Packers' Revenge over the 49ers Must Come in a Perfect Package

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJanuary 3, 2014

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) reacts after picking up a first down next to San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner (31) in the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Packers 34-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers don't have a snazzy, rousing theme for this coming Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers will roll into an expectedly frigid Lambeau Field for the NFC Wild Card Round.

No, there simply isn't a need to highlight the obvious—like before Week 1, when the number "579," representing the yards allowed by the Packers in last January's Divisional Round loss to the 49ers, was the defense's focus ahead of a season-opening trip to San Francisco.

That rallying cry still meant giving up 494 yards and 34 points during a Week 1 defeat. 

"We just need to win," cornerback Tramon Williams said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. "That's the only thing that's going to prove anything."

Three straight humbling losses to the 49ers have tightened the focus, sharpened the goal. The Packers know now that any taste of revenge will only come from the more refined chase of perfection—a spin-off from one of Vince Lombardi's most famous quotes—against a team as strong, complete and experienced as this one from San Francisco. 

In every one of the three games, the Packers have matched the powerful 49ers but only for confined stretches. A mistake here, a mistake there, and Green Bay has eventually come up short. 

Beating the 12-win 49ers this time around will take a more perfect performance. 

"They are a very good football team," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "Their video tape is excellent. I think it will be an excellent matchup."

The three previous games between the two have been back-and-forth bouts. But for various reasons, Green Bay was simply unable to get over the hump. 

In the 2012 season opener, the Packers rallied to within eight points twice in the fourth quarter, only to have Aaron Rodgers throw a costly interception and then come up short on the final drive. 

Four months later in the Divisional Round, the 49ers scored 21 of the game's final 28 points after Green Bay had tied the contest at 24 in the third quarter. 

And in this season's opener, the Packers held a 28-24 lead with under nine minutes remaining but failed to make critical stops on defense down the stretch. 

Just slight deviations from an otherwise winning performance cost Green Bay in all three games. 

Ross' fumble in last year's Divisional Round was a turning point.
Ross' fumble in last year's Divisional Round was a turning point.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers' backbreaking interception to NaVorro Bowman in the fourth quarter of the 2012 opener was compounded a play later, when Frank Gore burst off right tackle for a 23-yard touchdown. Rodgers was then sacked on second down with Green Bay again down eight and driving, and the Packers turned the ball over on downs two plays later. 

Most remember the Divisional Round matchup for the breakout of Colin Kaepernick, who ran for a playoff record 181 yards against an overmatched Packers defense. His 56-yard scamper off the read-option remains the iconic play of San Francisco's 45-31 win. 

But the Packers likely remember that game for the many opportunities they let get away. 

In the first half, Jeremy Ross muffed a punt inside his own 10-yard line with Green Bay up, 14-7. San Francisco scored three plays later. Rodgers then threw a pick that led to another 49ers touchdown. And four total times, Kaepernick picked up third downs of eight yards or more. The cumulative effect of those mistakes ended up being the difference between advancing and going home. 

More handouts gave the 49ers the margin needed to start 1-0 back in September. 

Eddie Lacy's fumble in the first quarter set up a San Francisco touchdown. It was the rookie's one and only fumble of his 2013 season.

In the second quarter, Rodgers had a perfectly thrown pass intercepted when Jermichael Finley somehow couldn't corral the attempt. Later, with the game on the line, the Packers couldn't stop the 49ers on a critical fourth down. San Francisco had 10 total conversions on third or fourth down.

It's the little things that can make such a big difference against the NFL's elite teams. The last three meetings between these two NFC heavyweights prove that idea.

Packers vs. 49ers: A Look Back at the Last Three Games
Total Yards1,0611,550
Passing Yards849851
Rushing Yards212599
Yards per Play6.16.8
Source: Pro Football Reference

The 49ers have also been better than the Packers in many of the most important statistical categories.

San Francisco has just one turnover over the three-game series, compared to five for Green Bay. The 49ers have also averaged almost 38 minutes of possession, thanks to a running game that has gained almost 200 yards per contest. The Packers have run for just 212 yards total in the three games.  

