Aaron Rodgers' return from a broken collarbone and his contribution in the Green Bay Packers' NFC North-winning victory at Chicago was a great story.
Rodgers' presence has led some to say the Packers are a dark horse to win the NFC. And Rodgers will undoubtedly help Green Bay this week in a wild-card playoff game on Sunday against San Francisco.
But defensive coordinator Dom Capers might be the most important person for the Packers' hopes this week.
The two times the Packers faced the 49ers since Colin Kaepernick took over at quarterback, San Francisco pounded Green Bay. In last season's divisional playoff, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, a record for a quarterback. So the Packers' staff prepared all offseason for the read option. Then in the season opener, the 49ers rarely used the read option and Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Anquan Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards. San Francisco won both games. The 49ers also won at Green Bay in the 2012 season opener, with Alex Smith at quarterback.
San Francisco coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman use a lot of different looks, and the Packers have seemed confused by them. That needs to change this time around for the Packers, or they're going to lose their fourth straight to the 49ers.
"The defense needs to play its best game of the year," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We need to improve off how we've performed here in the past. Offense, we need to get better too."
The Packers defense was dealt a huge blow when Clay Matthews injured his thumb two weeks ago. Green Bay's best pass rusher has been ruled out for Sunday's game. And the Packers' defense hasn't been great with or without Matthews.
Green Bay ranks 25th in the NFL in yards allowed, and 24th in rushing yards allowed – which isn't great against the 49ers' power-running game. But that doesn't matter to McCarthy.
"I love our defense, I love our football team," McCarthy said. "Throw the stats out the window. We can roll around in that stuff all you want. You can throw the bad ones at me, I'll throw the good ones back at you. We're a playoff football team."
There has to be a lot of pressure on Capers, a top defensive coordinator for many, many years. His job security has been a big topic in Green Bay as the defense has struggled this year. That talk will get a lot louder if the 49ers' coaches get the best of him once again.
"We know we have to play these guys a little different than we did last time," McCarthy said. "Really first and second down in the first game, we felt like we did a good job, and the issue was third-down production. We'll take a look at that. I think our defense is different than it was in Week 1. We'll have a good plan."
One thing that might help is the weather. The Weather Channel predicts that the high temperature in Green Bay on Sunday will be four degrees, and the low will be minus-15. It will be frigid for the 3:40 p.m. Central time kickoff. Although the 49ers' power scheme seems like a better fit for that weather than Green Bay and its pass-heavy offense, it still might slow down the 49ers' offense a bit. The Packers will practice outside on Thursday and Friday, McCarthy said, and the 49ers can't exactly prepare for the Wisconsin weather at home. If there's a mental edge to be had it might go to Green Bay, but the 49ers don't seen too worried.
"You just have to block it out," Kaepernick said about the cold.
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