Giants next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will take on the New York Giants next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

With a 24-2 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Wild Card round Sunday, the New York Giants (10-7) ensured themselves a trip to Green Bay next weekend to take on the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round. The game will take place at 3:30 CST and be aired on FOX.

The New Orleans Saints, who defeated the Detroit Lions 45-28 on Saturday, will travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers in the other Divisional matchup.

New York left no doubt who should be the team advancing in the NFC playoffs Sunday. They worked through a slow first half with a 7-2 lead, then poured in on the Falcons in the second half with 17 points, including two Eli Manning touchdown passes.

The Giants rushing attack, which ranked 32 in the NFL during the regular season, rushed for 172 yards on 31 carries and was a driving force for the offense all afternoon. Brandon Jacobs had 92 of those yards, and Ahmad Bradshaw tacked on another 63.

The Giants’ defense also had a standout day, limiting the Falcons to just 247 total yards and zero points. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked just twice but was generally under heavy pressure for most of the game, and Michael Turner ran for just 2.7 yards a carry. They did lose Deon Grant (groin) and Aaron Ross (concussion), two key players in their secondary, to injuries. That could be a big factor next Sunday if both are forced to miss.

Even so, New York will ride a three-game winning streak into Lambeau Field. This will be a confident bunch, and for good reason. The Giants are playing as well right now as they have all season.

Sunday’s meeting will mark the first playoff game between the Giants and Packers since New York knocked off Green Bay in the 2007 NFC Championship game. However, the Packers have beaten the Giants in two regular season games since then, winning 45-17 in December of 2010 and 38-35 earlier this season.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.