2013 January : Packers Insider

2013 Playoffs: Packers-49ers II: Legacy of Aaron Rodgers

January 8, 2013 by  
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By Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com

~On the eve of his fourth trip to the NFL playoffs, Aaron Rodgers sat down with broadcaster Bob Costas and obliged a big-picture conversation.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback has started a Pro Bowl. He has won the league’s MVP award and was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV. What’s left to accomplish?

The “L-Word.”

Legacy.

A total of 29 quarterbacks have won Super Bowl titles. Only 11 have won multiple championships, as the chart shows, and that achievement represents the next step on Rodgers’ career path. His style makes him ideally suited for the historic profile of multiple champions, and he isn’t hiding from the meaning of a second Super Bowl as Saturday night’s divisional-round game at the San Francisco 49ers approaches.

Rodgers really wants a 2nd ring.

Building Legacies

List of quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl championships:

QB Team Total
Terry Bradshaw Steelers 4
Joe Montana 49ers 4
Troy Aikman Cowboys 3
Tom Brady Patriots 3
Bart Starr Packers 2
Roger Staubach Cowboys 2
Bob Griese Dolphins 2
Jim Plunkett Raiders 2
John Elway Broncos 2
Eli Manning Giants 2
Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 2

“I really believe that you earn your paycheck during the season,” Rodgers told Costas. “[You] play at a high level and get your team to the playoffs. And then the postseason is all about creating your legacy. The great quarterbacks are remembered for their playoff successes and triumphs and Super Bowl championships and Super Bowl MVPs. We’ve got one here, and we want to add to that.”

Rodgers is universally considered one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks (near-unanimous, at least). Still, there are many examples in league history of elite quarterbacks who couldn’t win multiple championships. Look no further than Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay.

So what could separate Rodgers? Simply put, he is the least error-prone quarterback in league history.

Turnover totals are among the most reliable indicators of team success, and for quarterbacks, that mostly means interceptions. As you may know, Rodgers has, by far, the lowest interception rate — interceptions per attempt — in NFL history.

Most focus on yards, completion percentage and touchdowns in this fantasy age, but you might not realize that Rodgers has thrown only 46 interceptions in 2,665 regular-season attempts over his career. His corresponding interception percentage of 1.73 is well ahead of the second-best in history, the 2.06 percent of the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, and is among the few statistics that don’t have to be curved for the modern-day explosion in NFL passing numbers.

Rodgers vs Brady would be a dream matchup, and many expected this last year, or the year before.

In his seven playoff starts, Rodgers has thrown four interceptions over 253 attempts. That percentage of 1.58 is fourth-best in postseason history. It’s worth noting that in his four most recent games — the final three of the regular season and Saturday’s wild-card victory over the Minnesota Vikings — Rodgers hasn’t thrown a single interception while tossing 11 touchdowns.

Why are we locking in so heavily on interceptions? I recognize that more goes into winning championships than a quarterback who doesn’t throw picks. If that were the only criterion, cautious quarterbacks such as Alex Smith (10 interceptions over the past two seasons) would have multiple rings.

For the purposes of this post, let’s accept that we’ve limited ourselves to excellent quarterbacks. We’re trying to determine what can elevate them into the best of the best.

The gang at Cold Hard Football Facts tracks this topic in great detail on their insider site. The correlation between interceptions and victories, especially in the playoffs, is overwhelming.

This season, teams that threw fewer interceptions than their opponents won 80 percent of their games. As playoff intensity ramped up beginning in Week 14, that winning percentage jumped to 95.7. Since Rodgers became their starter in 2008, the Packers have won 90.2 percent of their games in those situations.

Taking care of the ball is especially critical in the playoffs between teams that are presumably closer-matched than in the regular season. In a study updated through most of 2009, CHFF found that a team’s chances of winning a playoff game drops about 20 percentage points with every interception it throws. Teams whose quarterback threw just one interception in a playoff game won only 56 percent of their games. Two interceptions dropped that winning percentage to 31.4.

You might think we’re hashing our way to an obvious conclusion. Interceptions are bad. We know that. But it’s not that Rodgers simply avoids interceptions. Over a five-year span, he has avoided them to a substantially better degree than any quarterback in league history. History tells us the Packers have a better playoff advantage with Rodgers than most any other quarterback. Ever.

Consider Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre — who threw five interceptions in 12 career playoff victories and 23 in 10 postseason defeats with Green Bay. In the three playoff games that led to his only Super Bowl victory, Favre threw one interception in 71 attempts.

On its own, a dearth of interceptions won’t take Rodgers and the Packers to another championship. But it probably provides the clearest path to building that legacy.

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49ers’ pass rush depends on Justin Smith’s sore left arm

January 8, 2013 by  
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By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette,

~One of the best pass-rushing moves in the 2012 NFL season is the San Francisco 49ers’ twist with defensive lineman Justin Smith and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

Justin Smith, the premier 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, lines up between left guard and tackle, and rushes at the left tackle’s right shoulder. Aldon Smith, one of the league’s best rushers from outside linebacker, loops behind him and has several yards to build speed toward the left guard.

The result often is devastating. Justin Smith, a good inside rusher who uses his hands as well as any defensive lineman in the league, is the decoy and blocker eater. The guard honors his initial outside move, and then Justin Smith crashes into the left tackle while also grabbing the guard. By the time the guard realizes the twist is on and gets away, the explosive Aldon Smith often is blowing through the gap on his way to engulfing the quarterback.

The Smith Brothers are as good a DT-DE duo as there is in the NFL.

