Wayne Larrivee's Packers-49ers pregame primer
Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
As I put together my preparation for the broadcast Sunday I don’t pay much attention to season-long stats at this time of year.
Who these teams were in September, or October or November doesn’t really matter. Pro football is very much a game of “not who you play or where you play them, but WHEN you play them.”
So I follow the trends at this time of year because that gives you a better idea of who these teams are NOW as opposed to using the full body of work to get a handle on a club going into the post season.
Here is what the trends are telling me about this matchup of the 5th seeded San Francisco 49ers and the 4th seeded Green Bay Packers:
Let’s start with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He blasted the Packers for 412 passing yards on opening day and a 129.4 passer rating. But in back-to -back losses at Seattle and to Indianapolis in September he posted marks of 20.1 and 49.9, with no TD passes and 4 interceptions. In back-to-back November losses against Carolina and at New Orleans, Kaepernick posted ratings of 42.0 and 72.9 with 2 TD passes and 2 interceptions.
However, since their loss at the Superdome, the 49ers have won six in a row. Over that span Kaepernick has posted a passer rating of 106.5 with 10 TDs and 1 interception.
Teams have tried to keep him in the pocket and the results are mixed, but the Niners will move that pocket to get Kaepernick into space where he is a better passer and dangerous runner with 4.53 speed.
Please don’t ask me to go over the numbers from last year’s Divisional Playoff game against the Packers. That’s all been well documented.
Suffice to say, the quarterback coming to Lambeau this weekend appears to be playing at the top of his game.
The Niners rank 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game — a misleading stat to be sure!
Against one of the better defenses in the game today, at 6th-ranked Arizona, they put 292 passing yards on the board in a 23-20 victory.
San Francisco finished the regular season as the 3rd-ranked rushing team in the league averaging 137.6 yards per game.
In the past month they put 163 rushing yards on the 7th-ranked rush defense in the game, the Seahawks. They got 187 yards on the ground at Tampa Bay the #15 rush defense. They motored for 199 rushing yards against Atlanta’s 31st-ranked run defense and they posted 83 yards against the top run defense in the game this year at Arizona.
In those four games the Niners ran the football 126 times for 632 yards, averaging 158 yards per game, five yards per rushing attempt.
But since losing their talented sledgehammer of a fullback Bruce Miller, who was placed on the injured reserve list December 18th, the San Francisco running game is not operating with quite the same efficiency.
They did get big yards on Atlanta but at Arizona last week, against the top rush defense in the game the Niners managed just 83 yards on 22 carries 3.8 average — not bad, but not as good as their overall season numbers.
They will use a fullback/halfback hybrid type player in Anthony Dixon at the fullback post, and while he gives them some options with the ball, he is nowhere near the blocker Miller is.
When it comes to lead-blocking, Will Tukuafu, a former defensive lineman will be in the game but he offers virtually no ball skills.
Part of what makes the 49ers a good running team is their quarterback who ranks 4th among all QBs in the league rushing the football. During the last four games, Kaepernick has rushed for 148 yards on 23 attempts, a 6.4-yard average.
The trends tell me there is nothing wrong with the San Francisco rushing attack heading into the post season.
Furthermore, the San Francisco offense has not turned the ball over in three games and just once in the last four games. I believe Coach Jim Harbaugh has this offense and this team right where he wants them heading into the playoffs.
One concerning trend for the Niners is their pass defense. In the past two games, the Matt Ryan-led Falcons and the Carson Palmer-led Cardinals put a combined 740 yards of passing offense on the board against the San Francisco defense.
Over those two games, Atlanta and Arizona combined for four TDs against three interceptions and the San Francisco pass rush managed just two sacks.
Here’s what I like about the Packers trends heading into this game:
Offensively, Green Bay has scored 101 points, a 33.6 average in the past three games.
The Packers have rushed for 110-plus yards in each of the last four games and they rushed for 180 yards in a game five times this season.
Looking back on the opener at San Francisco, where the Packers managed 63 rushing yards on 19 attempts, you can see how far the Packers have come in the run game.
This is a bigger part of who they are than any of us could have predicted and that running ability should come to the fore in the conditions of Lambeau Field Sunday night.
In the red zone, the Packers are ranked 25th overall this season, scoring touchdowns on 50.7% of their trips. But of late, they have scored TDs on 12 of their last 17 excursions into the red zone over the last three weeks, 70.6%. (5-5 at Dallas, 4 of 6 vs. Pittsburgh and 3 of 6 last week at Chicago)
Defensively, while Green Bay has struggled to get takeaways this season in the past five games ,they have generated 12 takeaways (seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries), a big step up.
On third downs defensively, the Packers rank ninth overall this season at 38.2% opponents conversions. Still, in the last three games opponents have combined for just 9 conversions on 29 third down tries 31%.
Weather permitting, Green Bay has enough offense to put some numbers on the board even against this outstanding San Francisco defense which finished the year 5th overall in yardage, 4th on the ground, 7th through the air and 3rd in scoring.
As a matter of fact, Rodgers has been a challenge for the San Francisco defense (as he has been for every defense) over the years. In five career starts against the Niners Rodgers has completed 66.7% of his passes 12 TDs and just three interceptions for a 104.5 passer rating.
In the three games over the past 16 months between the Packers and Niners, Rodgers has posted passer ratings of 93.3, 91.5 and 102.6 in the opener this season.In those three games he has seven touchdown passes and three interceptions.
As good as the Niners are defensively, Rodgers almost single-handedly tilted the field in the Packers favor during the opener at Candlestick, as with 8:26 to go, he had the Packers on the lead 28-24. The he defense could not hold it.
That is the biggest question (or fear) for Green Bay — do the Packers have enough defense?