8:00 PM ET, January 12, 2013
Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA
The former Super Bowl champion and the postseason newcomer will be in the spotlight and can expect to face tough defenses Saturday night when the Packers visit the 49ers in a marquee NFC divisional playoff contest.
Rodgers is from Chico, about a three-hour drive north of the Bay Area. The only time he has played at San Francisco is in the preseason, and the former 49ers fan was overlooked by them in the 2005 draft with Alex Smith going No. 1.
"Home is really Chico," said Rodgers, who produced an NFL-best 108.0 passer rating. "Chico I would say is in northern California, San Francisco I would say is Bay Area. So it'll be fun to go back to the West Coast, a lot of people in the area, hopefully get a lot of cheeseheads from Chico coming down to the game and it'll be a good test."
Smith, meanwhile, led the second-seeded 49ers to last year's NFC title game but has been replaced by Kaepernick, who was born in Milwaukee and went 5-2 as the starter. Kaepernick said he rooted for the Packers (12-5), and that he's not in awe of his first playoff opportunity even though he's going up against the reigning league MVP.
"Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback," Kaepernick said. "You see what he does on the field and you see performances he's been having, so you can't say enough about the guy. We're going to have to go out and put up points."
Kaepernick's emergence as a starter is one of many changes since these teams met in the season opener as the 49ers (11-4-1) posted a 30-22 road victory. Smith completed 20 of 26 passes with two scores.
While Smith was mostly a stationary target and was sacked four times, Kaepernick's mobility gives the Niners a completely new look. Kaepernick had a 17-yard carry in the opener and did not throw a pass.
"Colin Kaepernick just for the little time he has been a starter, is a lot more experienced, a lot more productive quarterback," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He creates different challenges for us."
The Packers had a healthy Cedric Benson back then, although he was bottled up for 18 yards on nine carries. Benson is out for the season, and undrafted DuJuan Harris is now the starting back after rushing for 47 yards in last Saturday's 24-10 wild-card victory over Minnesota.
Although the 49ers finished around the middle of the pack with 38 sacks -- Aldon Smith had an NFC-high 19 1/2 -- their pass rush figures to be a major factor against Rodgers, who was sacked a league-high 51 times including three in the opener.
"There's no other defense we'd rather go into a game than ours," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
That defense figures to gain a boost with the return of tackle Justin Smith, who missed the last two games with a partially torn triceps tendon. He has been practicing this week for the 49ers, who yielded an NFC-low average of 311.3 yards in the regular season.
"I think it's just a matter of getting out there and going," Justin Smith said. "I think like I said you just go out there and play until you can't and be ready. I feel like I'll be ready."
The Packers' defense will be facing another tough rushing attack after limiting Adrian Peterson to 99 yards last week. Green Bay may be helped after facing backup Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, who ran for 68 yards and presents a similar threat on the ground as Kaepernick.
While Minnesota ranked second in the NFL with 164.6 yards per game on the ground, San Francisco was fourth at 155.7. Niners back Frank Gore had 1,212 yards, with 112 coming in the opener.
Green Bay has been bolstered by the return of star linebacker Clay Matthews, who has played the last four games after missing four with a hamstring injury. Former Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson returned last weekend after the cornerback was out since Oct. 21 with a collarbone injury.
Woodson should play a key role in trying to slow down Michael Crabtree, who has become Kaepernick's favorite target with 35 catches for 538 yards in five December games. Crabtree also had four of his team-high nine touchdown receptions in that span.
Vernon Davis became a virtual non-factor once Kaepernick took over, with a combined 61 yards and no TDs over the last six games. However, the tight end has scored in all four games he's played against the Packers, totaling 351 yards, and he had 10 receptions for 292 yards with four TDs in two postseason games last year.
"I'll just wait for my opportunities. I'm sure they will come," Davis said. "I said the same thing last year, even though I didn't get the ball as much as I wanted last year, I said my opportunities will come. And maybe I'll get them this week."
The change to Kaepernick was made partially because the Niners struggled offensively in their 20-17 loss to the Giants in last year's NFC title game. The Packers lost to New York in the previous round after a 15-1 season.
