Packers vs. 49ers: Running Game Must Produce for Green Bay to Advance

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2013

Green Bay RB DuJuan Harris
Green Bay RB DuJuan HarrisJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Despite the presence of Aaron Rodgers, it's the running game that will decide whether the Green Bay Packers advance past the divisional round.

When the Packers met the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 of the 2012 season, that aspect of the Green Bay offense was almost nonexistent. Rodgers was the leading rusher with 27 yards. Although the QB threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns, the Packers lost, 30-22.

If the Packers get a similar level of production on the ground, they'll get a similar final result.

As good as Rodgers is, he needs some support, especially going up against a team that was third in total defense and fourth against the pass.

The Packers' 2012 results echo the importance of the running game.

In Green Bay's five losses, the team gained an average of 93.2 yards a game. That figure jumped to 112.4 in the Packers' wins.

The 49ers' strategy will almost mirror that of some basketball teams when facing a single star player. The team's defense will guard the star heavily with double- and triple-teams and make his teammates win the game.

This isn't exactly possible with Rodgers, but the principle remains the same. Whether it's DuJuan Harris, Ryan Grant or somebody else, the featured running back needs to deflect the defense's attention away from Rodgers.

The more the Packers rely on the passing game, the more 49ers players will drop back into the secondary and blanket the Green Bay receivers.

An elite running game isn't quite as important as it once was. Quarterbacks are driving the league more and more with the way the rules are shifting football.

A good running game, however, can supplement the air attack demonstrably.

The more successful a running back can be, the more the 49ers will try and load the box to stop him, allowing Rodgers to beat them over the top.

Even if Green Bay struggles on the ground to move the ball well, if it gets to San Francisco to bite for one split-second on play-action passes then the running game will have done enough.

That's one split-second where the defenders in the secondary could lay off the receiver, thus allowing the offensive player to get the advantage.

In addition, the Packers lack a real elite receiver who can demand a ton of attention from the defense. Randall Cobb, James Jones or Greg Jennings don't exactly strike fear into the 49ers the way that an elite receiver would.

Rodgers will receive most of the credit in the event that the Packers advance to the NFC Championship Game, but this will be a game decided in the trenches.