Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated
Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated

A Chance for Revenge, Served Ice-Cold

Pummeled by the 49ers last January, the Packers can get even at Lambeau Field—but they're not the only team built to flourish on the frozen tundra

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·

CHICAGO — Tramon Williams had just finished peeling off his green and gold Packers uniform, the one with mud stains all over it from a Soldier Field turf that had been mixed with equal parts freezing rain and snow, when he was asked about the 49ers going to Green Bay for a wild-card playoff game next Sunday. The evening forecast: 14 degrees, with a 30% chance of snow.

“It’s probably going to be pretty cold,” the cornerback said with a big smile. “Those guys are used to their nice, sunny California weather. Come down to Green Bay. It should be great.”

The script could not have been written any better for the Packers, who were on the brink of elimination a month ago but won the NFC North with a 33-28 win over the Bears last Sunday. The 49ers, fresh off a week of practicing in the mid 60s and sunshine, have to endure Lambeau Field in January. San Francisco has yet to play in freezing temperatures during Jim Harbaugh’s three seasons as coach; their playoff road the past two seasons has consisted of three home games and two visits to domes.

But Green Bay players know this is no ordinary California team. San Francisco is built to play in cold weather, with their bruising power rushing attack and physical defense. In the past two seasons, they did win games at New England and at Washington when the wind chill was in the 20s.

“We’re in for a tough challenge,” says Green Bay’s left guard, Josh Sitton. “They’re a hell of a football team.”

frank-gore-360
The 49ers totaled 579 yards in last year’s NFC wild-card game, 323 of which came on the ground. (John W. McDonough/SI)

The Packers know this better than anyone. Green Bay hasn’t beaten San Francisco during Harbaugh’s tenure, losing all three matchups during the past two years, including last season’s 45-31 wild-card loss in which the 49ers totaled 579 yards, 323 of them on the ground. “Always a tough game playing them,” right guard T.J. Lang says.

The Packers are getting their offensive groove back with the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) and receiver Randall Cobb (knee) from two-month absences. With running back Eddie Lacy, and receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones, the Pack can beat you a variety of ways. The 49ers’ offense isn’t too shabby, either. After totaling more than 300 yards five times in their first eight games—including a season-high 494 in the opener against Green Bay—San Francisco has passed that threshold during every game of its current six-game winning streak.

As the defenses go, at least San Francisco has shown the potential to slow down an opponent. It has the league’s third-best scoring defense (17.0) behind the Seahawks and Panthers. And the 49ers are a top 10 defense in every yardage category. The Packers? Not so much. They are tied for 24th in points per game (26.8), and 24th or worse in every yardage category.

So regardless of where it’s played or what the elements are, this matchup will come down to one thing: Green Bay’s ability to stop the 49ers’ devastating power rushing attack.

In the past four weeks, including matchups against talented defenses in Seattle and Tampa Bay, San Francisco has averaged 31.5 rushing attempts and 158 yards (5.0 per carry) behind standout back Frank Gore. During the same time, only the Bears and Lions have given up more yards per attempt than the Packers (5.2). This doesn’t even include the 473 yards that Green Bay surrendered to the Vikings and Lions in back-to-back games in late November.

This wild-card game will be decided in the trenches: the 49ers’ offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks against the Packers’ defensive line and linebackers. “Absolutely,” says Packers veteran nosetackle Ryan Pickett. “I’ve been looking forward to something like this.”

Pickett should be careful what he wishes for. Every opponent knows what the 49ers are going to do. They line up with two or more tight ends on 39% of their snaps, far and away the most in the league. Yet they’re still successful. They’re coming right at you, and there isn’t a whole lot of flash to what they do. Good luck trying to stop them.

“The 49ers are pretty much a downhill team, so we’re looking forward to it. I love it. I wouldn’t pick anyone else,” Pickett says. “It gives us an opportunity to right some of our wrongs that we had in the past with them. It’s a great opportunity. They’re one of the better teams. And we have them at home, so I love it.”

49ers-front-line-800
San Francisco’s front line is one of the league’s most dominant. (Robert Beck/SI)

San Francisco’s offensive line is one of the league’s biggest and most powerful. From left to right, the 49ers have Joe Staley (6-5, 315), Mike Iupati (6-5, 331), Jonathan Goodwin (6-3, 318), Alex Boone (6-8, 300) and Anthony Davis (6-5, 323). Tight ends Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek are used in the running game as well. The 49ers were dealt a big blow when fullback Bruce Miller had to be put on injured reserve, but Anthony Dixon and Will Tukuafu are capable replacements.

