Alright, we’re not exactly talking trash because we don’t have a boiling hatred for the San Francisco 49ers like we do for, say, the Minnesota Vikings. However, we did sit down and talk to Scott Preston, who’s also known as the Bay Area Sports Guy, about the Green Bay Packers matchup with his San Francisco 49ers.
We asked the questions, he answered them.
The 49ers pretty much handled the Packers in week 1. How are the 49ers different and, from your perspective, is there any reason this game would play out differently?
The biggest difference is obviously on offense. The addition of Colin Kaepernick has resulted in more explosive plays. Kaepernick attempts passes of 20 yards or more roughly twice as often as Alex Smith. But he’s not just attempting them for the sake of doing it, a la Joe Flacco. He is actually completing a high percentage of them. In fact, Pro Football Focus rates Kaepernick as the most accurate quarterback on deep throws.
That aside, the effectiveness of the offense is still about the same. Which is to say, no considerable change in the offense has been seen since Kaepernick took over. They’re still averaging roughly 6.2 yards per play. Still not converting third downs. Still struggling in the red zone. So while the 49ers might execute the offense differently on Sunday, the effect will largely be the same.
Kaepernick seems to have added another dynamic to the 49ers offense since he took over for Alex Smith, but this is his first playoff start. I know all the idiotic stuff Jim Harbaugh has to say about how brilliant Kaepernick is, but what are the chances he goes out there and craps the bed on the big stage? He’s not exactly playing Idaho in the Las Vegas Bowl here.
I think the odds of him laying an absolute egg are slim. Kaepernick is, at this stage in his career, the mirror image of Alex Smith. Sure, Kaepernick adds the big play element, but he doesn’t manage the game as effectively as Smith (this is cliché, I know). Kaepernick is Smith-like in his decision-making. Which is to say, he doesn’t make many mistakes.
Of course, as you note, the stakes are much, much higher, and we haven’t really seen Kaepernick’s “floor.” The worst he’s played to date was in week 16’s debacle against Seattle. Even then, he didn’t make mistakes, per say. He was just too indecisive. There were at least two red zone throws — which would have likely been converted to touchdowns — he passed up to scramble for a modest gain or to throw to Richard Sherman. I don’t think Kaepernick lays an egg, but I’m not confident he’ll perform well enough for the 49ers to win.
Speaking of Harbaugh, I feel like every time he talks, he says something that makes me want to punch him in the mouth. Of course, I’ve had a healthy hatred for Harbaugh since he was with the Chicago Bears. And then he reinforced that hatred when he went for two late in that blowout of USC. My point is, the guy is kind of a dick. I imagine he’s a hero in San Francisco for reestablishing the 49ers as an NFC power though?
Is Harbaugh a dick? Well, yes. But, he’s probably more mentally unstable than anything else (I’m kidding, kind of). His seeming paranoia and distrust of anyone not on his team, namely the media, should present all sorts of red flags to healthcare professionals. And, I’m convinced that if he wasn’t in the NFL, Harbaugh would be featured on “Doomsday Preppers.”
That said, 49ers’ fans love him. Hell, I love him. When I’m having a bad day, a little Jim Harbaugh pops up in my head, asking “Who’s got it better than us?” But, he’s still a polarizing figure that I’d be eager to root against were he on the opposing sidelines.
The 49ers seem to have a kicking problem, which we can relate to. David Akers has been inconsistent, but instead of cutting him, Harbaugh brought in “competition” in the form of Billy Cundiff, who was actually cut by Washington earlier this season. Is this competition a good idea and how confident are you in either guy making a kick with the game on the line?
When I think of David Akers, I think of how he’s 9-for-19 from 40 yards or more. But, when I think of Billy Cundiff, I think of the missed 32-yard field goal that sent the New England Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI. It’s really a lose-lose situation.
Akers struggles are obvious. He aggravated a double sports hernia, which has drastically impeded his ability to do his job. But Cundiff is not exactly a huge upgrade. Despite coming off a career year in 2011, Cundiff has been out of work since week 5. Something doesn’t smell right. And I have a feeling that smell is the decomposing careers of two once-elite kickers. If this game comes down to Mason Crosby versus Cundiff/Akers, we’re all in trouble.
The 49ers have a stout defense all the way around. The leader of that defense, Patrick Willis, hardly played the first time these two teams met because the 49ers played pass all day long. The Packers have a stronger running game than the first game, which means Willis should play more. That being said, the key to stopping the Packers is slowing their passing game, so who’s the key defensively for the 49ers?
The combination of Randall Cobb and DuJuan Harris really concerns me. The 49ers simply don’t handle speed well. We saw as much in their first match against the Packers, again in week 3 against Percy Harvin and the Minnesota Vikings, and again in week 15 against Danny Woodhead and the New England Patriots. As luck would have it, speed is the one thing Cobb and Harris have in spades. I think the game plan for the Packers is simple. Stretch the field horizontally with Harris and Cobb to draw the safeties down. Then stretch it vertically with James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings.
If the 49ers hope to stop the Packers, the key will be defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. That the 49ers elected to play the pass and thus effectively bench their best defensive player in week 1 probably surprised the Packers. Fangio needs to surprise them once again because the 49ers defense just cannot match-up one-on-one against the Packers’ speed. Without a healthy Justin Smith, the 49ers pass rush has been ineffective, which has exposed our secondary. And so, Fangio’s ability to mask these deficits will be paramount.
Bonus question: We don’t have cheerleaders, so we’re forced to envy yours. Who’s your favorite member of the Gold Rush?
You know, I don’t really have a favorite. That’s a cop out, for sure. But we are talking about a dozen or so beautiful, highly intelligent women here.
Well, that’s unfortunate, so if you’d like to choose your favorite, just go right here and have a gander.