San Francisco 49ers: Blueprint to Reach NFC Championship Game
The NFC West Champions will be sitting at home next Sunday watching their future opponent battle it out in the Wild Card Round.
The Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins stand in the way of a return trip to the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco has played three out of the four teams, and is 2-2 in those contests.
Here is the game plan for the 49ers to defeat each team from the Wild Card Round.
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The Washington Redskins have won seven straight games and possess one of the best rookie quarterbacks in the NFL, yet the 49ers have little to worry about.
Washington is built upon a heavy rushing attack that is predicated on speed, and is led by Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme has worked to perfection in Washington, but does not fit well against the linebacker-heavy San Francisco defense.
Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are very agile outside linebackers who can run with Griffin, eliminating his effectiveness on the read option. Pro Bowl middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman stuff the run better than anyone in the league, and would not allow Morris to make a large impact.
On the offensive end of the ball, Washington blitzes more than any team in the league.
Colin Kaepernick's greatest strength is avoiding pressure with his feet which can defeat a heavy amount of blitz packages. Kaepernick actually has a better passing rate in 2012 against the blitz than against regular pressure.
Expect the 49ers to score quickly and often against the all-out blitz packages applied by Washington, leading to a convincing victory against one of the hottest teams in football.
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The Green Bay Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a dynamic offense, but the 49ers possess the Packers biggest weakness in a power-running game.
Frank Gore, LaMichael James and company will control the time of possession to limit the Packers passing attack, leading to a San Francisco victory.
Much like the formula from week one, the 49ers will convert key third downs to extend drives and mix in just enough play-action to keep Clay Matthews off balance. Colin Kaepernick's ability to hit Michael Crabtree early and often would make the difference against the Packers suspect defense.
Defensively, Aldon Smith will make matters difficult for Rodgers with his tremendous pass rush. The all-time 49ers leader in sacks will most likely have Justin Smith alongside. The presence of Smith alone will vastly improve Aldon Smith's pass rushing prowess.
In the secondary the 49ers play a lot of press coverage forcing Rodgers to squeeze passes into tight windows. Chris Culliver and Tarrell Brown are excellent slot-coverage corners who will shut down the Packers quick-hitting passing attack.
In their first meeting, Rogers was relatively ineffective throwing for 303 yards and one interception. As long as the Niners stick to their game plan, they will repeat their dominant victory from Week 1.
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The Minnesota Vikings have won three straight games mostly behind the legs of Adrian Peterson.
However, due to effectiveness of Christian Ponder the Vikings clobbered San Francisco 24-13 in September. Ponder completed over 60 percent of his passes, dissecting the 49ers defense for 198 yards.
In order to shut down Ponder, the 49ers will need to play heavy coverage on short routes and eliminate his favorite target Kyle Rudolph. Due to an injury, Percy Harvin has not played in over three weeks and will be missed as a key difference maker for Minnesota.
For all the talk of Adrian Peterson for MVP, the 49ers made the elite back look quite ordinary in the regular season. AP rushed for 86 yards on 25 carries in their Week 3 meeting. With a 3.4 yards per rush average against the stout 49ers defense.
Offensively, the 49ers will need to run the ball at Mike Singletary's linebacker unit. Play-action passing will keep the Vikings defense honest, limiting their eight and nine men fronts. If Colin Kaepernick can hit his tight ends down the middle of the field, the 49ers will be able to move the ball effectively.
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With a 1-1 record during the regular season, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh would make for quite the enjoyable playoff matchup.
After Seattle's dominating performance over San Francisco 42-13, many have jumped off the band wagon, when in fact the method to defeat Seattle still remains. The 49ers biggest advantage would be in the friendly confines of Candlestick Park.
When Seattle traveled to San Francisco in October, Russell Wilson only gained 200 yards of total offense. Frank Gore dominated the game with 131 yards rushing and 51 yards receiving—the type of success that is normal for Gore against Seattle.
Seattle won two weeks ago because Russell Wilson made huge plays on third down with his arm and his legs. If Seattle does not convert 90 percent of their third downs, the game would have been much closer.
In a future matchup, San Francisco would need to involve their tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker more. To counter Seattle's great pass coverage, LaMichael James and Randy Moss must make a huge impact in the offense.
In a very intriguing matchup, the hard-hitting defenses would battle it out in a 60-minute grind, which favors the playoff tested San Francisco 49ers.