The Packers will counter with their base 3-4 defense, which was only on the field for four snaps against the Bears’ various spread looks. Pickett (6-2, 338) is wily veteran at 34, but he has started to slow down. End B.J. Raji (6-2, 337) has not consistently played like a first-round selection in a contract year. End Mike Daniels (6-0, 294) plays with leverage but is better rushing the passer than defending the run. This would be a game made for end Johnny Jolly, but he was placed on injured reserve (neck) on Dec. 21. Rookie Josh Boyd and veteran C.J. Wilson have seen their playing time increase since then.

At inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones (the latter was out against the Bears with an ankle injury) have struggled to shed blocks. Outside linebacker Mike Neal, a converted end, plays very well against the run, but Andy Mulumba and Nick Perry can’t come close to compensating for the loss of Clay Matthews (hand).

If the Packers’ front seven doesn’t fit the run properly and get off blocks, it wouldn’t matter if the game were played on the moon: Green Bay is going to have a tough time stopping the run, to say nothing of winning.

“They’re going to be a tough opponent, no doubt it. Always have been,” Williams says. “They’ve had our number for the last couple of years. We’ve always been in the game. It always comes down to the end of the game and they always come up with the victory. We need to change that. It’s going to be tough once again, but we need to find a way to win the game.”

themmqb.com

48 comments
tbbully
tbbully

Uhhh...I remeber the 1st game this season...I dont think the Whiners came even close to 100 yds rushing...at home...Colin will be passing...the Niners will be LOSING...

J57
J57

Ask Tom Rathman if the the 49ers have a history of buckling under cold weather. Packers won't win even if the Niners don't show up.

GooGulsux
GooGulsux

Are Whiners fans always so bitter because they think any team from Frisco should rightfully be called the Packers?

Go Green Bay!

JamesAllen1
JamesAllen1

Tundra, by definition, is frozen. So "frozen tundra" = redundant = bad writing. 

Mike26
Mike26

I believe the deciding factor will be finding out once and for all if Aaron Rodgers is gay or not; it's been swirling over the Packers like a whirlwind all season and needs to be answered prior to this weekend's game if the Packers are to have any opportunity at all to defeat the 49ers.

luvfoozball
luvfoozball

It would help if the Pukers were not a One Man team. But I guess they have some hope since the One Man is back.

RecordSeal
RecordSeal

Rodgers is a savvy veteran with a SB scalp on his pony...but is he enough? Probably not against this D. If Niners keep AR on the sideline...Niners walk away victorious... 

adak99546
adak99546

AJ Hawk is going to play much of the game lying on his back.

gregc
gregc

The Packers could barely beat the Bears.  That probably means they can't even stay within 14 points of the 49ers.

The big question should be who will the 49ers play in the second round.

BY
BY

Packer fan my whole life....I think the Niners win this because GB's defense is so bad.....

skanee00
skanee00

I live a little north of Green Bay and I'll tell you what... It's cold outside!  Right now I'm looking at the temperature outside my window and it's showing 3 degrees.  The forecast for this Sunday is a high of 9 degrees and a low of -16.  If you factor in that sunset is 4:27 pm, we're probably looking at a kickoff temperature of around 0, with temperatures dropping as the game progresses.  Those poor 40 whiners from California, they're going to be red and gold popsicles by the fourth quarter!

I just hope the Packer players prepare for the game themselves.  I've noticed sometimes they try being tough by going sleeveless.  That's admirable, but stupid.

help4mac1
help4mac1

Packers. 49ers won't be able to deal with this cold. It will be great to see the 49ers and Saints flame out this week.

Realist
Realist

Packers D is talking the talk. Let's see what they say when they have tire tracks from being run over all day.


led
led

The O line better protect Rodgers against the lethal 49er defense or he may re injure his collarbone or worse.

smithsb
smithsb

Stop already with the frozen tundra bit. The field has had underground heating since 1967 and was redone in the mid-90s and again in 2007. There's also an artificial lighting system to extend the growing season.


Send a memo to all the other SI writers too. Try to come up with something new. 

Go_Niners!
Go_Niners!

Think GB will tackle Kaep even once this time?

skanee00
skanee00

With their great running attack, it would appear the Niners have the advantage.  Maybe if the Packers offense plays sharp and the Niners have to pass a lot to keep up, the Packers will have the advantage.  Don't underestimate the Packers ground game, though... Lacey and Starks have the ability to break away and pick up tough yards.

gregatacd
gregatacd

"We’ve always been in the game."