The Smith twist is one of the reasons Aldon Smith finished No. 2 in the NFL in sacks with 19½, behind only Houston’s J.J. Watt (20½). It’s also one of the reasons why Justin Smith’s partially torn left triceps looms as a huge factor in the divisional-round playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the 49ers on Saturday night.

Justin Smith injured his triceps late in the third quarter of a Dec. 16 game at New England. The 49ers generally were regarded as the NFL’s top defense up to that point and going into the New England game ranked No. 1 in fewest points allowed and No. 2 in fewest yards. But in the fourth quarter they gave up four touchdowns to the Patriots.

Without Justin Smith the next week at Seattle, the 49ers gave up 42 points in a blowout loss, then came back in the regular-season finale and beat probably the NFL’s worst offense, the 5-11 Arizona Cardinals, 27-13.

If Justin Smith’s absence wasn’t the only reason for the decline in performance, it’s also clear the 49ers aren’t quite the same dominating defense without him. It’s also worth noting that in the little more than 2 1/4 games the 33-year-old defensive lineman missed, Aldon Smith had no sacks.

Packer fans hope Smith's tricep keeps him from being even close to the player he was before he hurt it. No pity from the Packers who are missing Bishop, Perry, DJ Smith, and Worthy among their top defensive players.

“(Justin Smith) is a pretty important dude,” said a scout from a 49ers rival in the NFC West Division. “He does a good job of taking up two blockers, which allows Aldon Smith to run free and hit the quarterback. That’s taking a little bit away from Aldon Smith, because he’s a heck of a player with or without him, but you could see the difference in production and loss of production without Justin Smith.

“If they get him back this week that will be huge. Now, he’s got a triceps injury. You’re not healed in three weeks. That’s something that will take five weeks, six weeks, a good offseason, to get that healed up. Will they be able to get that swelling down? Probably. And strengthen the muscles around it to help it out? Sure. But he won’t be 100 percent until after the season. But yeah, he’s a force, he’s a beast.”

Justin Smith has told reporters he will need surgery after the season, but it appears a given he’ll play Saturday night against the Packers. He returned to practice on a limited basis for the 49ers’ two practices during their playoff bye last week.

The issue is the quality of his play. Will he be the player who is going to his fourth straight Pro Bowl this year, was named All-Pro last season (and possibly will be this year), and is nearly the consensus choice as best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL? Or will he be significantly compromised, maybe even a shell of himself, trying to play while wearing a huge brace that runs from his wrist to his shoulder and will limit his ability to his left hand and arm?

One assistant coach from a team in the NFC West predicted he will play well.

“I’ve never been with somebody that’s had that injury and tried to play, so I can’t speak from experience on that,” he said. “I know what they ask (Justin Smith) to do in their defense, and I know as tough as he is – he’s right there now as far as tough guys go. I think he can still be effective for them.”

Another scout from the division agreed but questioned whether Smith will finish the game.

Aaron Rodgers won't miss Justin Smith if he's forced to the sideline early in the game Saturday night.

“He’s going to be a kick-(butt) guy until his arm goes out on him, then he’ll be standing on the sideline,” the scout said. “I know they’re going to try to coach him up to play smart, play within himself, stay within the game and all that. But you know how it is in the heat of the battle, you’re trying to rip roar and kick somebody’s (butt).

“And you have to use your hands at that position. You have to use your hands to push, to pull. He does a lot of pulling. He’ll grab a tackle and pull his outside shoulder so one of the guys get free to get off the edge. He has to be able to use his hands. Once he isn’t able to do that, he’ll be done for the day.”

A third scout from the NFC West said it’s anybody’s guess whether Justin Smith will be effective.

“It sounds like it’s how well the individual tolerates pain,” the scout said. “A lot of this won’t be determined until he starts playing, then they’ll figure out, can he play with this and will he be effective? Or is he playing like a one-armed man out there? I don’t think they’ll know that until the first couple series.”

Last weekend, another defensive player, Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, played with a similar but even worse injury. Lewis fully tore a triceps in Week 6, and it appeared likely to sideline him the rest of the season. But he returned for the wild-card playoff round after 11 weeks of rehabilitation and was in on 13 tackles in a win over Indianapolis while wearing the same kind of brace Justin Smith will have.

At age 37, Lewis wasn’t nearly the player he was earlier in his career even before the injury, and he was beaten in pass coverage several times. But he seemed to move fine.

Justin Smith was the closest thing to JJ Watt, before JJ Watt became JJ Watt last season and this.

“Keep in mind, Ray can get by with not hitting anybody,” one of the scouts said, “where Justin Smith is going to hit somebody every play. That’s going to be the telltale sign. How long with that hold up?”

Original story here

Packers defense may hold key against 49ers

January 7, 2013 by  
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By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~January 7th, 2013

GREEN BAY – When the Green Bay Packers stormed through the NFC playoffs like a Russian icebreaker two years ago, the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his talented receivers was largely credited for their success.

But for those with good memories, Dom Capers’ defense was just as responsible, if not more so, for the Packers sweeping through Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago on the way to Super Bowl XLV.

After coordinating a defense that gave up the most yards in franchise history last season, Capers may have the ball back in his hands as the Packers prepare for the divisional round of the playoffs this year.

It took a supreme effort from his group to hold down Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in a 24-10 wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field Saturday night, and the performance could not have come at a better time given the offense’s second-half struggles.

As the Packers prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers Saturday night, most of the attention will be on the matchup between Rodgers and the NFL’s hardest-hitting defense. But as Mike McCarthy and Capers know, the 49ers throw painful body punches with their offense, too.

