Early Bird Breakdown Wildcard Playoffs: 49ers @ Packers

Welcome to the playoff edition of the Early Bird Breakdown, starting with a recap of last week:

The Good: Playoffs!

The good is obvious; the team did just enough to win the game. Jordy Nelson was probably the player of the game with 10 catches for 161 yards, but it was such a team win. Starks played very well, Rodgers made very clutch plays on three fourth downs on the final drive including the game winning touchdown to Cobb. Defensively the team played for the most part well against Chicago’s receivers. While Rodgers had some rust, the way he commanded the offense was special and the Packers are completely different than they were without him.

The Bad: Run defense fundamentals

If anyone read last week’s breakdown, I gave examples on how Chicago’s run defense was one of the worst in NFL history. And they looked a lot better Sunday than Green Bay did against the run. Chicago had good fundamentals on keeping running backs on the inside. They have trouble tackling on the inside sure, but they played the assignments correctly. The Packers though consistently ran inside and Forte could do a one-cut to the outside and burst for good yards. This issue has plagued Green Bay for multiple seasons now, and at this point it seems clear it is on the coaches. They are not instilling a sense of controlling gaps on the outside of the tackles. If defensive coordinator Dom Capers does not fix this, San Francisco will easily run on this leaky defense.

The Ugly: Big Plays

I do not want to pick on the defense, or at least the defensive players too much because they were not that bad, but going back to fundamentals, this defense gives up a ton of big plays. Now, a lot of the issues both against the pass and the run are from poor safety play from Green Bay. I would say it is more the safeties than corners, but overall it also points to the coaches not instilling more discipline. Players are cheating up and making assignment mistakes or miscommunication, such as corners playing up thinking they have safety help when they have none. The big mistake this week was Alshon Jeffery getting a 67 yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. If Green Bay can minimize all of their mental errors the defense will play good enough, but they have not in the last few seasons under Capers.

How I did:

“Green Bay will win this game 38-27.” – I thought Green Bay would win more comfortably than they did. Chicago’s defense was playing atrocious going in and the Packers gained Rodgers back. Chicago’s defense played pretty well however. Combining that with Rodgers having some rust, the game came down to the wire. Rodgers was money on the last drive and delivered the win and the division, winning the game 33-28.

Opponents Recap:
Last week San Francisco traveled to Arizona, who going into the day was alive for the playoffs but due to a win by New Orleans earlier in the day was removed from contention. Playing for pride against their division rival, San Francisco had to battle against Arizona. They won by three on a field goal as time expired, 23-20 was the final.

The Breakdown:
Packers’ Offense vs. 49ers’ Defense:
On paper, San Francisco continues the trend of a top-tier defense, ranking fifth overall in total defense with 316.9 yards per game (seventh against the pass, 221 yards per game, and fourth against the run, 88.3 yards per game). However, San Francisco has been shredded the last two weeks against the pass due to injuries against their secondary. Two weeks ago against Atlanta, the Falcons threw for 341 yards and last week against the Cardinals they gave up 399 yards. This bodes well for Rodgers, assuming some of the rust from the Bears game has worn off. Rodgers stated that his arm felt stronger than ever at this point in a season and it showed with some overthrows, but another week of practice and he should be right as rain. With the weather forecast though, the matchup will be a battle of strengths: Green Bay and the league’s seventh-best run offense versus the league’s fourth-best run defense. Lacy and Starks combined need to churn out yards against this stout front because the weather will slow down the passing games for both teams. Still, Rodgers will have a great chance with a full cast of weapons and an even healthier Randall Cobb.

Packers’ Defense vs. 49ers’ Offense:
Unlike the Packers, who are running into the league’s seventh-best run defense, the 49ers are against the 25th best run defense (125 yards per game). San Francisco also has the league’s third-best run offense gaining 137.6 yards per game. So Green Bay will need to play much better than it did in recent weeks. A flicker of hope for Packer fans is that all the way back on week one Green Bay did hold San Francisco to only 90 yards rushing, though this defense is playing very differently than they did to start the season. If Green Bay can make it at least difficult to run, Green Bay has a great chance. The reason is because of the conditions against a team that has virtually no experience in such cold weather. Can Kaepernick and the receivers have chemistry when they are playing in such temperatures? If Green Bay plays disciplined, which is clearly not a given, I think the Packers who are more weather-hardened, will have a good chance for turnovers. It is worth noting Green Bay will not have Matthews back from the game after re-breaking his thumb two weeks ago against the Steelers.

The Weather Factor:
Cold will not begin to describe this game. Kickoff will be about 0 o without windchill. The windchill will be around -20 o and only get colder. This is going to be one of the coldest games in NFL history and only one of these teams is used to frigid temperatures.

The Game:
This game does have a lot of variables. Will Rodgers be rusty? How will both quarterbacks play in the cold? Can the Packers play with a sudden sense of discipline? My thinking is no one will be happy with this weather, but the Packers are more likely to handle it. Rodgers will get a lot of chances against a hurt secondary but Kaepernick will get a chance against a defense he has torched twice in the last two seasons. The weather will keep this game from being a track meet, and I think Kaepernick is not ready for this weather. The game will be very, very close. I think Green Bay wins 27-24 .


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