Green Bay may not be the more rested team, but that didn't matter two seasons ago when it was seeded sixth and Rodgers guided them to three road wins and a Super Bowl triumph over Pittsburgh.
"It's just something we know," offensive lineman Josh Sitton said. "We have confidence in each other, and we feel we could go win anywhere."
The Packers are 4-1 in the postseason against San Francisco.
The Niners could have a new kicker Saturday after signing Billy Cundiff last week since David Akers has missed seven of his last 18 field-goal attempts. Cundiff, cut by Washington this season after making 7 of 12 attempts, missed a potential game-tying 32-yard attempt in last year's AFC title game for Baltimore against New England.
Akers converted 69.0 percent of his field-goal tries, with only Green Bay's Mason Crosby lower at 63.6. Crosby, though, has made all four over the last two games, including three of 40 yards or more.
Packers-49ers: What to watch
After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the divisional-round matchup between the Packers and 49ers.
• Keep San Fran honest with a run game: The 49ers are one of the most difficult teams in the NFL to run on, so maybe the Packers really don't even try -- although DuJuan Harris has been a pleasant surprise. Harris is an energetic back with a good burst and can be an effective dump-off option in the passing game. But Green Bay could muster only 45 yards when these teams met in the regular season. The week off should have 49ers DT Justin Smith healthier than he was to finish up the regular season, and the Niners' defense is far superior when he is in the lineup. Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman give every running game fits because not only are they both superb athletes but they also read and react very well and take very few false steps. The 49ers' safeties are also very good downhill players. Willis and Bowman are also great in coverage, with Willis usually matching up on the tight end and Bowman on a running back. Willis and Bowman will never leave the field.
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San Francisco 49ers
|Avg Points Allowed||27.5||31.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||GB|
|Rush Yds Allowed||GB|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Green Bay leads 6-2|
|Sep 9, 2012||GB 22, SF 30|
|Dec 5, 2010||GB 34, SF 16|
|Nov 22, 2009||GB 30, SF 24|
|Dec 10, 2006||GB 30, @SF 19|
|Nov 23, 2003||GB 20, SF 10|
|Dec 15, 2002||GB 20, @SF 14|
|Jan 13, 2002||GB 25, SF 15|
In the 2011 postseason, Alex Smith had five touchdown passes and zero interceptions and was an overtime loss to the Giants away from the Super Bowl. He's one of just four quarterbacks to have at least 5 TD passes and zero interceptions in a single postseason and not win a Super Bowl. But he will be backing up Colin Kaepernick Saturday night against the Packers.[+]
DuJuan Harris has averaged 4.3 yards per rush between the tackles this season, including playoffs. The Packers had six running backs with at least 25 runs between the tackles this season, and Harris' 4.3 rate ranked as the highest. Cedric Benson gained only 17 yards on eight rushes between the tackles in Week 1 against the 49ers.
The Packers dropped back to pass (including sacks and scrambles) on 52 of their 61 plays (85 percent) against the 49ers in Week 1 this season, including 84 percent of the 31 plays with the score within eight points. Both rates were the highest for the Packers since Aaron Rodgers became the starter in 2008.[+]
Highest Dropback Percentage - Packers Since 2008
The Packers didn't use a running back on 31 plays in Week 1 against the 49ers, dropping back to pass on every one of those plays. Although Aaron Rodgers had his best success passing in the game from those sets, the lack of balance hurt the Packers. Green Bay is 2-14 when dropping back to pass at least 70 percent of the time since 2008 (85 percent in Week 1 this season).[+]
Aaron Rodgers Passing by No. of RBs on Field - Week 1 vs 49ers
The Packers sent five or more pass rushers 40 percent of the time in the regular season (fourth highest), including 46 percent of the time against the 49ers in Week 1. Alex Smith completed 11-of-12 attempts against such pressure in the game and a league high 73 percent for the season. Colin Kaepernick's 57 completion percentage was the 20th-highest in the league this season.[+]
49ers QBs Facing 5+ Pass Rushers - This Season
ESPN Stats & Information