The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers will be playing in the playoffs for the second straight season, and there are keys to victory that each team must follow if they want to win the game.
These two teams met back in Week 1, with the 49ers getting the 34-28 win. But people are talking more about the 2012 playoff game between the two, when the 49ers ran all over the Packers, winning 45-31 thanks to 323 rushing yards, including 181 from Colin Kaepernick.
This year, the game will be played in Green Bay and is bound to be a cold one. Below is a look at each team's keys to victory in order to advance to the divisional round.
Green Bay Packers
Focus on Gap Discipline
For the Packers, they've struggled to stop the run during the 2013 season. They gave up an average of 125 rushing yards per game during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. Football Outsiders had the Packers as the third-worst run defense in terms of defense-adjusted value over average, or DVOA.
The big reason for the struggling run defense has been a lack of gap discipline. With the possible exception of Mike Daniels, the front seven of the Packers has been very undisciplined when it comes to stopping the run, with players focusing more on the ball-carrier rather than focusing on which gaps they are supposed to plug up.
This is going to be priority No. 1 against the 49ers. They had the league's third-best run offense in the regular season, running for 137.6 yards per game. With multiple running backs in the backfield and a mobile quarterback in Kaepernick, the 49ers like to use the read-option to see if the defense is over-committing, then attack the open hole.
After giving up 181 rushing yards to the 49ers quarterback in last year's playoffs, the Packers will have to find a way to stay disciplined or be prepared for a long night that could end in another blowout.
Establish the Run
The big difference between this year and last for the Packers is that now they have a legitimate running game that could help them make another deep playoff run if their defense can hold up. In the 2012 matchup, DuJuan Harris was the leading rusher for Green Bay, going for 53 yards while the entire team had just 104 total yards on the ground.
This year, the Packers have Eddie Lacy, who has made a very strong case for the Rookie of the Year award. He ran for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. While Lacy has been dealing with an ankle injury, he is officially listed as probable according to Darin Gannt from Pro Football Talk.
If the Packers can get the running game going against the 49ers, who allowed just 95.9 rushing yards per game this season, it will help the offense be more unpredictable in their play-calling while also opening up the field. Perhaps the biggest benefit will be in the play action, giving Aaron Rodgers the opportunity to make plays in a cleaner pocket.
It won't be easy, but a strong day from either Lacy or James Starks would make things a lot easier for the Packers.
San Francisco 49ers
Put Pressure on Aaron Rodgers
While the Packers need to focus on establishing the run, the 49ers need to find a way to make Rodgers as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket. He had some rust in Week 17 against the Chicago Bears, but he was sacked three times for only five total yards.
In their Week 1 meeting, Rodgers was only sacked twice, with him throwing for 333 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception. In their 2012 matchup, he was sacked just once, throwing for 257 yards, two scores and an interception. While San Francisco was able to win both games, this is a different story considering Green Bay now has an established running back in the backfield.
The offensive line for the Packers has been very reliable all season protecting its quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has the Packers as the second-best pass-blocking team in the league, with only the Cincinnati Bengals posting a higher grade.
A flustered Rodgers could keep the Packers from picking up yards in bunches, which would be huge for the 49ers to maintain the pace they want for the game.
Let Colin Kaepernick Loose
We haven't seen a lot of explosive run plays from Kaepernick this season. He's still averaged 5.7 yards per carry with four touchdowns, but he was so much more explosive out of the backfield last season after taking the starting job.
Who will win this game?
With how poorly the Packers play against the run, this is a great opportunity for the 49ers to find ways to get their starting quarterback to run with the ball. Clay Matthews is hurt for the Packers and won't be playing, which means there's no real threat to contain Kaepernick in this game.
The 49ers can also find ways to let Kaepernick make big plays in the passing game. The Packers have had to play almost the entire season without Casey Hayward, and without him, they gave up 247.3 passing yards per game this season. Opposing QBs posted a passer rating of 95.9 against them, and the play from their safeties has been suspect all season.
Overall, Kaepernick has a chance to go off once again, and the 49ers shouldn't be afraid to let him loose in this game.