The 49ers won each of the five matchups I said the Packers might exploit a week ago. Either that means they prepared for each potential problem area like crazy over the prior two weeks, or I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Or both!
1. Clay Matthews vs. Joe Staley
The sack Matthews had was probably Colin Kaepernick’s fault for thinking he could get out of that pocket and not throwing the ball away. Other than that, Matthews was a non-factor (special shout-out to LaMichael James, for the kind of block that showed how James and Tom Rathman kept themselves busy during the season’s first 12 games).
Cobb had seven touches for 47 yards, his longest play a 19-yard run. In the return game he was similarly unremarkable. The 49ers clearly were devoted to shutting down Cobb, and they succeeded. A lot of that had to do with the play of Rogers, who I think may be of use as a blitzer against Atlanta (but that’s something best saved for a future post).
3. The Packers’ No. 4 WR vs. Perrish Cox
Cox was fine in coverage and sent Cobb head over heels at one point. Aaron Rodgers averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, a victory for any secondary.
4. Marshall Newhouse vs. Aldon Smith
Smith didn’t collect any sacks, but that didn’t mean he had a bad game. He forced a fumble, played well in coverage and had five hurries.
5. Aaron Rodgers vs. Colin Kaepernick
Nervous energy appeared to affect Kaepernick negatively early on, but he went on to have one of the most memorable playoff debuts in recent memory. Rodgers didn’t get beat up by the 49ers, but he only beat them on the ground once (a 17-yard scramble to the left sideline). 63 of Rodgers’ 257 passing yards and one of his two TDs took place during a meaningless final drive where the 49ers were content to let the Packers slowly march down the field. Rodgers didn’t play terribly, but Kaepernick was clearly better.
Okay, enough about last week. The 49ers have almost to a man spoken about how last year they were happy to be in the NFC Championship Game, while this year they expected to get this far. They are going to be extremely deflated if they let this opportunity slip away, but that could happen if the Falcons take advantage of the following matchups.
1. Georgia Dome vs. Colin Kaepernick and Jonathan Goodwin
Atlanta is always getting flack for being a less-than-rabid sports town, but their stadium will be loud considering what’s at stake — early on, anyway. Jonathan Goodwin didn’t sound worried on Friday when I asked him about it, but I’m still not totally sold on the center/QB exchange part of the 49ers’ offense yet. There was still a botched snap against Green Bay, although it didn’t matter because Kaepernick fell on the ball and threw a TD to Michael Crabtree on the next play. But these two can’t get crossed up in Atlanta.
As much fun as it is to hate Richard Sherman, he was the best cover corner in the NFL this year (according to PFF, anyway). White outran Sherman and made a long touchdown catch as the Seahawks’ star tripped and fell. Brown is an elite cornerback, but Culliver — while quite good — is a step below Brown and hasn’t played well for three consecutive games. Matt Ryan is going to take shots over the top like Rodgers did on that pass down the right sideline to James Jones. Culliver swatted away many of those passes throughout the season, and he’ll need to win the vast majority of his individual battles on Sunday.
3. Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks
The 49ers’ leading sackers can’t sell out for Ryan, in part because the Falcons throw a ton of screen passes. Smith and Brooks have to help make sure that Rodgers (who ran over Earl Thomas on Sunday) doesn’t have wide spaces to get loose and collect easy first downs.
4. Thomas DeCoud, Asante Samuel and William Moore vs. Colin Kaepernick
DeCoud (six INTs) and Samuel (five) both finished in the top 10 this year in that category, and safety William Moore came close with four. Samuel is a playoff veteran who will try to trick Kaepernick throughout. After becoming the talk of the NFL this week, Kaepernick can’t get over-confident and take unnecessary risks.
5. Mike Nolan vs. his old team
It’s been a while, but Nolan got to watch several key performers for the 49ers on a daily basis including Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Joe Staley, Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Ray McDonald, and Andy Lee. What is that worth? In most cases, probably nothing (Nolan’s experience with Lee is especially worthless).
I’ll be honest, I’m reaching quite a bit here because the Falcons aren’t obviously better than the 49ers in very many areas. Coming up with a similar list for the Packers was a lot easier, so perhaps that’s a good sign for the 49ers. Then again, my list of things the Packers could exploit didn’t mean all that much in the Divisional Round.