This year has been a special one for the San Francisco 49ers. They have a 13-3 record, their best regular season record since 1997, after going 6-10 last year. They have a stellar defense, a solid run game, a quarterback in Alex Smith who can control the game and likely Coach of the Year in Jim Harbaugh. This has all set them up as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
They have a extremely tough task next week in facing the New Orleans Saints, but the question has to be asked: If they can beat New Orleans and Green Bay beats the Giants, can the Niners beat Green Bay?
The answer to the question is a resounding: absolutely.
A Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs laid the blueprint for beating the Packers. The reasons that the Packers lost can be attributed to either a bad game or an exposed weakness. Kyle Orton passed for 299 yards against a weak secondary that is ranked towards the bottom of the league and the special teams and running game kept the offense from sputtering completely out. The defense also played solid, holding Aaron Rodgers to his worst game of an otherwise excellent season
The game plan that the Chiefs executed plays to the Niners strengths. These are the three things that the Niners need to beat the defending Super Bowl champs.
Play Stellar Defense
The Niners have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Their defensive line is rivaled by only the New York Giants and their linebackers are probably the best unit in football. The secondary has been a pleasant surprise and boasts Pro Bowlers Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson. They have the best run defense in the league, a great pass rush that starts with rookie Aldon Smith and lead the league in takeaways with 38.
If they can force Aaron Rodgers to commit one or two turnovers they can keep their defense fresh, which leads to my next point.
Give Frank Gore the Damn Ball!
The 49ers are a ball control offense. When they stick to their guns they are one of the most efficient teams in the NFL. In their three losses this season they got away from what they do best, which is running the ball and controlling the tempo.
While Alex Smith has had a great season, which should land him Comeback Player of the Year, he can by no means carry the team. Frank Gore should be the focus of the offense with Kendall Hunter being inserted as a change of pace back. This strategy controls the clock and gives the Packers less opportunities to score.
Alex Smith and the Offense Must Be Efficient
The 49ers offense had a league-low 10 giveaways. Alex Smith did an excellent job of not losing games for the team and set career marks in all passing categories except TDs. However, the team was ranked at the bottom of the league in red-zone offense.
Fortunately, they had record-setting field goal kicker, David Akers (don't know if that's good or bad). Though not the preferred method of scoring, having a kicker capable of putting up multiple points, even from beyond 50 yards, is never a bad thing.
If the Niners can be their usual dominate selves on defense, get a few touchdowns from the offense and play solid special teams, there is no reason they can't march to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. They just have to get past the Saints first.