How do you beat the Green Bay Packers? You outscore them. The Packers are 0-4 against teams that have scored 30 points or more this season. The 49ers did just this in Week 1. And they did so by possessing the ball for 33 minutes and by averaging five yards per carry. They did so because David Akers made field goals of 40, 43, and 63 yards.
Needless to say, the odds of this happening again are slim. I don’t say this because Akers couldn’t hit a 40-plus yard field goal to save his life. I say this because the Packers give up an average of 20.4 points per game, good for 10th in the league. I also say this because for better or worse the offense that the Packers will face on Saturday isn’t the one they saw in Week 1. It’s not a worse offense, but it’s also not a better one. It is just different. It is one that does not possess the ball as much. One that doesn’t run the ball as effectively. One that doesn’t convert on third downs or in the red zone.
All of this means Rodgers will have the ball in his hands more. If Rodgers possesses the ball more, the Packers score more. It’s simple really. No team has had a better points to offensive play ratio than the Packers in the past three weeks. Because of this, the onus will be on Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers passing game to outscore the Packers, not on Frank Gore and the running game to limit Rodgers’ time of possession.
The last time Kaepernick faced a defense of Green Bay’s caliber, he led the offense to just 13 points. Of course, this game will be different. Kaepernick won’t be in Seattle, dealing with inclement weather and unbearable crowd noise. But the defense he will face is as formidable.
Forget what you know about the Packers defense, or what you think you know from Week 1. They’re a better unit. To find out how much better, we talked to Monty McMahon, writer and editor of the highly irreverent, and often polarizing Green Bay Packers blog, TotalPackers.com. As usual, in the interest of keeping your friends close and enemy closer, be sure to follow McMahon on Twitter: @TotalPackers.
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): The defense seems to have reversed course from last season and from week 1 despite having basically the same supporting cast. How much better are they and what do you attribute this improvement to?
Monty McMahon (MM): A lot of it is just guys returning to form. Cornerback Tramon Williams was severely limited by a shoulder injury last season. He’s been healthy this year and you can see the difference. The other corner, Sam Shields, somehow regressed in his second year, but got his head straight and played like a guy playing for his job this year (which he probably was). Casey Hayward, as the nickel back, has also helped strengthen the secondary. After that, it’s just young guys getting better. Safety M.D. Jennings, defensive end C.J. Wilson and linebacker Brad Jones have all shown marked improvement and become solid contributors this season.
EBSG: Seattle’s Richard Sherman is often heralded as the best cornerback in the league. And yet, the Packers have a corner in Casey Hayward who allows quarterbacks to complete fewer passes for fewer yards per. He also has three fewer pass defenses and two fewer interceptions despite playing 157 fewer snaps. Why isn’t Hayward more lauded?
MM: Hayward has been great, but he’s still a rookie and he still occasionally makes rookie mistakes. He’s also only the nickel corner. Hayward is behind Williams and Shields on the depth chart. He’s a future star, but I think we’ll see him develop into that guy next season. The 49ers receivers? They’re not a group that scares me and I doubt they scare the Packers. The 49ers running game is what I’m worried about. The Packers “held” Adrian Peterson to 99 yards last week, but he had 409 yards in the first two games.
EBSG: Last week aside, the Packers defense hasn’t faced a pistol/read-option offense and/or a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick. Is this cause for concern? Or do you think that Clay Matthews and company (specifically, AJ Hawk and Frank Zombo) can contain Kaepernick?
MM: Yes, it’s a concern. The Vikings ran the read option on the first series and then pretty much abandoned it for the rest of the game against the Packers, so I still wouldn’t say they’ve really faced it. I’m not sure how they’ll defend it, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been known to put some interesting wrinkles in for the playoffs before, so we’ll see… As far as individual players, we know Matthews will come to play, but A.J. Hawk is useless. He’s slow-footed and gets blocked out of plays easily. If 49ers are going to target someone specifically, I would suggest that target A.J. Hawk. My main question is, how will Kaepernick respond in his first playoff start?
Special thanks to Monty McMahon for participating. Stay tuned for McMahon’s take on the infamous simultaneous catch.