Mr. Williams... were you even at the playoff game last year.


Good luck on Sunday.

MichaelDalley
MichaelDalley

@tbbully I bet you are crying now! :LOL! The packers had no business winning the North...the Lions imploded...otherwise the season would have been over many weeks ago. I love it when the Packers lose!!!



DerekWelch
DerekWelch

@GooGulsux We are happy to run our Frank right up the middle into your end zone all day on Sunday. See you then, cutie.

megaflowgraphics
megaflowgraphics

@JamesAllen1 One can only assume you're very, very young, or else you would know that "frozen tundra" is a callback to NFL Films and the a script by the legendary Steve Sabol.  It's a famous quote, originally read by John Facenda in his incredible deep voice, hence neither "redundant" nor "bad writing".  It is a fabled phrase from football lore.   Get your facts straight before you snark.  

TMichealBenton
TMichealBenton

@Mike26 He is engaged to a beautiful young lady since last summer. Stupid non story, and only the idiots in San Francisco would be worried about this. But then considering your fan base, guess I should not be surprised.

GooGulsux
GooGulsux

@Mike26 As a Whiners fan, perhaps you and your two dads can get to the "bottom" of it. 

TMichealBenton
TMichealBenton

@gregc I have they think that too, then they will overlook the Pack, and that will be the stupidest mistake they could make, overlooking the QB with the best QB total rating in history.

J57
J57

@skanee00Gee, I guess you're right. The Niners have NEVER played outside of California... they had 16 home games. But I DO predict a very low temperature, but slightly higher than the average Green Bay fan's IQ.

beekay31
beekay31

@Realist Talking the talk?  All they said in the article was SF is a tough team and has their number.  Some people just have to imagine things to psyche themselves up, I guess.

beekay31
beekay31

@led Thanks for the obligatory "If Rodgers gets hurt" comment every game.

BY
BY

@Go_Niners! They won't run him too much. The back up is no longer Alex Smith and the 3 scariest words Jim Harbaugh will ever say are "Colt, you're in".....

BobbySabnani
BobbySabnani

@Go_Niners! I think we continue to see No Run-Kap...This is our RBs game to win...I think we finally see Hunter/James make a key contribution to the rushing attack. 

DerekWelch
DerekWelch

@kyyled5 I don't think the score will get nearly that high. Too cold. I'm hoping 17-14 Niners.

Go_Niners!
Go_Niners!

@skanee00 Against the Bears and Vikings, sure.  But there's a reason GB barely got 3 yards/carry against SF.  If GB's competitive, it's because of Rodgers.

BobbySabnani
BobbySabnani

@gregatacd To their credit, they were in the game until about halftime...And then we blew the doors off. 

led
led

@beekay31 @led  Alright, here's the obligatory 'He WILL get hurt.' Now that's better, isn't it . . . lol

tmadz
tmadz

@BY @Go_Niners! Assuming the packers ever get to him. They're defense is pretty bad.

Go_Niners!
Go_Niners!

@BobbySabnani @Go_Niners!  I think it's clear SF is better when Kaep runs from time to time.  I think Harbaugh knows this but has been keeping it under wraps to save hits on his QB - and I bet in the playoffs that all changes.  

MikeWendlandt
MikeWendlandt

@Go_Niners! @skanee00 GB only averaged 3 carries in Lacy's first ever regular season game. He is a lot better now than he was, and Starks is no slouch. It will be a great game, and I will not be surprised either way the final score leans.

Snow_Veil
Snow_Veil

@BobbySabnani @gregatacd 

"We?"


Are you on the payroll, much less the field? It really gets tiresome hearing fans referring to their favorite time as if they're a part of it.

tmadz
tmadz

@unitcaptain11 @Snow_Veil @BobbySabnani @gregatacd No you're not part of it. You volunteered to pay part of it, but you have absolutely no input; unless you are an unknown savant that the team mgmt invites you into the team mtgs? You can claim to be a super fan or even shareholder, but you have no influence whatsoever. The only reason the Packers are still in Green Bay is because of the public ownership, but just stop overstating your "part". It just reaffirms you looking like a goofball.

Zeshan
Zeshan

@Snow_Veil @BobbySabnani @gregatacd   It also gets a little tiresome for people to separate teams' identities from the cities they're in (and the residents of that place). Y'know, sorta like "we" won World War II or "we" put the first man on the moon.

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