“So much of this game is a matchup game, how you match up with different people,” Capers said Sunday after the Packers held Peterson to 99 yards rushing, 104.5 yards under his previous season average against them. “If you consider your opponent physical, then you better rise to the occasion and be physical yourself.”

That is not exactly the way you would describe the Packers in a 30-22 season-opening loss to the 49ers at Lambeau Field. San Francisco lined up extra tight ends, linemen and fullbacks and proceeded to have its way with Capers’ defense.

The worst of it came when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh brought 6-6, 350-pound Leonard Davis and 6-3, 308-pound Daniel Kilgore into the game in the fourth quarter and used them as tight ends on a first and 10 at the Packers 23.

Running back Frank Gore ran behind a wall of blockers before shaking off a pathetic upper body tackle attempt from safety Morgan Burnett at the 4-yard line and a late hit from cornerback Tramon Williams in the end zone. That was the 49ers’ definition of being physical.

“Their style, you’re going to see them in more big-people, multiple-tight-end sets,” Capers said. “They’ll bring in multiple linemen. They’ll run personnel groups that most teams only run in goal-line situations and they’ll run them first-and-10.

“So you have to be prepared for that. They do a nice job of mixing the play-action pass in there. When you have multiple tight ends and guys with the speed of (Vernon) Davis, he’s like a tight end in a wide receiver’s body.”

Before the Packers consider anything else on defense, they must stand in and at least forge a stalemate with a 49ers offensive line that averages 6-5 and 317 pounds. The closest thing the Packers have faced to the 49ers, fortunately for them, is the Vikings’ physical offensive line and the dynamic Peterson.

Capers will need his front three of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson to play at a similar level as last Saturday night because the group they’ll face this Saturday night will be well-rested and looking for a fight.

“I think it’s the strength of their team,” Capers said. “They’ve invested a lot of high-level picks there. They’re very physical. They use a lot of different combinations of personnel.

“That’s where everything starts for them, the physical aspect of running the football. I think they have one of the very best offensive lines in the league.”

After the victory over the Vikings, Pickett lamented the fact that the Packers had allowed Gore 112 yards on 16 carries in the opener, and vowed the Packers defense was capable of matching strength with the 49ers. In fact, he said he was looking forward to the matchup.

“They’re pretty physical,” Pickett said. “But our front seven is physical.”

On the way to Super Bowl XLV, Capers’ defense held all three NFC opponents under 100 yards rushing despite facing the fifth, 12th and 22nd best running teams in the NFL that season. The Vikings finished No. 2 in rushing and the 49ers No. 4 this season.

The difficult part for Capers this week is that he’ll be facing a different quarterback from the one his group faced in Week 1. Athletic and strong-armed Colin Kaepernick took the starting job from veteran Alex Smith in Week 11 and led the 49ers to a 5-2 finish.

Kaepernick threw 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions during that span and just as importantly kept drives alive with his outstanding running ability. Harbaugh has retooled the offense so it can run the kind of read-option plays Robert Griffin III used in Washington.

San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore (21) breaks away from Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett (42) and D.J. Smith (51) for a touchdown run during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 30-22. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Kaepernick has rushed 42 times for 304 yards (7.2 average) and two touchdowns and fumbled six times with one lost during that seven-game span. This will be his first playoff game, but he was around to watch Smith during the 49ers’ run to the NFC Championship Game last year.

The Packers feel fortunate they were able to face an option-type quarterback in Minnesota’s Joe Webb, but Webb does not have the passing skills Kaepernick does.

“It’ll definitely help us with Kaepernick; they ran some of it with Alex Smith prior to our first game,” McCarthy said. “You’ll look at all those components. They’ve had an extra week to prepare, so there’ll be some new wrinkles as there always is, but at the end of the day, we’ve established our brand of football and that’s what we’re taking to San Francisco and that’s what we’re taking to San Francisco to win.”

After correcting its earlier mistakes against Peterson Saturday night, the defense showed it could slow down the best running back in the NFL. This week, the challenge will be keeping the score down in case the 49ers’ defense puts a stranglehold on McCarthy’s offense.

It won’t be easy, but it’s the surest way for the Packers to take back the NFC.

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Packers Woodson takes a load off

January 7, 2013 by  
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By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

~GREEN BAY – It was hard to tell if Charles Woodson was aware of the pun or not, but the Green Bay Packers veteran safety wasn’t laughing. He was speaking the truth, and it was unvarnished:
He was scared.

Having missed nine games with a fractured collarbone – the same injury to the same shoulder he’d suffered during the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory two years ago – Woodson wasn’t sure how the bone would react to the first collision, first fall to the ground, first awkward position during Saturday night’s 24-10 NFC Wild Card playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

“That was the scary part – because you don’t know,” admitted Woodson, who was injured Oct. 21 at St. Louis. “I really went into the game scared, not really knowing what was going to happen. I mean, you feel good about your shoulder being healed, but being in that position where you’ve broken it before, it’s a funny feeling.”

Woodson was able to test the shoulder almost immediately. He came up and dove – and missed – at Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on the second play of the game. He dragged Peterson down after an 11-yard gain a few plays later. And when he came up on second-and-5 and met Peterson in the hole, dropping him for a 2-yard loss, Woodson knew: He was going to be OK.

Charles Woodson may not be as great as he was 3, 4, 5 years ago, but he's still the Packers 2nd or 3rd most important player on defense.

“Getting in there, getting that first tackle, hitting the ground a couple of times, having people fall on top of me on the side where I broke it – and to get up with no pain?” said Woodson, who was credited with six tackles, including one for loss, while playing every one of the Packers’ 63 defensive snaps. “Let me tell you, that was a load off my shoulder.”

