The bye week doesn’t necessarily help teams advance further in the playoffs (see: New York Giants), but it allows players to rest and fans to take a bit of a mental break. Okay, time’s up. Time to freak out and let the neuroses flow like the Russian River during wintertime.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. The sky is falling around these parts, and we’re passing out tinfoil hats. There are several reasons why the San Francisco 49ers can beat the Green Bay Packers, but the Packers are a good team that scores more points than the 49ers and features a quarterback who quietly had a very good year after enjoying one of the best seasons in the history of professional football in 2011.
Crap. We’re doomed.
In an attempt to determine exactly what 49ers fans should worry about and put names and faces to the dread you’re feeling, here are five matchups the Packers will probably look to exploit.
1. Clay Matthews vs. Joe Staley
This one is on the blatantly obvious, “no duh, BASG” side. The Packers may have lost to the 49ers in Week 1, but Matthews looked almost superhuman. Joe Staley just looked bloody. “I didn’t play terrifically well the first time I played against him,” said Staley, who blamed a new helmet that pressed down on his nose each time he tried to block anyone for the wound that left a visible scar on his schnoz. But simply changing helmets won’t keep Matthews out of the backfield.
According to Pro Football Focus (who gives a grade to each player on every snap), Matthews was the only Packers defender to score above 0.5 in the regular season opener. He sacked Alex Smith 2.5 times that game, and scored a 1.8 in the process. On Saturday, Matthews sacked Joe Webb twice and earned a PFF score of 1.9. Staley has had a very good season since that game, but he may need help against the best defender in football who sports ’80s metal hair.
2. Randall Cobb vs. Carlos Rogers (and the special teams)
Cobb lines up in the slot more often than not, and Rogers is the 49ers’ designated slot stopper. While Rogers’ physical tactics worked well against the (relatively) slow Wes Welker, Cobb is on the other side of the speed spectrum and caught 9 passes for 77 yards in Week 1. Plus, Cobb scored a touchdown on a 75-yard punt return against the 49ers, although Anthony Dixon was blocked in the back and the replacement referees failed to notice (or care).
3. The Packers’ No. 4 WR vs. Perrish Cox
In Week 1, James Jones caught a 49-yard touchdown and finished with 4 receptions for 81 yards. He also led the NFL in touchdown catches with 14. Jordy Nelson isn’t quite at full strength, but was productive against the Vikings on Saturday. Greg Jennings had an off year in 2012, but averaged better than 1,000 per year from 2007-11. The Packers have a plethora of receiving options, which means Cox is going to have to cover someone at some point. According to PFF, Cox scored a -5.6 on the season, worse than every 49ers defender except Isaac Sopoaga (-12.0).
4. Marshall Newhouse vs. Aldon Smith
Smith started out on fire against Green Bay in Week 1, but after sacking Aaron Rodgers and getting flagged for removing his helmet (after it was partially kicked off by Rodgers), Smith disappeared. Newhouse, the Packers’ left tackle, graded out at a 2.5 on PFF’s scale, an extremely high score for one game. Smith was given a score of -4.4, a ridiculously low number. With Aldon going into virtual hibernation since Justin Smith got hurt, the 49ers have to hope this statement Jim Harbaugh made on KNBR proves true:
“I think Aldon will benefit from some of the rest that he’ll have an opportunity to take, rest his mind, rest his body. I think watching the tape, he’s someone that can use it, that needs it.”
5. Aaron Rodgers vs. Colin Kaepernick
This is a misleading addition to the list, I admit. Yes, I’m aware Rodgers won’t spend Saturday evening pressuring Kaepernick, or vice versa. But Rodgers is an established superstar with a lifetime postseason record of 6-2. Kaepernick, on the other hand, only has seven NFL starts.
Yesterday Russell Wilson went up against another rookie in Robert Griffin III. Wilson looked shaky — almost nervous — early, then settled down. Griffin never had a chance because he couldn’t run or plant on his right leg due to a knee injury that should’ve kept him out of action. The point? Wilson and Griffin got to face each other, while Kaepernick gets to face the best quarterback in the NFC.
It might not matter at all. Kaepernick could start his postseason career with the calm and poise of a young Joe Montana, and Aldon could break through and make Rodgers the nervous, flighty quarterback in this contest. We won’t know until the game starts, and for now all we can do is gnaw on our fingernails and prepare for the worst. That’s probably the healthiest way to go about this.