NFL Playoffs: The Packers-49ers rematch
The theme from Green Bay this week has been how much both the Packers and 49ers have changed since their Week One meeting. San Francisco made a quarterback change while the Packers offense evolved from a high-flying one-dimensional offense to a more balance and physical approach.
But for as much as the 49ers have changed on offense they have not changed on defense. San Francisco is still a physical defense with the NFL's best linebacking corps that is tough to run on. One of the big concerns for the Packers is giving Aaron Rodgers time to throw. As we've pointed out throughout the season Rodgers is still lethal but he needs to remain upright.
There is a correlation between pass protection and success. In 2012 the Packers were 10-1 when Rodgers was sacked three times or less. The only loss was to San Francisco. So what can the Packers do? Well to begin with, pass protection in general has gotten better as the season wore on. In the first eight games of the season the Packers yielded 3.5 sacks per game. But in the second half of the season that number decreased to 2.875 sacks per game. Take away the Week 17 loss to Minnesota and that number shrinks to 2.57.
Then there is the emergence of the running game led by DuJuan Harris. In that Week One meeting the Packers running game was nonexistent as they ran the ball just 14 times with Rodgers leading the team with 27 yards. The Packers averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry against the 49ers. But since Harris has joined the team he has added a much needed shot in the arm to the ground attack. In four games down the stretch Harris averaged 4.6 yards per carry. His numbers took a dip against the Vikings last week but with a three touchdown lead in the second half the Packers didn't need to generate much offense. Getting back up to 4.6 yards per carry will be tough sledding for Harris but with fresh legs and a physical running style Harris should provide more offense than Cedric Benson did in the season opener.