Colin Kaepernick gets his first taste of the NFL playoffs on Saturday.
Matching the Packers offensive line against the 49ers pass rush doesn’t sound like a fair matchup on paper, with Smiths Justin and Aldon liable to make life difficult for Aaron Rodgers as he attempts to pick the defense apart.
Keeping the reigning NFL MVP quarterback on his feet will be the Packers’ primary priority, but they still have to make plays to win the game.
Below are four players who could decide the outcome all by themselves.
Colin Kaepernick will be starting his first playoff game, so Woodson will look to get under his skin early and ensure that the young QB is always aware of his presence.
Woodson missed the last nine games of the regular season with a broken collarbone, but returned to action against the Minnesota Vikings last week and racked up six tackles, looking like he hadn’t been away.
It’s likely that Woodson will spend some time covering Vernon Davis, who delivered such memorable performances last season.
Davis has been less of a threat with Kaepernick throwing him the ball and Woodson will be moved around in his traditional style.
However, if he can deliver a vintage Woodson performance he will keep more than Davis quiet, giving Rodgers the platform from which to mount an attack.
Which player will have the most influence on this game?
Kaepernick has been given the reigns to the offense and now he has to deliver. Alex Smith showed last year that he could win in a shootout against Drew Brees, but the consensus is that Kaepernick cannot do the same if asked to out-duel Rodgers.
When former 49ers quarterback Steve Young was asked about Kaepernick’s chances in this game, he told ESPN that the young quarterback cannot be put into a situation where he has to throw the ball in order to achieve victory, via SFGate.com
This means that the 49ers must get behind a strong running game in order to consistently move the chains, but Kaepernick can still succeed with a variety of rollouts and selling the fake on his handoffs.
This is a tactic that was very successful for Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins this year, and the complexity of the 49ers offense could help to add further confusion to the Green Bay defense.
David Akers and Mason Crosby
When you bring in Billy Cundiff to provide competition for your kicker, he must be having a bad season. The history that the Redskins have with kickers dictates that if he is cut from that team, he’s bad luck made flesh.
David Akers has indeed had a bad season, going 29 of 42 in the regular season. With a quarterback starting his first playoff game, it’s vital that the kicker is reliable. This hasn’t been the case for Akers, but he can take comfort in the fact that Mason Crosby has been just as bad.
Crosby has made his last five field goals, but suffered a slump in the middle of the season that threatened his entire career. At one point he was 12 of his last 24 kicks, which came just a year after posting an 85.7 field goal percentage, via the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune.
Despite the recent resurgence of Crosby, the Packers cannot rely on him to kick the game-winner. Akers is in the same position with San Francisco, so this game has the potential to live and die on the ineptitude of each team’s respective kicker.