San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers: Breaking Down Green Bay's Game Plan

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIJanuary 2, 2014

The Packers will need a big game from Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.
The Packers will need a big game from Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It's all come down to this one game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. One team will go home while the other team will keep its Super Bowl dreams alive.

These two teams have already played once this season back in Week 1. The 49ers won that matchup by a score of 34-28. However, that game was in San Francisco, and both teams have changed quite a bit from that early September matchup.

This is the third time that the Packers have played the 49ers in the past two seasons, and they've learned something in each matchup. Let's break down what Green Bay's game plan needs to be on Sunday for the Packers to advance in the playoffs.


The Competitive Edge


Even though Aaron Rodgers has only been back for one week, he was pretty dominant in his last game against the Chicago Bears. When Rodgers is at the top of the game, there isn't a quarterback better in the league. And that includes Colin Kaepernick.

Advantage: Green Bay


Running Backs

The Packers have a solid duo in Eddie Lacy and James Starks in their backfield. However, San Francisco boasts a talented trio in Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. Any of those 49ers backs can make a huge impact in a game.

Advantage: San Francisco


Wide Receivers

Getting Randall Cobb back is a huge boost to the receiving corps.
Getting Randall Cobb back is a huge boost to the receiving corps.Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

With Randall Cobb returning last week for Green Bay, there aren't too many teams in the playoffs with a better receiving corps than the Packers. Sure, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are talented, but Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin give the Packers the edge.

Advantage: Green Bay


Tight Ends

Vernon Davis is one of the best tight ends in the league. In fact, he has twice as much talent as any tight end that Green Bay will put on the field. Davis' versatility and athleticism are going to definitely give the Packers defense some issues.

Advantage: San Francisco 


Offensive Line

The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league. It's led by offensive tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati. While the Packers offensive line has been solid at times, it is nowhere near as dominant as the unit that San Francisco will put on the field.

Advantage: San Francisco


Defensive Line

Green Bay saw its defensive line slowly digress as the regular season came to an end. It hasn't been able to stop the run or put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The 49ers defensive line, on the other hand, is an extremely disruptive unit with an elite player in defensive end Justin Smith.

Advantage: San Francisco



There isn't a bigger difference in talent amongst the units than these two teams' linebacker corps. The 49ers boast four Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers in Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. As for the Packers, they don't even have a linebacker talented enough to be a Pro Bowl alternate.

Advantage: San Francisco



The reason that San Francisco has the edge in the secondary is because of its safeties. The duo of Donte Whitner and Eric Reid has been a million times more productive than whichever combination of safeties the Packers put on the field during a game.

While the Packers have the better cornerbacks, the gap between the safeties is too large to make a difference.

Advantage: San Francisco


Special Teams

The coverage team for the Packers is just awful. Like worst-in-the-league awful. The unit has been giving up at least one big return for the past few weeks. With a weapon like LaMichael James as a returner, the Packers could really be in trouble in this area of the game.

Advantage: San Francisco 


Packers Offense vs. 49ers Defense

As good as the Packers offense is, the 49ers defense is quite a bit better. Just take a look at the chart below showing the 49ers' grades on defense from Pro Football Focus (subscription required):

San Francisco 49ers' Defensive Grades
GradeNFL Rank
Run Defense44.010th
Pass Rush24.08th
Pass Coverage28.43rd
Via Pro Football Focus

That's a scary defense for any offense to go against, no matter how potent it may be. The good news for the Packers offense is that it got two huge boosts last week with the return of Cobb and Rodgers.

Where the Packers can ultimately attack the 49ers defense is through the air. They'll need to start with short and quick passes to avoid the 49ers' pass-rushing specialists. Look for Nelson to see plenty of targets, especially with that slant route he runs so well.

The Packers can help their passing attack by running the football. They might not have much success with a hobbled Lacy carrying the load, but attempting to move the ball on the ground will keep the 49ers defense honest.

The Packers offense is going to need to be in elite form if Green Bay wants a chance in this playoff game.


Packers Defense vs. 49ers Offense

This is where things could really get ugly for the Packers. They have the seventh-worst overall defense according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Keeping Colin Kaepernick in check is the key for the Packers defense.
Keeping Colin Kaepernick in check is the key for the Packers defense.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

In last year's playoff game between these two teams, the Packers defense was dominated by Kaepernick running the read-option. Then in Week 1 of this season, Green Bay slowed down Kaepernick's legs, but it couldn't stop his arm as he threw for over 400 yards.

The key for the Packers defense this time around will be moderation. It likely won't be able to stop the 49ers offense from having success on the ground or through the air, but if it can keep San Francisco relatively in check and from making big plays, the defense could have some success.

It's not going to be an easy game for the Packers defense, but if it can make a stop or two, it'll give its team a great chance to win the game.


Wednesday's Injury Report

Wednesday's Injury Report
NamePositionInjuryPractice Status
Brad JonesLBAnkleLimited Participation
Eddie LacyRBAnkleLimited Particpation
Clay MatthewsLBThumbOut
Mike NealLBAbdomenDid Not Practice
Nick PerryLBFootDid Not Practice
Ryan PickettDLKneeLimited Participation

The injury report from Wednesday looks as good as it has all season this week. In fact, the only bad news revolves around outside linebacker Clay Matthews, but him being out was basically assumed since he re-broke his thumb only three weeks ago.

The only other player to really keep an eye on throughout the week is Lacy. It was clear in Week 17 that his ankle wasn't at 100 percent, and the Packers desperately need him to be completely healthy in this game.

All the other players on Wednesday's injury report haven't fully participated in a Wednesday practice in a number of weeks, so seeing them on the report this week isn't a surprise at all.


The Packers Will Win If...

...Their offense sustains long drives.

Look, the Packers defense is so bad that it's hard to imagine it stopping San Francisco. So, what Green Bay needs to be able to do is keep its defense off the field for as long as possible.

That means the Packers offense is going to need to put together a number of drives that reach 10 or more plays. And more importantly, it'll need to score touchdowns at the end of those drives.

Quick scores are great, but that ultimately puts the Packers defense back on the field and gives the advantage to the 49ers offense. The Packers need their offense to use a combination of run and pass plays to eat up the clock and keep their defense off the field.

If they can do that, their defense may just be rested enough late in the game to come up with a stop that everyone knows they'll eventually need to make.


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