Wild card weekend is here and the San Francisco 49ers are set to go walking in a winter wonderland when they visit the Green Bay Packers. The wind chill, according to the National Weather Service, could drop to 30 below. The forecast is saying that the high will be zero degrees. The weather will surely play a part in how this game is called but in the end, it could play into the 49ers favor.
The 49ers are a power running team. Their offensive line is massive and wears on opposing defenses as the game goes on. Frank Gore is a running back that keeps pounding before he eventually breaks off a long run. The 49ers are third in the NFL with 137.6 rushing yards per game. Gore just completed his third consecutive 1000 yard rushing season. Last year he averaged over 100 yards rushing per game in the playoffs. He also had four touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per game. The Packers are 25th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. They gave up an average 125 rushing yards per game. All of this is important because the best way to play in these frigid temperatures is running the football. The Packers will also be without their best defensive player, Clay Matthews.
The Packers have a solid rushing team themselves. They drafted Eddie Lacy to give them balance. He has surely brought that to their offense. Lacy was able to rush for 1,178 yards and score 11 touchdowns in his rookie season. He started off the year by only rushing for 41 yards against the 49ers. Packers receiver James Jones says that the 49ers will see a completely different Lacy this time around. He says that Lacy is more confident and sure of himself. Lacy was only able to gain 3.1 yards per carry and a total 66 yards rushing against a very weak Chicago Bears defense in last week’s win or go home game for the NFC North division title.
The 49ers defense is rugged. Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Donte Whitner and the crew have not consistently played in these kinds of extreme temperatures but they’re physical style of play is built for this. They are extremely physical against the run. Their physicality will be challenged by the 230 pound running back, Eddie Lacy.
Passing the ball will be difficult in the frigid weather. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have obviously played in the cold before but this weather is predicted to be even worse than normal.
“You can get frostbite within 30 to 40 minutes in these temperatures if you’re not covered up,” said Roy Eckberg, a meteorologist with the weather service in Green Bay. Eckberg went on to say; “It’s been about 15 to 20 years that we’ve seen an arctic outbreak this severe.”
To say that the Packers have an advantage because they played in this before is an overstatement. Yes, they have practiced in it this week but when the game starts, it will come down to who can adjust their play calls and execution in the inhumane weather. This is not the week for anyone trying to be a tough guy and not wear sleeves. They need to be bundled up.
Carlos Rogers and Eric Wright have had some hamstring issues which could end up being a factor. The cold weather always makes the hamstrings tight even for healthy players. They may be limited when they attempt to stay with Randall Cobb, one of the shiftiest players in the NFL. The Packers will look for him on choice routes underneath from the slot. They will try to get the ball to him in space and allow him to make someone so he can get extra yards after the catch. Perish Cox was resigned and he may be thrown into the fire right away. He did a decent job in spots against Cobb in the season opener last year.
The 49ers will also look to their receivers to get yards after the catch. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin will be their primary sources. Both are big, physical and hungry receivers that get yards after the catch by breaking tackles. Crabtree does has the ability to make defenders miss as well. Don’t be surprised to see Greg Roman mix in some play action to Vernon Davis, their vertical threat. This will especially be the case if they can get the running game going.
Frank Gore vs A.J. Hawk Gore will be the key to the 49ers winning this game. He is a catalyst for the offense but that will be even more evident this week with the weather factors. It will be difficult to pass the ball in zero degree weather. Gore is a grinder of a running back that will get opportunities to make players miss at the second level. Hawk is a very important part of the Packers run defense. He is a high energy player that really gets involved in the run defense. He will be a key factor in keeping the runs by Gore from breaking off long runs.
Eddie Lacy vs Navorro Bowman Lacy is a big back that will be a load to bring down in the cold weather. Bowman is having a year that is worthy of mention as Defensive Player of the Year. One of the reasons is how he flows to the football. He is always one of the first guys to the ball carrier. The 49ers defense is set up for their linebackers to get most of the tackles. The outside linebackers set the edge and funnel the plays back inside to their inside backers. Bowman will need to play the game of his life because Lacy and the Packers rushing attack will be coming.
Randall Cobb vs Carlos Rogers/Eric Wright/Perish Cox Cobb is clearly the biggest threat to the 49ers. That is the case even when he is healthy. Yes, Jordy Nelson is a very good receiver but Cobb is the exact kind of player that gives the 49ers trouble. He is shifty and able to make explosive plays. Rogers and Wright are both nursing hamstring injuries. Cox just rejoined the team this week. All three will be tested.
Anquan Boldin vs Tramon Williams Boldin has been the safety net for Kaepernick this year. He has regained the form of his early days, breaking tackles and making plays down field. Williams didn’t play in the season opener in which Boldin had over 200 yards receiving. The Packers were forced to use a lot of zone defense. Williams return will allow them to man up on occasion. When they do, he will likely draw the assignment of covering Boldin. His ability to get yards after the catch from the slot especially is key to the 49ers passing attack.
Colin Kaepernick said that he won’t wear gloves for this game. That’s surprising because the temperature is expected to consistently dip to below freezing temperatures. It will be important for him to be able to handle the ball and limit fumbles, etc. Kaepernick did point out that he played in cold weather at Nevada.
Justin Smith normally wears short sleeves but even he has said that he probably will wear long sleeves. He cited his early career games when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North as examples of having to play in cold weather.
This will be seventh time that the Packers and 49ers have met in the playoffs. The winner of this matchup has went on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl three times. The Packers have won four of the previous six matchups. The two 49ers wins produced some of the more memorable moments in 49ers history. The Catch II by Terrell Owens was the first one. Another moment was the record setting rushing performance by Kaepernick last year.
Eddie Lacy was named to the All Pro team over Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch and Matt Forte. They will both be relied upon as the featured part of their offenses in this game.
The Packers playoff captains are Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, A.J. Hawk, Morgan Burnett, Mason Crosby and Jarrett Bush.
Here is your injury report:
Green Bay Packers:
LB Clay Matthews OUT (Thumb)
LB Brad Jones LP (Ankle)
RB Eddie Lacy LP (Ankle)
DE/LB Mike Neal DNP (Abdomen)
LB Nick Perry DNP (Foot)
DT Ryan Pickett LP (Knee)
San Francisco 49ers:
CB Carlos Rogers DNP (Hamstring)
CB Eric Wright LP (Hamstring)
LB Dan Skuta LP (Foot)
WR Jon Baldwin FP (Illness)
LB Navorro Bowman FP (Wrist)
CB Tarell Brown FP (Ribs)
WR Michael Crabtree LP (Quadricep)
C Jonathan Goodwin FP (Not Injury Related)
RB Frank Gore FP (Knee)
G Mike Iupati FP (Knee)
DT Justin Smith FP (Shoulder)