By Chris Terlop
The Packers travel to Candlestick Park to take on the 49ers for a shot at the NFC title game; here are three things to look for during their matchup.
1.Colin Kaepernick and the read option. The first time the Packers took on the 49ers Alex Smith was the head man in the back field, a concussion and a quarterback controversy later and second year player Colin Kaepernick is getting his first playoff start. Kaepernick, Frank Gore, and LaMichael James have been deadly running the read option, the newest fad for mobile quarterbacks. The Packers have managed to see the fewest read option plays in the league this season, while watching film helps; nothing replaces the on-field experience of facing it in person. Frank Gore was able to rush for 112 yards week one without it, joining Adrian Peterson as the only two backs to eclipse the 100 yard mark against the Pack. That being said, Gore has not had a 100-yard game since switching to the read option look, but is still averaging a little over four yards a carry since November 11th. Kaepernick has been able to exploit defenses with his legs in this system, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, one of the reasons he was named the starter over the less dynamic Alex Smith.
2.Justin Smith. Justin Smith has been out with a triceps injury, but practiced today with a brace and it appears he will be active for Saturday’s game. This is great news for the 49ers, not so much for the Packers. Smith is the most impactful player on the defensive line for San Francisco. While Smith only has three sacks this season, his teammates’ performance drops dramatically when the 285-pound tackle is not on the field. Aldon Smith led the 49ers with 19.5 sacks this year, none of those came without Justin Smith on the field, as A.Smith has went without a sack the last three games of the season. As a defense San Francisco averages a sack every 15 drop backs; without him, once every 27 drop backs. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers average 38 drop backs a game; with an effective J. Smith, Rodgers could be sacked two to three times. An ineffective J. Smith? A single sack. In what is supposed to be a close game, two sacks could mean everything.
3.Vernon Davis. Yes, I know Davis has had a rough year and has struggled to have any chemistry with Kaepernick (548 yards receiving are the least since 2008). The fact is, he is still a physical specimen and has the skill set that led him to back-to-back 900 plus yard seasons in 2010 and 2011. If the Packers are able to stop the read option, the only consistent receiver this season has been Michael Crabtree, with Mario Manningham out and Randy Moss aging. Tramon Williams will most likely match-up with Crabtree, and has done a very good job against big game receivers this year; I am not expecting this to change. That leaves Davis, who provides a mismatch with his speed and size and has been targeted 56 times this year, good for second on the team. If the Packers can stop the run game or get up early, the 49ers offensive success may rest on the Kaepernick-Davis combination.
You Can Follow Chris on Twitter @Terlop19 and hear him from 4-6pm Weekdays on Sportsline and on Green Bay Game Day Pregame