One thing was readily apparent when the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers in the season opener in Lambeau Field. San Francisco was the better all-around football team during that September afternoon game.
Things have changed a great deal over the past few months, but this matchup does tend to favor the home-standing 49ers. They seem to have what it takes on both sides of the ball to defeat the NFC North champions Saturday night.
This article is going to focus on a few of those reasons.
Frank Gore Dominates against Green Bay
In doing research for this article, I found something extremely interesting. Gore performs better against Green Bay than any other team in the NFL. He has racked up 349 total yards and three scores in just as many games. In addition, Gore is averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per attempt in those three games.
Needless to say, San Francisco needs Gore to touch the ball a great deal and produce to those levels on Saturday if it is going to come out on top.
The Packers ranked 17th against the run at just under 120 yards per game during the regular year. They are also yielding an average of 130 rushing yards on the road. Overall, Green Bay has given up over 100 rushing yards in six of its last eight games.
San Francisco is 9-2-1 under Jim Harbaugh when Gore touches the ball a minimum of 20 times. Overall, it boasts a ridiculous 30-6-1 record in Gore's career when he rushes the ball that many times during a game.
I am pretty darn sure that offensive coordinator Greg Roman fully understands this to be the case.
Harbaugh and Candlestick Equals Success
San Francisco is 14-3-1 under Harbaugh at home since he took over in 2011. Two of its three losses during that span came against the New York Giants. It is beating visiting teams by an average of 26-14 in those 18 home games.
On the other hand, Green Bay struggles a bit outside of Wisconsin. It went 4-4 on the road and averaged nearly five less points per outing on the road than at home.
For his part, Rodgers possesses a career 21-21 record on the road compared to 34-9 at home. He did, however, perform better statistically on the road than he did at home during the regular season. Rodgers threw 22 touchdowns compared to three interceptions with a ridiculous 114.9 rating away from Lambeau.
Kaepernick compiled seven touchdowns compared to zero interceptions with a 109.4 quarterback rating in four-plus home games during the regular year. He averaged 257 total yards per game in his three home starts as well.
Regardless of past performance, it does seem that Kaepernick matches up really well against Rodgers, at least in terms of what we have seen recently. The indicators are there for the young quarterback to have success.
Pass Protection Woes for Green Bay's Offensive Line
With the likely return of Justin Smith from injury and a week off for youngster Aldon Smith, San Francisco seems to be in a solid position on the defensive side of the ball heading into this game.
This is magnified by the simple fact that Rodgers was sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL during the regular year (51). A total of 34 of those 51 sacks came away from Lambeau Field. For those of you who weren't math majors in school, that's an average of over four sacks per game on the road.
Rodgers was sacked three times and thrown to the turf another five times against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. It did impact his overall performance as well. The reigning NFL MVP looked confused and out of sync in the pocket all night long. On multiple occasions, I noticed him get a horrible case of happy feet.
San Francisco also tends to frustrate quarterbacks with unrelenting pressure, at least with the elder Smith in the game. They have forced Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Rodgers himself into happy feet syndrome over the course of the last two seasons. This is something to definitely watch Saturday night.
Fourth-Ranked Rush Defense vs. 20th-Ranked Rush Offense
If San Francisco can force Green Bay into becoming one-dimensional on offense, it stands a great chance to win this monumental matchup. The Packers averaged just 106.4 yards on the ground during the regular year, while San Francisco yielded 94.2
This is even more magnified with the game being played at Candlestick. Green Bay tallied less than 100 yards per game on the road this season. Meanwhile, San Francisco gave up an average of 76 rushing yards in its last three home games against the likes of Matt Forte and Reggie Bush.
I am pretty sure that the foursome Green Bay possesses at running back doesn't scare the dickens out of San Francisco's front seven.
Green Bay netted just 76 rushing yards on 31 attempts against a Vikings defense that had yielded over 400 yards on the ground against the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks earlier in the year, both on the road.
If San Francisco can stop the run, a strong possibility, it will force Rodgers into passing situations. Once that happens, Green Bay will struggle protecting its quarterback in the passing game.
I cannot emphasize too much the fact that the 49ers can easily control Green Bay's offense if they are able to do this. Just imagine the Smith brothers as well as Ahmad Brooks knowing full well that the Packers are going to pass the ball.
You have to feel bad for Rodgers if this happens. After all, Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay leave a lot to be desired in pass protection. This is only magnified if San Francisco knows that a passing play is coming beforehand. Equally as important, it may force the Packers to keep an extra blocker in the backfield, limiting their receiving threats between the hashes.
History on the 49ers Side
Teams outside of the Western Time Zone have a total of four wins against west coast opponents in the divisional round of the playoffs dating back to 1990. It's one thing to take on a rested team; it's a completely different ball game to do so while traveling clear across the country and into a hostile environment.
San Francisco is also 12-4 at home in the divisional round in its history, whether it be at Candlestick of Kezar. It's last loss in this round in San Francisco came against this very same, all be it different, Packers team back in 1995.
Needless to say, the 49ers protect their homefield in the postseason. What's working against Green Bay other than history, is the fact that it has only won two road games in this round of the playoffs in its history.
Of course, history is meant to be broken and proven wrong, but these statistics do prove that San Francisco has an advantage here.
I will have more analysis on this matchup as the week progresses. I do want to warn you, however, that they might not be as optimistic as there are a few different factors working against San Francisco here.