It comes as no surprise that the 49ers have averaged more per play (6.8 to 6.1), converted more third downs (19 to 15) and ran more running plays (109 to 49) than the Packers over the last three meetings. 

Overall, Green Bay has allowed the 49ers an average of 36.3 points and 483.3 yards in the three losses. 

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will now get a fourth crack to figure out Greg Roman, Kaepernick and the 49ers offense. 

"The defense needs to play its best game of the year," McCarthy said. "This is playoff football. Everyone understands that our production needs to jump up here." 

Stopping the run remains front and center for Capers' 3-4 defense, and that likely won't change for Sunday's game plan. The 49ers are third in rushing attempts (505) and rushing yards (2,201) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (18) this season.

The Packers meanwhile rank 25th in yards allowed (125.0 per game) and 29th in yards per carry (4.6). Both figures have bottomed out after a hot start that included the Week 1 loss. In the opener, the 49ers ran 34 times but gained just 90 yards (2.6 per carry), as Gore was limited to 44 yards, and the read-option was all but shut down. 

It was Kaepernick's right arm that picked apart the Packers defense. 

The second-year starter threw for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns. Anquan Boldin caught 13 passes for a season-high 208 yards, and Vernon Davis hauled in two scores. 

The 49ers will now add receiver Michael Crabtree to the equation. He didn't play in the opener due to a torn Achilles suffered in the offseason. 

Colin Kaepernick: Career Game Log vs. Packers
Passing YardsTD/INTRushing YardsTDs
2012 Week 1*00/0170
2012 NFC Divisional Round2632/11812
2013 Week 14123/0220
*Did not start

The enormous pressure put on a defense lacking Clay Matthews will likely force the Packers to play a near perfect game on offense to win. 

Rodgers has picked the 49ers defense apart at times since 2012. In the three games, Rodgers has averaged almost 26 completions and 298 yards, with seven total touchdown passes. But he's also had one interception in all three games. 

Add in three lost fumbles for the offense, and it's clear production isn't the only necessity for the Packers Sunday. Protecting the football is just as important. 

“You just have to not make mistakes, to be honest with you,” receiver Jordy Nelson said, via Mike Spofford of the Packers' official site. "That’s how it’s going to be all throughout the playoffs. You have to play quality football.”

The Packers hope a better running game will help that quality this time around. 

Green Bay has averaged just 70.6 rushing yards against the 49ers since 2012, including 63 in this season's opener. But since Week 1, the Packers run game has come alive behind Lacy and James Starks. 

Lacy rushed for just 41 yards in Week 1.
Lacy rushed for just 41 yards in Week 1.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay finished 2013 ranked seventh in rushing yards per game (133.5) and fourth in yards per carry (4.7). Lacy and Starks combined to rush for 1,671 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

But finding space against the 49ers, who rank fourth in rushing defense, will be a different story than rushing for 160 yards against the Chicago Bears, as the Packers did in Week 17. 

While Rodgers rightfully sits at the center of the 49ers' focus, San Francisco will also know how important stopping the run is to playing winning football. 

The 49ers are a rock-solid 18-2 when limiting teams to less than 100 yards rushing since 2012 and just 5-6-1 when that milestone is exceeded. San Francisco is also 8-0 this season when winning the time of possession battle, which typically plays off the success of both running and stopping the run. 

The Packers also can't bank on the weather—the most recent forecasts are predicting subzero temps, with dangerously cold wind chills—to tilt the scales in their favor. The 49ers may be from warm and sunny California, but this is a team built to win in the cold. 

Kaepernick has a big arm to slice through chilly air. The 49ers run game can outmuscle and overpower most fronts. The defense is strong at the point of attack and stingy against the run. Overall, San Francisco might actually be better suited to play in the conditions than the local Packers. 

All these factors—both past and present—paint a clear picture for Green Bay's chances of enacting any sort of revenge on the confident 49ers. 

Play a more perfect game, minus the turnovers, gaps in running the football and defensive letdowns, or run the risk of having San Francisco start and end a Packers season with the same result in back-to-back years. 


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