Pun intended or not, it was also a load off the Packers’ minds. Woodson played safety whenever the Packers were in their base “Okie” defense, then was in his usual spot in the dime, most often covering the slot receiver. On the rare occasions the Packers played their nickel defense, Woodson stayed at safety rather than moving down to the slot, as rookie Casey Hayward had grown into that role while Woodson was sidelined.

“Charles is a rare guy from a physical standpoint. You saw him make some physical plays last night. He had a couple tackles of Peterson that most DBs just don’t make on their own,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers explained Sunday afternoon, as the Packers began preparations for next Saturday night’s NFC Divisional Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. “I thought he showed up, like he always does, when we blitzed him and I think he’ll be better this week.

“If you think about it, he hadn’t played any football since that Rams game, so it’s been an awful long time. He played all the snaps – he played in all three packages and played different positions in the different packages. It’s nice to have him back. I think there’s a confidence level there. He’s obviously one of our leaders and it’s hard to be a leader if you’re not out on the field playing.”

While Capers had said in the days leading up to the game that he would monitor Woodson, he apparently looked good to his coach from the get-go.

Charles Woodson picked up where he left off. He will be needed even more Saturday in San Francisco.

“I certainly didn’t see any reason to bring him off the field. I thought he was doing all the things we’d asked him to do,” Capers said. “I’d been asked how I (thought he’d) respond. You never know how a guy will respond. All you have to go off are practices and as you know our practices last week were basically geared toward more walkthroughs just because we were on a short week and you wanted to have the guys as fresh as they could be for the game.

“It’s good to have him back. I think he is obviously fresh, probably much more fresh than he’d been had he played the whole year. I think as he goes through here, I think you’ll see him work his way back into his form, the more practice he has and the more game time he plays. I thought last night was a good start having him back. I was happy to see him out on the field.”

While Woodson wore bulkier shoulder pads than he’d worn before the injury that he confessed he “hated,” he relished being back in the mix. As he left the field after the victory, he unleashed a guttural yell and wore an ear-to-ear smile that would’ve been visible even under his newfangled cage-like facemask.

“That was pent-up (emotion),” Woodson explained afterward. “Let me tell you something, man: That’s the hardest thing for a guy like myself – to sit on the sideline and watch your team play. Win or lose, it’s hard to watch. I’ve read a lot of things about me these last couple weeks about what I can’t do anymore and those sort of things. I felt like I couldn’t defend myself. To be able to get out on the field and remind people of what it is I do on Sundays, Saturdays or whatever, that felt good.”

While Woodson might only begrudgingly admit it, he’s not the same player he was in 2009, when he was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year. But, at age 36, he’s still a difference-maker who tilts the field. He’s also the most well-respected player in the locker room, as evidenced by the way his teammates voted him as a team captain for the playoffs even though he’d been sidelined for 10 weeks.

“It says a lot for Charles Woodson and says a lot about the respect that he carries in the locker room,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s here around the clock. He puts a lot more time in than I think people realize. There’s not too many nights where the coaching staff is down in the cafeteria for dinner and he’s (not) still here.”

That said, Woodson isn’t interested in just being an inspirational leader during what he’s hoping is another Super Bowl run. He wants to have a tangible impact, not just an intangible one.

“Locker room leader is great, it’s a great title to have, but that ain’t who I am. I’m a football player. I want guys to feel me on the field between the lines. For guys to speak of me in that way, man, I’ll tell you, it’s very humbling. But I’m a football player and I need to be out there.”

As for those doubting his importance to the defense given the unit’s play without him, Woodson said: “It’s upsetting a little bit because I feel like, especially people who are here locally that have watched me play for the last seven, eight years, know what I bring to the table. They’re trying to push me out the door is what it seems like. When you’re not playing, I think you’re a little more sensitive because you can’t defend yourself out there on the field. You can’t play; you can’t show people what you do. I think people are more willing to talk about what they say I can’t do rather than talk about what it is that I do. I don’t like it.

“To watch your guys suit up in the locker room every Sunday, put the pads on, put their cleats on, everybody’s amped up and ready to go play and you’re sitting there – you want to be a part of it but you just don’t feel a part of it. It’s hard not being able to suit up.

“I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re my motivation. My motivation is football, and that’s what I do. Those things that are written about me are upsetting but they’re not my motivation.

“The Super Bowl is always the ultimate goal. For everybody on this team, that’s what we’re shooting for and that’s motivation enough. We feel like we have a really good team but we want to be considered a great team, so we want to keep on fighting.”

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Are Packers ready for 49ers?

January 7, 2013 by  
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By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

~January 7th, 2013

GREEN BAY – After meticulously grooming his famous blonde locks for a solid five minutes, Green Bay Packers all-pro linebacker Clay Matthews finally turned around to face the 30 reporters surrounding his locker and started singing the praises of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Just 20 minutes earlier, Matthews and his Packers had punched their plane tickets to San Francisco thanks to a 24-10 wild card victory over hapless Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings at frosty Lambeau Field on Saturday night. The victory set up next Saturday’s NFC divisional-round clash between the Packers and 49ers at The Stadium Formerly Known As Candlestick Park, a rematch of a Week 1 meeting when San Francisco physically dominated Green Bay 30-22 right in Lambeau.

Certainly fans and media alike will go out of their way to stir the pot when it comes to the idea that the Packers will play the revenge card to motivate themselves after being roughed up on their home turf by the 49ers in the season opener.

Clay Matthews has Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick on his fantasy football team. Matthews will do his best to see to it that Kaepernick ends the game with as close to zero points as possible.

