Ice Bowl 2?
Actually, it could be colder. Much colder, if you can believe that. So maybe this should be called the “Artic Bowl.”
The Green Bay Packers square off against the San Francisco 49ers in this weekend’s NFL Wild Card playoff action at Lambeau Field on Sunday. The Packers are 0-3 in their last three games against the 49ers, including this year’s season opener.
The opener was 18 weeks ago in warm California. Both teams will be different and play different. But even though the Packers will have the advantage of home field, (and the weather), the 49ers are favored to win this game and they ought to be. They have played consistent football all year and have won their past six games. So, what do the Packers need to do to invoke revenge from last year’s embarrassing playoff loss to the 49ers? Here are 5 keys to victory for the Packers in this this weekend’s Wild Card matchup
1. Stop the Run…and the Read Option
The Packers have been struggling lately in rushing defense and not having Johnny Jolly for this game will be a major blow for the Packers. The 49ers are a heavy, run first team and the Packers have to somehow figure out how to do a better job at containing the run.
And even though the 49ers didn’t run a lot of read option against the Packers in the opener and throughout the year, the Packers should be ready for it. This weekend would be the perfect time for the 49ers to bust out some more read option on the Packers, knowing they had success with it last year and didn’t use it much against them in the opener. Given how cold it will be Sunday, the 49ers might employ it more just to avoid throwing the ball.
2. Rodgers and the Receivers Must Dominate
We all know about Eddie Lacy and we all know that the Packers want to get him going, because having him dominate the game will dramatically help the Packers chances at winning. But we also know the 49ers have a solid defense that has a good defensive line and great linebackers. If there was a weakness in that defense, it would be the secondary. And that’s where the Packers may need to win this game. Rodgers and his receivers have to be able to out battle the brutal temperatures and be able to throw the ball well, and make some plays after the catch. It definitely helps the Packers that Randall Cobb is also back, but it will hurt not having tight end Jermichael Finley. If the Packers trust their line to give Rodgers a good 3-4 seconds to throw the ball, they should employ a 4-wide receiver set to spread the secondary out.
3. Packers Defense Needs to Communicate Better
If you’re watching a Packer game and the defense happens to be on the field, one thing is very noticeable: The defense struggles at communication. Especially in the back end of the secondary. Morgan Burnett did not play the first game against the 49ers and he will be this game, so you would think that would improve the secondary play. But he, like many others on the defense, has struggled this year. The Packers must communicate better on their coverage’s and assignments, otherwise the 49ers will exploit them badly.
4. Coaching Needs to be Aggressive and Unpredictable
Right now, the 49ers have the better defense BY FAR. I would give the Packers the nod in which team has the best offense, but the 49ers offense can hurt you in different ways if quarterback Colin Kaepernick is on. In order for the Packers to win this game, McCarthy and Capers have to get aggressive and unpredictable. They have to be physical like they were in the opener against the 49ers and they have to catch the 49ers by surprise. The Packers will not win this game if they play conservative football.
5. Win the Turnover Battle and Capitalize
If this game is close, it could come down to whomever turns the ball over first. Last week, the Packers were very lucky to overcome two Aaron Rodgers interceptions and a fumble; all of which occurred deep in Bears territory. The Packers cannot afford to do that again this week. They have to protect the football.
The Packers defense though has to be able to force turnovers and capitalize on them. They can’t afford to waste possessions that would be given to them. The Packers must jump out to an early lead and put the pressure on Kaepernick to try to beat them.
If the Packers are able to successfully achieve these five goals, they would have a great chance at beating one of the better teams in the whole playoffs. When I think about this game, I think back to the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys of the mid 1990’s. The Cowboys always got the better end of those games between the Packers for a few years until the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. The Packers eventually beat the Cowboys the year after when the Cowboys came to Lambeau on a cold, November day. Could this game have the same outcome? The Packers have the ability to beat the 49ers, but it won’t be an easy task. The Packers have to have it in the back of their minds that the 49ers have beaten them three times in a row already. I’m sure the extra motivation is there for them to avoid four losses in a row. But the 49ers have the better team right now. The Packers will need to have a near perfect game to beat them and continue on their quest to a Super Bowl.