Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have their hands full against the San Francisco 49ers.
For one, Rodgers has been sacked 54 times including the postseason this year.
And the Packers must establish a running game against San Francisco.
Although the Pack have been improving on the ground, the 'Niners rank No. 4 against the run and give up only 3.7 yards per rush. San Francisco also presents a stellar pass rush led by Aldon Smith, and is capable of locking Green Bay's receivers down man-to-man.
Despite finishing with a 68.2 completion percentage against the 49ers in the season opener, San Francisco got solid pressure on Rodgers and recorded an interception. Much like the 'Niners did to Drew Brees during 2012's Divisional Round, they will attack Green Bay to control the line of scrimmage.
In turn, let's look back at what Rodgers did—and must do—for the Packers to pull off the postseason upset.
Rodgers Converts 3rd-and-12 to Jermichael Finley, Packers Get Six Thereafter
Down 10-0 late in the second quarter, Rodgers and the Packers are driving.
Still, points are typically scarce against the 49ers, so scoring must happen with every presented opportunity. On 3rd-and-12, Rodgers finds Jermichael Finley. Green Bay's possession stays alive to become a touchdown.
Failing to move the chains here would force either a long field-goal attempt or a punt. Either way, Green Bay would not take back much momentum.
On this play, Rodgers takes the snap and sees only the first line of defense for a pass rush. The result of that is a nice passing lane as he keeps his eyes downfield.
While looking downfield, Finley has solid inside leverage to prevent from being covered. As the play develops, it pays off when Rodgers darts one at the intermediate level.
You can now see the separation for Finley and everything unfolding around him. The bottom corner must honor the outside receiver, the safety must mirror another inside receiver with depth and another defender gets caught peeking in the backfield.
Rodgers then makes a perfect pass to Finley's outside shoulder, which allows him to get upfield and move the chains.
Late Third Down Conversion Leads to Six Points, Green Bay Not Finished
When this game finished, the Packers were 6-of-13 on third down. That's quite impressive against one of pro football's top defenses.
Despite losing this game, Green Bay gave itself a chance as it converted on a key third down which led to a touchdown. At this stage of the game, Aaron Rodgers and Co. were down 30-15. It's imperative to score six.
Fortunately, he connected with James Jones. Green Bay cut the lead to 30-22 two plays later.
The first thing that pops out is San Francisco only sending three rushers. Sure it's a long down-and-distance, but Rodgers' mobility is an advantage on broken plays.
From the snap, a quick pump fake to the left doesn't get any bites. The 49ers can jump either of the inside routes with their linebackers, so targeting there would result in a broken-up pass, turnover and/or a big hit on the receiver.
Now it looks like a lot is happening here, but it's not confusing. Everyone boxed in yellow is manned-up. The defender boxed in blue is about to sink back and bracket another crossing receiver. There are also two defenders with blue arrows rolling to the same side as Rodgers.
The flow of the play opens a deep zone for Jones to sneak in.
Rodgers finds Jones downfield because there's so much open green around him—he's well past the first-down marker. Not to mention, the defenders are distanced enough from Jones. There's no underneath help, as each defender is eyeing Rodgers.
The catch is made by Jones. He then racks up some nice yards after the snag as well.
Just imagine how much San Francisco could have won by if its defense had done better on third down.
Chances are, the 49ers would've won at Lambeau Field by a score of 30-10. Rodgers' ability to dissect opponents, though, was what truly gave the Packers a chance.
Efficient ball control and movement can be traced back to an offense's performance on third down. Green Bay will find success against the 49ers on Saturday evening, but Rodgers cannot get off the field in these situations.
San Francisco's offense is good enough to win the field position and possession battle, and Patrick Willis' defense can shutdown the Packers offense. Turnovers will be rare simply because Rodgers doesn't force much and the 'Niners don't generate many.
Nevertheless, Rodgers on third down will be the ultimate factor in this game. For as stellar as San Francisco is defensively, failing to consistently move the chains early—just like Week 1—will put Titletown at an extreme disadvantage.
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