Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers: Path Back To Success Starts Sunday
If there's one thing we learned from the Houston Texans win/brawl over the Tennessee Titans in Week 12, it's that killing two birds with one stone can be done at the drop of a hat this season.
Fatigue, depression and uneasiness—three fairly simple words that have plagued the Green Bay Packers this week.
A loss to the Atlanta Falcons last weekend in the Georgia Dome sent Mike McCarthy's men searching for answers after allowing yet another late field-goal loss, and with a trip back home to Lambeau Field awaiting against San Francisco, the green and gold aren't looking as solid as we originally thought.
Curse that special teams unit.
Yes, once again the Packers special teams play has let them down in a crucial game. Forget the term "broken record," because Green Bay has been plagued with this problem since the get-go this season, and at the end of the day haven't taken the right steps to correct the problem.
Mike McCarthy does like to tell us otherwise, mind you.
When queried on Green Bay's poor special teams coverage in the dying stages of last week's game, the Packer head coach had no trouble steering attention in the opposite direction.
"You don't line up on Sunday afternoon and you're given one opportunity to win the game," Mike McCarthy told reporters. "There's hundreds of different types of opportunities that go on inside that game, and you can break it down by play. Did you win the play or did you lose the play? And when you're winning 60 percent-plus of your plays, you should be winning those games. There was a lot of offensive production this past week, but the bottom line is we didn't get in the end zone enough."
Call me yellow, but perhaps the Packers' main man is right. Despite Aaron Rodgers' typical last-touch heroics against the Falcons last week, Green Bay had noticeable difficulty advancing from the goal line to across the plain, even though this is a massive credit to Mike Smith's defense.
So why have the Packers struggled immensely to post points on the board in key games?
Join me in saying, Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley.
Say what you will about Grant's questionable run ability in the past two or three years, Green Bay quite often relied on the fact that they could hand the ball off to their power rusher, or better yet sling him out on an old-fashioned slant route and find him wide open in the end zone.
As for Jermichael Finley, the less said the better. Finley recorded five total touchdowns last season for 676 yards, and although the Packers have masked the absence of their star tight end quite nicely this year—you can't tell me that Mike McCarthy isn't missing No. 88's presence when the game is on the line.
Maybe these two factors account for the Packers 9-0 field-goal shutout win over the New York Jets nearly a month ago, huh?
Back to the real issue though: The Packers special teams unit must step up this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers. Firstly, the Packers do need to rely on some explosive kick returns out of Sam Shields, who has struggled to allow Aaron Rodgers decent field position for much of the year.
Secondly, the coverage must live up to the task. The 49ers may not possess a DeSean Jackson or Devin Hester type kick returner, but at the same time Tedd Ginn Jr. has been looking to burst out for his first touchdown on the year.
Keeping the concerning trend going for one last minute, the Packers special teams statistics are just as dismal as San Francisco's. Currently Green Bay haven't found the end zone all year on kick returns, and the fact that the Packers opponents outweigh them 1,226 to 883 in yards, the story is pretty much told.
Steering away from special teams controversy, Green Bay must now realize the true importance of Aaron Rodgers. While most of the roster more than likely does, last weekend only acted as another reminder of No. 12's talent, but with this in mind, the Packers can't keep allowing Rodgers to do all of the talking following a disappointing loss.
"I told the guys before the game last week: I said, 'It's going to be a 60-minute game, and it could be a play that happens in the first, second, third or fourth quarter that wins the game or loses the game,'" Aaron Rodgers said. "And, unfortunately, I was foreshadowing a play in the second quarter that possibly could have cost us the game. But, unfortunately, you never know when that play is going to be."
Is this really the image the Packers wish to promote? Sure, Peyton Manning does most of the talking in Indianapolis, but for once it would be nice to see the rest of the team grasp the microphone and offer an opinion or thought on how a problem could be resolved.
Keys for the game?
Barring what has already been said, the Packers finally must take advantage of the 49ers' latest injury list victim—Frank Gore. Mike Singletary has been sent back to the drawing board this week, and now that veteran rusher Brian Westbrook takes over the starting role, expect Dom Capers' 3-4 defense to be ready for a feast.
Other than the 49ers loss at the running back spot, putting pressure on San Francisco's 10th-ranked defense is vital. Aaron Rodgers is more than capable, but it would be a luxury to see the Packers establish a run game for once rather than just relying on wide receiver play.
Last but not least, Green Bay needs to also pressurize Troy Smith. On Monday Night Football last week the 49ers starter had a mediocre game, passing for 129 yards, one touchdown and one interception. This performance marked the second bad week in a row for Smith, and now the Packers look to go for the hat trick.
A "chance" card has been drawn in the Packers' hand, and Green Bay really needs to capitalize on it. San Francisco at the same time face a big opportunity, as a win over the Packers could lead to first spot in the NFC West.
Still, with the Bears now up one game in the NFC North, Green Bay needs to get back on the right track this weekend and delight their hometown fans. A loss would be a shock, and a win would be a huge bonus heading into a slightly weak matchup against Detroit in Week 14.
An 8-4 record is on the line, and everybody must fulfill their duty this week. Anything short of a win could spell the end of any postseason dream for the previously "Super Bowl bound" Packers.
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Ryan Cook is an Australian Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also an NFL columnist for Real Sports Net and a Green Bay Packers writer for Fan Huddle and PackerChatters, plus a contributing writer for Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Generation Y Sports.
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