But, as Matthews is quick to point out, these two teams have evolved and changed in the past four months. And nowhere is that more evident than at the quarterback position in San Francisco where Alex Smith, who surgically shredded the Packers for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the opener, has been benched in favour of the dynamic second-year player.

“He’s a very good athlete who poses a real problem,” Matthews said when asked by the Toronto Sun for his take on Kaepernick.

Matthews then broke into a mischievous grin before letting the football world in on a little secret.

“He’s on my fantasy team,” Matthews admitted.

Maybe Matthews and the Packers haven’t faced Kaepernick on the football field. But when an all-pro linebacker thinks enough of you to pick you up in fantasy football, well, what better endorsement of your skills could there be?

Truth be told, the Packers, to a man, know that the 49ers will pose a much stronger threat than the Vikings did on Saturday night.

True, Green Bay did a nice job shutting down the incredible Adrian Peterson, limiting him to 99 yards after the Vikings running back had gashed them for more than 400 yards combined during their two regular-season encounters.

At the same time, the task was made easier because the man handing off to Peterson was Joe Webb, the first quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game without having attempted a single pass during the regular season. With No. 1 quarterback Christian Ponder scratched an hour before kickoff because of a bursitis in the elbow of his throwing arm, the inaccurate Webb was a huge help to the Packers aspirations for a victory by hitting on just three passes for 22 yards in the first half.

While Webb was primarily ineffective with his arm, he did use his legs to scoot for 67 yards on just seven carries. In that regard, perhaps Webb’s scrambling was some much-needed practice for what the Packers defence could see next Saturday.

“It was a great warmpup for what we’re going to experience out there with Kaepernick,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings told the Toronto Sun.

Of course, facing a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson has also primed a questionable Green Bay run defence for a heavy dose of Frank Gore, the 49ers running back who sliced through the Packers for 112 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries in the Week 1 loss.

“That game seems like it was years ago, but they did a good job taking that game away from us,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “It’s going to be a super physical matchup, the type that we enjoy.”

Through it all, the Packers are aware of just how much Kaepernick could be a difference maker in this one.

Just ask Clay Matthews. After all, if he thinks highly enough of the 49ers quarterback to have him on his fantasy team, shouldn’t the rest of the Packers respect Kaepernick just as much?

HEADING HOME

Aaron Rodgers is going home.
Sort of.

When Rodgers steps on to the field against the 49ers next Saturday in San Francisco, he’ll be playing just across the bay from Berkeley, where he spent his college career at Cal.
But don’t expect Rodgers to get a warm reception reserved for a native son come home. Because, in his mind, he’s not really one.

“Home is really Chico,” the Green Bay Packer quarterback said. “Chico is in Northern California. San Francisco, I would say, is the Bay Area.”

Aaron Rodgers grew up as a big 49er fan. This will be his first real game at the Stick, although he played a preseason game there in 2008, his first year as starter.

Chico is a city of 82,000 that lies about 130 kilometres north of Sacramento. It is also the hometown of former Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick.
“It’ll be fun to go back to the west coast,” Rodgers said. “We’ll hopefully get a lot of cheeseheads from Chico coming down for the game.
“It’ll be a good test.”

Original story here

Packers: 49ers a Bad matchup or warning sign? FLASHBACK

January 6, 2013 by  
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Sept 9, 2012 ~By Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com

~When did you know that Sunday wasn’t going to go the Green Bay Packers’ way? When did you know they were going to lose to the San Francisco 49ers, who ultimately took a 30-22 victory at Lambeau Field?

For me, it wasn’t when the Packers unearthed painful memories of their 2011 defense, busting their coverage and letting 49ers receiver Randy Moss get free for a touchdown.

Randy Moss scored an easy touchdown back in week one when the Packers forgot to cover him, leaving him wide open.

And it wasn’t when 49ers place-kicker David Akers coaxed the ball off the crossbar and through the uprights for an NFL-record tying 63-yard field goal just before halftime.

No, I thought this game could still be won until the third play of the third quarter. The Packers faced a third-and-1 from their 30-yard line, giving them the kind of run-pass option they so often exploited in 2011. In a two-back set, quarterback Aaron Rodgers faked a handoff to tailback Cedric Benson and began a familiar bootleg to his right.

At that moment, receiver Jordy Nelson was streaking down the right sideline against cornerback Carlos Rogers. He turned inside on the post route and found himself facing double coverage from safety Dashon Goldson.

We wrote last season about that exact formation and play, noting how frequently opposing defenses fell for the fake. Sunday, however, the 49ers had Nelson bracketed. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground. The Packers punted, and for me, the episode was symbolic of the way the 49ers seemed a step ahead Sunday in all aspects of the game.

“They were in one high [coverage],” Nelson said. “The safety was deep in the middle. When you run a post, you run straight into him. Aaron was booting my way, so [the safety] kind of followed the boot as well. That’s obviously a play we’ve run before. They were able to defend it and we weren’t able to connect. That’s how that went.”

Last season, that play worked almost every time. Sunday, it looked tired and almost predictable. The magic seemed gone.

There was little question Sunday that the 49ers were the sharper, smarter and more physical team. They stymied the Packers’ running game so well early in the game that coach Mike McCarthy abandoned it, calling more than half of his plays (31 of 61) without a running back on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers forced Rodgers to morph into a regular Checkdown Charlie — only nine of his 30 completions traveled further than five yards in the air — and they ran at will outside through the Packers’ defense.

The question we must ask is whether this was a singular occasion where an excellent team outclasses a really good one. Or was this a warning sign that forces us to recalibrate our thinking about the Packers’ prospects? Does karma reveal itself this early?

