Packers vs. 49ers Wild Card Preview: Aaron Rodgers, Frank Gore, Nick Perry, more

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San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will play host for what should be an incredibly entertaining Wild Card matchup this afternoon, especially if the nail-biting playoff games yesterday are any indication of what is to come. This enticing matchup will feature the much-publicized tundra of Lambeau (it is going to be wicked cold out there) and a bid from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to get revenge on the 49ers for what Colin Kaepernick and Co. did last year in the playoffs. The Packers may be the higher seed, but they are the underdogs. Even so, they are scary underdogs because of the fact that they have the game’s best QB, and it will be interesting to see if their potent passing attack is enough to carry the day against an elite, well-rounded 49ers squad.

Green Bay Packers Pass Offense vs. San Francisco 49ers Pass Defense

The Packers simply need to score early and often, and they have to use the great gifts of Aaron Rodgers and his wide receivers to the fullest advantage. The 49ers secondary has a great group of starters with the likes of Donte Whitner, Tramaine Brock, Tarell Brown, and Eric Reid, but they are going to be thin at corner with Carlos Rogers fully expected to be out with a hamstring injury. With Rogers out, the 49ers will be forced to use Eric Wright as their nickel corner and Perrish Cox as their dime corner, and while neither player is terrible, neither player matches up well with the deep Packers receivers.

I mean, the Packers have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Jarrett Boykin to contend with. All of those guys can play in the slot if needed, and both Nelson and Cobb are downright deadly in the slot. Nelson is deadly because he’s an elite WR who is pretty much great at everything, and Cobb is deadly due to his explosiveness; he’s a playmaker in every sense. The 49ers are going to find it difficult to contain those guys in the slot, so the Packers need to make every effort to spread the field vertically. This will also help Eddie Lacy find more gaps, and I also find it  hard to believe that the 49ers can stop the Packers if they align both Nelson and Cobb in the left and right slots at the same time. What the Packers need to do is outfox the 49ers defense and create mis-matches. While this isn’t easy to do, Mike McCarthy is one of the best in the business at working mis-matches in favor of the offense.

Packers Run Offense vs. 49ers Run Defense

This is going to be one of the most interesting matchups of the day, because it’s strength-on-strength for these two teams (well, the Packers pass offense is actually their true strength, but we all know how good they are on the ground now). Eddie Lacy is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, and he deserves huge praise for his work carrying the offense and alleviating pressure off of limited-but-serviceable backup QB Matt Flynn in the absence of Aaron Rodgers. Lacy is one of the most powerful workhorse backs in the league, and his awareness, solid cutting ability, and explosion through gaps make him such a dangerous rusher. We know Lacy is going to be good and he always gets more “real estate” than the blocking in front of him, but how good will the Packers blocking be?

The big key in this matchup is the Packers offensive line, and it all starts up the middle. Everyone on the Packers offensive line will have to be solid, because pretty much everyone on the 49ers defense is going to do a solid job of run defense. We know Josh Sitton is going to be great, but how will the other guys fare out? The 49ers display great gap discipline and really know how to flow to the ball, and they have four elite run defenders in NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, and Ray McDonald. If the Packers can’t generate enough push or get to the second level, then Lacy will have to be magnificent. It will also be interesting to see how many carries James Starks gets, because he’s been solid all year.

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