For those trying to determine who will win the NFC championship game, my advice is to focus on the skills players, the game changers, the difference makers, the big-play guys – the stars. Once you’ve done that, then next focus on who has the most experience, and who has performed with distinction in big-game situations. The cream usually rises to the top in the postseason.
Green Bay has got the more elite passer – the one just selected again by Pro Bowl voters – the one who’ll be playing in his eighteenth playoff game, not the guy in his second one – the one with the 113.7 passer rating last weekend, not the guy with the 74.7 – the future Hall of Famer, not the backup to a future Hall of Famer – the one who has thrown for 51,647 yards in the NFL, not the guy with 7,077 – the one gunning for his second Lombardi Trophy and second Super Bowl MVP trophy, to match his two NFL MVP trophies – the one with the highest career passer rating in NFL history – the one with the lowest interception rate in NFL history: Aaron Rodgers, is the big-moments guy.
With no need for apologies to George Kittle, Green Bay will have the best receiver on the field: Davante Adams, as he proved once again against Seattle on Sunday.
We’ll have the best running back on the field – the touchdown specialist – the one who’s a threat to go all the way every time he gets the ball – a big-play waiting to happen – and the league-leader in broken tackles: Aaron Jones.
We’ll have the two best tackles on the field, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, and the superior 5-man offensive line overall.
On defense, we’ll field the best pressuring pass rusher in the NFL, Za’Darius Smith – and the best pair of pass rushing sackers on the field (and in the league), Za’Darius and Preston Smith (25.5 combined sacks vs. Bosa and Armstead’s 19).
As for cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander might have to wait till next year to surpass Richard Sherman, but I’ll take the cornerback duo of Alexander and Kevin King over Sherman and whoever. Ahkello Witherspoon (who got benched midway through Saturday’s game)? Undrafted K’Waun Williams?
We’ll also have the NFL’s most- or second-most-prolific tackler for three years running: Blake Martinez.
As for who has experience in big-game moments, the 49ers haven’t been to a postseason game since the 2013 season!
Last Sunday the “cream” theory worked out well for the Packers. Rodgers was a different player than he was for much of the regular season. Davante Adams was unstoppable. Za’Darius and Preston put pressure on Russell Wilson throughout the game, and combined for four sacks. The O-line, even without Bryan Bulaga, afforded ample protection for Rodgers.
By game-planning to stop Aaron Jones, the Seahawks defense had some success, but that choice also served to put the outcome in Rodgers’ hands – a dubious strategy at this time of year.
At any rate, we might well see the 49ers again take a run-smothering approach on Sunday. They completely stuffed Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota run game last weekend: after just 10 carries for 21 yards, Minnesota gave up on the run, which in turn aided the SF defense in zeroing in on Cousins, who was then sacked a half-dozen times.
I’m repeating myself, but if LaFleur’s Packers are to avoid a similar fate, Matt needs to get his running backs into more open spaces, at least until they get back to the line of scrimmage. To do this, he will need to keep the defense guessing, with a more creative and varied set of plays – including several sweeps or other runs that go outside the tackles. Spread the field sideways, as well as north and south.
And how about one (or more) of those laterals from the RB back to the QB – and then on to the WR? And while I’m at it, why do teams always stop after one such successful trick play? When a play works like a charm, I’d be inclined to try it a second time at some point – but that’s just me.