Often times, fans and the media become enthralled with the quarterbacks for opposing teams heading into major matchups.
The signal callers are genuinely the glamour guys, and their stories are the ones we hear the most about. Their overall worth is judged by their teams' successes and failures. One fact that is often lost during the hype is the quarterbacks don't play against each other.
The following matchups will determine the NFC Championship game.
Richard Sherman vs. Michael Crabtree
Crabtree has established himself as a major threat in the passing game. His presence has had a huge impact on the 49ers' play. The team hasn't lost a game since he returned from an Achilles injury.
He had eight receptions for 125 yards against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round. He was quiet during the Niners 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers in the divisional playoff round. Crabtree had just three catches for 26 yards, but the attention Carolina's secondary paid him helped free up Anquan Boldin for his big day.
Expect Sherman to draw Crabtree on most—if not all—downs. Seeing how one of the game's best cover cornerbacks handles Crabtree will be entertaining and telling.
If Kaepernick can establish Crabtree as a weapon, it will be difficult to contain the Niners offense all game.
During the 49ers' Week 14 win over Seattle, Crabtree was just in his second game back. Kaepernick only threw the ball his way twice with Sherman checking him. Crabtree had one of his four catches against Sherman in the game, and it went for just four yards, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Sherman spent most of his time on Boldin in that matchup, but with Crabtree more acclimated this time around, Sherman's job will be a little tougher.
Crabtree may have given the fiery Sherman some bulletin board material late last week—as if he needed any. During a press conference video on 49ers.com, Crabtree was asked if Sherman was the best cornerback in the league.
"No. I don't think so. I don't know anything about best cornerbacks. I just know teams, you know. We are playing the Seattle Seahawks and hopefully we come out with a win. We are going hard."
And so will Sherman.
Aldon Smith vs. Russell Okung
Smith can be a game-changing presence as a pass-rusher off the edge. Though his off-field issues may cause some to forget how impactful he is on the field, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reminds us:
Aldon Smith averages the most sacks per game (0.98) of any player since it became an official @nfl statistic in 1982.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) January 15, 2014
He was the Niners' most effective defensive player in both games. He had two sacks and three quarterback hurries on Wilson in Week 2. In that game, the Niners offense hadn't evolved into the balanced attack it is today.
In Week 14, San Francisco had begun the transformation that has seen them win eight straight games.
If Smith can have the same type of performance against the Seahawks on Sunday, it will be a major step toward pushing San Francisco into the Super Bowl.
Okung only played 16 snaps in the Week 2 matchup (PFF). He injured his foot and had to leave the game. Perhaps if he'd played more, Smith wouldn't have been as effective.
However, he played 54 snaps in Week 14 and generated the second lowest overall rating from PFF of any of Seattle's offensive linemen.
If Smith dominates this matchup on passing downs, Seattle will be in trouble.
Glenn Dorsey, Ray McDonald and Justin Smith vs. Max Unger, J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter
In order for Seattle to win this game, it must run the ball effectively. If Unger, Sweezy and Carpenter don't win the battle up front, Marshawn Lynch won't have room to unleash the beast inside him.
Dorsey, McDonald and J. Smith will be charged with holding their ground and allowing NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and others to hit their gaps.
Lynch had 98 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle's win in Week 2. He had just 72 yards and a score in the Week 14 loss.
This will be a key battle in the trenches.
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