Matchups That the San Francisco 49ers Should Be Worried About Saturday

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Matchups That the San Francisco 49ers Should Be Worried About Saturday
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Earlier in the week I took a look at a few different matchups that favor the San Francisco 49ers in what promises to be an epic game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night. 

That article used statistics as well as more objective analysis in order to come to a specific conclusion that this game actually favors San Francisco more than it does the road team. 

By no means am I indicating that the 49ers will walk all over Green Bay. Instead, it promises to be one hell of a matchup between the two best teams in the NFC since the start of the 2011 regular season. 

In fact, there are a few different aspects of this matchup that seem to be beneficial for Aaron Rodgers and company. Ducking my head from what promises to be an onslaught in pitchforks, I put my invisibility cloak on and give you a few reasons why San Francisco should be worried heading into Saturday night. 

 

San Francisco Wide Receivers against Green Bay Secondary

Courtesy of The Boston Herald: Moss needs to produce on Saturday.

Even if both Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams were able to go in this game, I wouldn't be a huge fan of this matchup for San Francisco. 

As colleague and fellow Bleacher Report writer Mark Lillibridge indicated in an article on Monday, Green Bay has a decent foursome at cornerback. 

The Packers' four cornerbacks, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House all finished with positive grades in coverage according to www.profootballfocus.com

This is only magnified with injuries to Manningham and Williams. Having to go with a combination of a backup tight end, rookie wide receiver without a single NFL catch and Ted Ginn as the No. 3 wide receiver really doesn't look too enticing for San Francisco. 

Rookie second-round pick Casey Hayward was one of the biggest surprises of the regular season for Green Bay. He started six games, tallied 21 passes defended and recorded six interceptions. In fact, his rookie performance was recently recognized by Bleacher Report writers, me included. 

If he is able to go up against either Randy Moss on the outside or Delanie Walker in the slot, that is going to put San Francisco at a huge disadvantage throughout the game. 

Green Bay also has Tramon Williams, a former Pro Bowl performer, healthy and ready to go against Michael Crabtree. Needless to say, the 49ers need their No. 1 wide receiver to put up Pro Bowl numbers on Saturday if they're going to win this game. That is one major matchup to watch. 

 

Aaron Rodgers

What can I say about Rodgers that hasn't already been said? He is coming off the best two-year regular-season stretch in the history of the National Football League. The reigning NFL MVP has tallied 100 touchdowns compared to just 16 interceptions in his last 38 regular-season starts. 

For comparison's sake, and to fully understand that we are in the passing era in the NFL, Joe Montana never threw more than 55 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. 

Interestingly enough, Rodgers has performed better on the road than he has at home during this span. As I indicated in a national column on Tuesday, Rodgers tallied 22 touchdowns compared to three interceptions away from Lambeau during the regular year. The one saving grace here for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and his top-ranked unit is that Green Bay is just 4-4 with Rodgers performing extremely well on the road. 

Despite struggling in Green Bay's last road playoff game (vs. Chicago in 2010), Rodgers has been on target throughout his career in these types of situations. 

Road Playoff Games: 69.6 completion percentage, 1,213 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, 113.0 quarterback rating and a 3-1 record. 

Needless to say, San Francisco needs to control Rodgers in the passing game. It might not be able to hold him back from throwing for 300 yards and multiple scores, but it needs to force him to get happy feet in the pocket and make a mistake or two. It's kind of like allowing LeBron James to go for 40 on 35 shots.

If San Francisco is able to do this, it stands a good chance of winning on Saturday night. If Rodgers puts up a 100-plus quarterback rating, Green Bay will most likely come away with the win. 

 

Justin Smith's Health and Aldon Smith's Lack of Production 

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
49ers need Domination from the Smith's

Of course, these two go hand in hand. The younger Smith did not tally a sack in the 10 quarters that Justin was out of action after racking up 19.5 in the first 13-plus games. 

It does appear that Justin will be able to return to action on Saturday evening, but it remains to be seen exactly how healthy he will be for the matchup. If he is unable to take on double teams and create pass-rushing gaps for Aldon, San Francisco will be in a ton of trouble against Rodgers and company. 

On the other hand, it isn't Justin's legs that are bothering him. He should be able to get a solid push against a pedestrian offensive line, which will create gaps for Aldon on the outside. If that happens, San Francisco will be able to keep Green Bay's passing game in check. If not, Rodgers will eat this unit alive. 

After all, we already know how Rodgers performed despite being sacked 51 times during the regular season. Give him a clean pocket and no defensive secondary stands a chance of stopping him. 

 

Colin Kaepernick's Experience

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Kaepernick and 49ers cannot have repeat performance of Week 16.

Let me say one thing right now. The whole idea that Kaepernick cannot go up against Rodgers and come away with a victory is ridiculous. I could care less how green under the ear Kaepernick is; he has proven that no spotlight it too bright for him. 

Accordingly, there is no reason to believe that the second-year quarterback will not be able to come in and have an outstanding performance against Green Bay at Candlestick on Saturday. 

I will, however, reference his lack of experience in the playoffs as a reason why San Francisco should, at least, be a bit worried. 

The story has been written over and over again throughout the history of the National Football League. Kaepernick, for all intents and purposes, is a rookie making his first postseason start. After all, he had attempted a total of 14 passes prior to mid-November.

While this statistic may not have a specific correlation to a "second-year player," rookie quarterbacks are 7-11 in the postseason over the last 30 years.

San Francisco simply cannot rely on Kaepernick to perform better than Rodgers. That would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, it needs the rest of the team to step up and take some of the load off the young quarterback.

After all, the 49ers' roster boasts the most amount of Pro Bowl players in the NFL. They need to make sure that Kaepernick has every possible advantage heading into Saturday evening.

 

Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Greg Jennings

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

San Francisco is probably best prepared for handling the best wide receiver group in the NFL, well outside of the Seattle Seahawks.

It has three starter-caliber cornerbacks on the roster with Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown performing at an extremely high level.

According to Football Outsiders, No. 1 wide receivers are averaging 59 yards per game against San Francisco, while No. 2 options are averaging just 39 yards (lowest in the NFL). That being said, the 49ers have not gone up against a unit like this all season.

Nelson, Cobb and Jones combined for 193 receptions, nearly 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns. Equally as important, they caught 70 percent of the passes thrown in their direction during the regular season. Whoever wins this battle of elite talent will be the victor when Saturday rolls around.

Follow me on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL

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