San Francisco remembers the pain of the 2012 NFL playoffs, and all they want to do is win the Super Bowl and erase those memories.
But if Greg Roman doesn’t do his job well, the 49ers will endure another offseason of pain.
Ever since Colin Kaepernick snatched the reins at quarterback, Roman has become pass-happy and abandoned Frank Gore and the running game, which is supposed to be the base of the run-first offense. With Alex Smith under center, Roman’s play-calling was fine. But now, it’s bringing up cause for concern.
Kaepernick’s ceiling is vastly higher than Smith’s, which Roman senses. But in games in which the 49ers are trailing, Roman completely abandons Frank Gore and the run. Against the Seahawks, in the game that San Francisco lost 42-13, Kaepernick threw 36 times, ran and got sacked on designed passes. Gore ran the ball six times. In fact, Kaepernick ran more than Gore did.
The 49ers are third in total defense, and they allow an average of 17.1 PPG, among the best in the league. They will be facing a prominent offense headed by a superstar quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers have a horrible offensive line. They allowed 51 sacks in the regular season, and Aldon Smith almost set the NFL sack record.
So, it’s safe to say that Rodgers and the Packers won’t be dumping 40 points on the 49ers. Therefore, Roman needs to stick with what got San Francisco here: Frank Gore and the running game.
Kaepernick forces a lot of passes, and sometimes, his deep shots don’t work out. In the playoffs, opponents will know how to throw Kaepernick off and contain the deep pass, so it will be important to keep the defense off-balance.
How will the 49ers do that? By mixing up runs and passes.
Obviously, that's easier said than done, because it's tough to call plays in the NFL. But he can't put too much on Kaepernick's hands, since Kaepernick has started seven regular season games and no playoff games in his career. He won't get overwhelmed, but if the 49ers fall behind, he might try and get all the points back in one play.
If the 49ers run into a situation in which they trail, Roman needs to keep the offense balanced. Gore is a powerful, hard runner who set the franchise record for rushing touchdowns against the Cardinals and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this year. That's a good amount of yardage, and the 49ers can definitely overwhelm Green Bay with the ability to take shots downfield with Kaepernick as well.
San Francisco has offensive firepower and lots of talent on defense, and it's definitely looking like they will be able to contain Green Bay's offense (the Packers scored 15 points on offense against SF in Week 1). So they will need to keep the attack balanced and hand the ball to the guy with six 1,000-yard seasons and one lost fumble this year.
Kaepernick is a very talented quarterback who can definitely bring the Lombardi Trophy back to San Francisco in 2013, but he needs some help. The 49ers have a ridiculously thin receiving corps, and there aren't tons of guys for Kaepernick to throw the ball to. But he can hand the ball off to the 5'9" workhorse that can chow down yardage named Frank Gore.
Roman needs to understand how valuable Gore is and how Kaepernick needs some help from his running back, especially considering Green Bay has the 17th-best run defense and the 11th-best pass defense. Gore ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (seven yards per carry) against Green Bay, and he can definitely repeat that effort in the playoffs.
But only if Roman gives him the chance.