I lean toward tipping my cap at the 49ers, who put together as impressive of a Week 1 performance as I’ve seen in a while. And apparently so would Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, who had this to say when asked about how dangerous the 49ers appeared: “I guarantee you this. We’re going to be much more dangerous. We ain’t worrying about them. They got their win today. We’ll see them again.”

Said cornerback Charles Woodson: “I feel good about where we’re at. I feel we are close. We did a lot of good things today. And there are some things we have to correct.”

Aldon Smith brings down Aaron Rodgers for a sack back in week one. Rodgers, as great as he is, seems to occasionally like to hang onto the ball long enough to take some unnecessary sacks. "It's one game," Rodgers said. "This is a team that was in the NFC Championship Game last year. It's a good team. Hopefully we'll see them down the road in the playoffs."

One legitimate concern, from my vantage point at least, was the Packers’ failure to hold their own from a physical standpoint.

We’ve already noted that the Packers abandoned all semblance of a running game. They got 18 yards on nine carries from tailback Benson and spent much of the game using receiver Randall Cobb as a pseudo-running back. In fact, all of Cobb’s game-high nine receptions came when there was no running back on the field.

Meanwhile, 49ers tailback Frank Gore repeatedly burned them on outside runs, gaining 72 of his 112 yards outside the tackles. The Packers used their base defense much more often than normal, knowing they would need an extra big man to help slow the 49ers’ running game, but it didn’t work.

“I just think they outflanked us on a lot of those toss plays,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “You’d like to think we would have that kind of stuff squared away, but we didn’t.”

Again, the 49ers might prove to be the NFL’s best team by the time the season is complete. But Sunday, at least, we were left wondering if the Packers’ magic of 2011 has already faded into the ether.

“It’s one game,” Rodgers said. “This is a team that was in the NFC Championship Game last year. It’s a good team. Hopefully we’ll see them down the road in the playoffs.”

Based on Sunday, at least, the Packers might want to root for a different draw. At the very least, we can say this wasn’t a good matchup for them.

ORIGINAL story here

Packers going to California after putting away punchless Vikings

January 6, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Pistol Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~This time it wasn’t even close.

Playing at Lambeau Field instead of the rollicking Metrodome, and against a backup quarterback who can run but not throw, the Green Bay Packers tamed Adrian Peterson and hammered the Minnesota Vikings, 24-10, in their NFC wild-card matchup Saturday night.

So just six days after Peterson had steamrolled the Packers for 199 yards in the Vikings’ three-point win in Minneapolis, the Packers advance to the divisional round of the playoffs at the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.

“It definitely starts and ends with our defense,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “I think they were outstanding for four quarters, set the tempo, kept Minnesota out of the end zone. Obviously adjusting to the quarterback change. The communication and effort of our run defense all stood out.”

This was a completely different game than when the teams split their first two meetings in close contests, both in December. While Peterson was the dominant player on those days, especially last week when the Vikings had to win to get into the playoffs, he was rendered to a subordinate role by late in the first half Saturday night.

OLB Erik Walden had a fine game against Vikings backup QB Joe Webb. The Packers will face a much better version of Webb next week in Colin Kaepernick.

In the first two meetings, Peterson took runs that were stuffed up the middle and bounced them outside for nice gains, but one of the NFL’s top candidates for this season’s most valuable player award had almost no success trying that Saturday night. The Packers received their usual stout performance from defensive linemen B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson, but this time outside linebackers Clay Matthews, Dezman Moses and Erik Walden kept Peterson from getting outside, with help from safety Charles Woodson, who played most of the game near the line of scrimmage.

The halfback who had the second-best rushing season in NFL history gained a more-than-manageable 99 yards rushing, with 11- and 18-yard runs his only gains of 10 yards or more.

“Adrian Peterson does a great job extending runs,” McCarthy said, “very similar to what Aaron Rodgers does in the passing game with his ability to extend (passing) plays. They’re very similar players. I thought our defense was extremely disciplined. I thought we dominated the line of scrimmage.”

The game started with a surprise when 90 minutes before kickoff the Vikings put starting quarterback Christian Ponder on their inactive list because of a swollen bursa sac on his throwing elbow sustained last week against the Packers, an injury that dates at least to his senior year of college at Florida State. Though he was listed as questionable going into the game, the assumption was Ponder would be the Vikings’ starter. 

Instead, they went with backup Joe Webb. Both quarterbacks are more athletes than polished throwers, but the Vikings were an even more one-dimensional running team with Webb, who is big (6-feet-4, 220 pounds), fast and strong-armed, but as inaccurate a thrower as you’ll find in the NFL. 

“We didn’t do a lot of work on Joe,” McCarthy said of the Packers’ preparation. (Ponder’s injury) was something that was out there during the course of the week. We had an elongated day here (Saturday) as coaches, a number of our guys were going back and checking things (on Webb). It didn’t change our game plan a whole lot.” 

Webb burned the Packers with a few early bootleg runs and scrambles — he had two for 22 on the Vikings’ first drive, and an 11-yarder on their second possession — but as the game went on, his throwing shortcomings became a greater and greater liability. And after Peterson gained 30 yards on six carries on the game’s first possession, which ended with a 33-yard field goal, he was mostly a nonfactor. 

That left an astronomical difference between the quarterbacks, a difference even greater than their numbers suggest. Rodgers played error-free and made enough plays to finish with a passer rating of 104.9 (70 percent completion rate for 274 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions). Webb, on the other hand, missed receivers badly all night and finished with a 54.9 rating (11-for-30 for 180 yards and one touchdown) that was inflated by three completions for 103 yards in the final minutes with the outcome decided. 

