Joe Webb made the Green Bay Packers look good last week. It wasn’t Joe’s fault. It was God’s.
The good Lord didn’t give Joe much of an arm. Strong, perhaps, but terribly inaccurate and so after beating the Packers 37-34 with an improving Christian Ponder at the helm in Week 17, the Vikings came out for the Wild Card Weekend with a Wild Card quarterback.
And I mean, really, really wild.
To their credit, the Packers took advantage of Webb’s wonky arm, jammed the box with nine, sometimes 10 guys, stopped Adrian Peterson and let Webb miss wide open receivers because, hey, that’s what he does. He threw zero passes during the regular season and should have thrown zero in the playoffs. McLeod John Balthazar Bethel-Thompson out of Sacramento State, the Vikings No. 3, would not have been any worse than Joe Webb.
As a result, Green Bay beat Minnesota 24-10 in last week’s NFC quarterfinal and now the Pack will journey to San Francisco to take on a rested Niners outfit that is favored by three points.
Still, San Francisco heads into the playoffs after being crushed 42-13 by Seattle and then beating a lousy Arizona team 27-13 at home, in a game in which they did not play very well.
Granted, earlier in the year, the Niners beat the Packers in Green Bay (with Alex Smith at quarterback) and also looked good with wins at New Orleans and New England and finished 11-4-1. When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh decided to go with Colin Kaepernick and not Smith at quarterback, the Niners went 5-2 down the stretch and 4-3 against the spread.
Most folks will remember that San Francisco whipped Green Bay 30-22 at Lambeau Field way back in Week 1. That score, plus home field advantage (on an absolutely brutal Candlestick Park field), have a lot to do with the fact that the 49ers are favorites this week. Don’t forget, back in September, San Francisco led 23-7 after three quarters and rushed for 186 yards in that game.
And that’s why you still have to wonder if Green Bay is good enough to beat a team with a running game and a legitimate, strong-armed No. 1 quarterback. The Packers don’t have much of a kicker either and that’s another problem.
However, there are three things the Packers have and as a result, do, as well as anybody in the NFL and while they won’t be facing Joe Webb this week, these three things have nothing to do with what Kaepernick does.
(1) The Packers have Aaron Rodgers.
(2) The Packers probably have the best receiving corps in the NFL.
(3) The Packers run the hurry-up just about as well as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
“I think you’ll see a ton of no-huddle actually,” tight end Jermichael Finley told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Whatever we come out with, we need to do well with it.”
There is a feeling throughout the NFL that if you’re Packers coach Mike McCarthy you should just let Rodgers got out, do what he does and let him win it on his own.
Everyone who has watched the 49ers defense knows that this is a team that takes away the middle of the field, throws an extra defender in the box and therefore gives them an extra backer between the hash marks. That means Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and James Jones have to get open outside.
The key to making it work for Green Bay is obviously the offensive line. They have to protect Rodgers to allow the receivers to take the plays inside and then turn them to the sidelines. It takes an extra second or two but if the O-line can keep the pressure off the quarterback, Rodgers can have a field day. And if they can do it within the speed and timing of the no-huddle, Rodgers can blow the game wide open early.
That, of course, could all happen. However, the big question is this: Can the Packers keep Kaepernick and that explosive 49ers offense off the scoreboard.
It’s interesting to note that Kaepernick’s numbers were not as good as Alex Smith’s even though Kaepernick was handed Smith’s job. Kaepernick completed 136-of-218 passes (62.4 per cent) for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and quarterback rating of 98.3. Smith went 153-of-218 (70.2 per cent) for 1,737 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions and quarterback rating of 104.1.
However, Frank Gore is still Frank Gore and if he’s healthy this week, it gives the Niners a ball-control runningback to go with a solid passer.
This is going to be the best game of the week if the Packers do what they do best on offense and don’t get caught up in some defensive woes that will happen simply because they’re playing a against a solid offensive club.
“We were pleased with the way we played the run,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers told ESPN after last Saturday night’s win over Minnesota. “Our guys did a good job of learning. We were more patient holding our gap control.
“This week, we’re going to see another powerful runner and an athletic quarterback.”
Ultimately, that will be the difference. If the Packers can do what they do best and shut down Kaepernick like they shut down Joe Webb (and that will more difficult than anyone can imagine), then they can go on the road and win. If not, Green Bay will get drilled.