With the Vikings’ offense posing only a minimal threat by the second quarter, the Packers took over the game late in the first half when they put up 10 quick points in the final 8½ minutes of the second quarter and then a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter that expanded their lead from 7-3 to 24-3. That’s when Rodgers started going from taking the safe, short dumpoffs and swing passes he’d thrown for the first 1½ quarters and started striking downfield, often after buying extra time by sliding in the pocket or throwing on the run after scrambling.

Original story here

Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers an edge

January 6, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Drew Olson, ESPN Wisconsin

~When the Minnesota Vikings team bus pulled out of Lambeau Field after a regular-season loss on Dec. 2, I remember thinking, “The only reason the Packers won that game is because Aaron Rodgers is light years better than Christian Ponder.”

Gee — that’s really profound, Drew. What are you going to tell us next, that pretzels make a terrific side dish when served with beer?

The Vikings had a strong, experienced defensive line, solid special teams units and a superhuman running back named Adrian Peterson, but Rodgers was the difference that day for the Packers, just like every other day that he buckles his chinstrap.

Ponder threw two pivotal interceptions during that Week 13 loss. On Saturday night, in the hours before NFC Wildcard Playoff Game, the Florida State product — battling what later was revealed to be a badly bruised triceps muscle on his throwing arm — attempted roughly 10 passes, none of which traveled more than about 15 yards.

Ponder was ruled inactive. His replacement — Joe Webb — was ineffective. Rodgers was, well, Rodgers. The Packers won the game, 24-10, and when the Vikings’ bus rumbled toward Austin Straubel International Airport, my thoughts again turned to Jason Wilde’s radio co-star.

You’re really on a roll now, donkey. Is this where you tell us that Rodgers is better than Joe “Don’t Call Me George” Webb?

Nope. 

Alex Smith disagrees with this theory. But unless Colin Kaepernick gets injured Saturday, Smith won't get another chance to beat Rodgers. He did beat Rodgers back in week one.

This is where I make an even more bold prediction. Are you ready? Are you sure? Shouldn’t we have a drumroll or something? Here it comes:

Aaron Rodgers is going to lead the Packers to Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

Yep. I said it.

I know some Packers fans will be angry with that prediction and the possibility of a “jinx.” I also know that the San Francisco 49ers, who await the Packers in the Divisional Playoff Game next Saturday night in California, are tough. They pounded Green Bay in the season opener. They are rested. They’re playing at home. They’re hungry after missing the Super Bowl by a game last year.

But, they don’t have Aaron Rodgers.

Neither do Atlanta, Seattle or Washington.

In the final three games of the regular season, Rodgers completed 78 of 114 passes for 998 yards, 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Sure, one of the games was against Tennessee, which was awful. The other two were at Chicago and at Minnesota.

On Saturday night, Rodgers completed 23 of 33 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown. He spread the ball to 10 different receivers and his passer rating was 104.9. He wasn’t superhuman. He didn’t sizzle all the time. But, he sizzled enough. When he executed that 2-minute drill at the end of the first half, punctuating it with an incredible rollout thrown to Jordy Nelson — the Vikings might as well have had 18 men on the field; they’d still have been helpless.

Next Saturday, Rodgers will be in his home state — playing against the team he cheered as a child. The obvious Alex Smith / draft angle will be replaced with stories of Colin Kaepernick’s Wisconsin roots. The 49ers, regarded by many as the team to beat for much of the season, will likely be favored to win.

But, that seems silly… they don’t have Rodgers.

Look at the quarterbacks in the last five Super Bowl matchups. Working backward, you had Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady, Rodgers vs. Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger vs. Peyton Manning and Eli Manning vs. Brady, Version 1.

You don’t seen any half-season starters on that list, do you?

Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, who battle in the other NFC game on Sunday, are fantastic talents with great stories. But, they are playoff newbies at a position that has more sway over postseason results than any other.

Rodgers knows how precarious the playoffs can be; he knows that one mistake can end a season and squash a dream. He knows the Packers got a huge break when Ponder was unable to play on Sunday and that they still have plenty of work to do in order to survive Saturday in San Francisco and then in the NFC Championship Game, wherever that may take place.

Can you think of anyone else you’d rather have under center?

Me either.

Original story here

Packers running backs go on a roll vs Vikings

January 6, 2013 by  
Filed under News

Really?

By Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY – The Minnesota Vikings were intent on playing Cover 2 defense and minimizing the impact of the Green Bay Packers’ receivers in an NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night.

But the Vikings couldn’t cover everybody.

Time and again, running backs DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn got open in the flats and over the middle and quarterback Aaron Rodgers found them with check-down passes.

Harris caught five of six targeted passes for 53 yards and Kuhn caught two of three for 15, including a 9-yard touchdown, as the Packers pulled away to a satisfying 24-10 victory at Lambeau Field.

The numbers are terrible really. There wasn't one huge hole with running space, not a single long run. 76 total yards in 31 attempts will not win any more games in the playoffs.

“That’s just kind of the way it unfolded,” Kuhn said. “They were playing us in Cover 2, really dropping and trying to take our receivers away. They did a good job at the dome last week (a 37-34 Vikings victory in the regular-season finale) and that was obviously their game plan.

“So we knew we had to pick it up on our end.”

The running backs carried their share of the load, and then some.

Harris also rushed 17 times for 47 yards, Kuhn had three carries for 4 yards and Ryan Grant had seven carries for 7 yards. Randall Cobb also had two carries for 6 yards.

The rushing numbers weren’t spectacular – 76 total yards in 31 attempts – but that total was misleading because the Packers were running out the clock in the fourth quarter and the Vikings knew what was coming.

Earlier in the game, it was a different story.

Rodgers repeatedly made Minnesota pay for dropping coverage by flicking short passes to Harris. The first time, Harris dropped the ball on what would have been a substantial gain.

“I should have had that one,” he said. “It hit me in the hands and if it hits both of my hands I need to get it. I’m glad (Rodgers) came back to me. I couldn’t let it happen again.”

He didn’t, catching three passes for 35 yards in the first half and scoring Green Bay’s first touchdown on a 9-yard run.

Harris’ touchdown was set up by a well-executed 16-yard screen pass from Rodgers to Grant.

“DuJuan did great in the first half, really carrying the load there with the check-downs, getting a lot of first downs, moving the chains,” Kuhn said. “Ryan Grant, too, with the screen pass.”

Rodgers would really like to see one of his backs explode for a long run one of these days.

Kuhn also played a big role in the offense. He scored the Packers’ second touchdown just before halftime on a 3-yard run and then caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers on the Packers’ first possession of the second half.

On first and goal, Rodgers initially saw nothing open in the end zone, bought time with his feet and flicked the ball to Kuhn, who powered his way in.

That score gave the Packers a commanding 24-3 lead.

“It was nice,” Kuhn said. “We were in some advantageous plays with the defenses that they were running. Aaron made some nice checks and I was able to take advantage of it.”

Kuhn is the only player in the NFL who has scored at least one touchdown in the postseason in each of the last four years.

“Thanks to (coach) Mike McCarthy for calling my number when we get down there,” he said. “A lot of people could score these touchdowns. It’s just being in the right place at the right time and feeding off your teammates.”

The touchdowns on back-to-back possessions made up for a frustrating drive earlier in the game, when the Packers had a first and goal at the 2 and had to settle for Mason Crosby’s 20-yard field goal.

Kuhn gained 1 yard on first down and after tight end Jermichael Finley dropped what would have been a touchdown pass, Kuhn was stuffed in the hole for no gain.

Kuhn celebrates one of his two touchdowns Saturday night. He was stuffed twice on another drive that ended with a field goal instead of touchdown.

“Credit to them,” he said. “We were a little upset with that. We wanted to come out, make some adjustments and finish drives.”

Harris, 5 feet 8 and 203 pounds, was quick to the hole, made decisive cuts and got some yards on his own. He had eight carries for 31 yards in the first half. On his 9-yard touchdown run he made a stop-on-a-dime cutback to the left after the hole was clogged on the right.

His run finished an 11-play, 82-yard drive in which he carried five times for 22 yards and caught two passes for 28 more.

Notably, Rodgers didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver on the drive.

“That was a long drive,” Harris said. “We kept the ball moving, that’s the main thing. It feels good to be a part of that.”

The Packers signed Harris to the practice squad in late October and he didn’t see game action until Dec. 9.

“DuJuan was great,” Kuhn said. “He started us off fantastic. . . check-downs, moving the chains, running hard in the first half with the sub offense. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that as we go on (in the playoffs).”

Original article here

RB DuJuan Harris central to Packers’ offense in win

January 6, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — All of these weapons, all of these investments and in the playoffs, the Green Bay Packers turn to….a practice-squad call-up from Troy. Of course.

In Green Bay’s 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings Saturday night, running back DuJuan Harris finished with 47 rushing yards on 17 carries with another 53 receiving yards on five receptions and one touchdown. It wasn’t always pretty. The Packers had five three-and-out possessions in the second half.

“I’m not really worried about my stats," Harris said. "I just worry about producing the best way I can to help the team win.

But Harris earned tough yards against a fast, aggressive Minnesota front. This was also the first time Green Bay really used the second-year back as a receiver. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked to Harris underneath early on as the Vikings’ sat back in coverage.

And by game’s end, Harris (100 total yards) wasn’t that far off Adrian Peterson’s pace. Peterson finished with 107 total yards (99 rushing, 8 receiving). For Green Bay, that’s a win.

“I’m not really worried about my stats,” Harris said. “I just worry about producing the best way I can to help the team win. As long as we got the W, we got it. I could have had 200-some yards tonight and we lost and it wouldn’t have meant much. I’m not a stat guy. We got the job done tonight and that’s all that matters.”

For the second straight week, Harris was the Packers’ primary ball carrier. Ryan Grant finished with 7 yards on 7 carries. Alex Green was active but did not play. There’s a growing confidence in the diminutive, yet powerful back who goes hard each carry. Overall, Harris earned trust on a big stage.

Green Bay eased Harris into the playbook, into more assignments on the field. Pass protection was an initial concern with the 5-foot-7 back. Against the Vikings, he got the Packers on board first with his second-effort, 9-yard touchdown run. After a dropped pass, he caught all five balls thrown his direction. There wasn’t much running room available as the game progressed, though Harris’ 17 carries did help Green Bay protect its lead.

In the locker room afterward, Harris again downplayed his rise from obscure free agent to starting running back on a Super Bowl contender.

“You never know what the future brings,” Harris said. “Tomorrow could be something else. You never know. You just have to be prepared for any type of situation that comes up.”
Green Bay will need to run the football better next week at San Francisco. The 49ers have the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense. An honest T.J. Lang said afterward that Green Bay needs to be more productive in the run game. In the opener, Cedric Benson mustered 2 yards per carry on the ‘Niners.

Harris, for now, appears to be a major part of the Packers’ offense. And he says Green Bay can run on San Francisco.

“We just have to go to the drawing board and see what we need to do,” Harris said. “We’re capable of running on them. They can be ran on — just like anybody else could.”

Original story here

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