Key matchup: Niners RB Frank Gore vs. Packers run defense

Dan Arkush
Key matchup: Niners RB Frank Gore vs. Packers run defense

Niners RB Frank Gore vs. Packers run defense

If Gore has as good a game as he had against the Packers’ run defense in the Niners’ 30-22 victory over the Packers in Week One at Lambeau Field — the NFC’s fifth-leading rusher gained 112 yards on 16 carries (7.0 ypc), including a 23-yard TD run — Green Bay could be in big trouble Saturday night at Candlestick Park.

On the other hand, if the Packers’ run "D" does as well against Gore Saturday night as it did against league MVP candidate Adrian Peterson in Green Bay’s 24-10 first-round playoff victory over the Vikings last Saturday night at Lambeau — Peterson was limited to only 22-99 rushing after collecting a combined 409 yards on the ground in his previous two games this year vs. the Packers — it could end up being a very long evening for the Niners.

Like they did against Peterson last Saturday night, the Packers must remain disciplined, physical and concentrate on maintaining gap integrity, making sure to seal off potential cutback lanes for Gore, who benefits from running behind arguably the league’s top run-blocking — and certainly one of the most physically imposing — offensive lines in the game.

The Packers must also be careful not to overpursue and must make sure tackles, which it didn’t do well at all in their loss to the Vikings two weeks ago or in the season-opening loss to the Niners (the memory of both Packers S Morgan Burnett and CB Tramon Williams failing miserably to stop Gore on his TD run lingers).

The Packers will once again likely need big games from OLBs Clay Matthews and Erik Walden, who both had their best performances vs. the run all season in the playoff opener, and veteran S Charles Woodson, who had a strong game (six tackles, including one for a two-yard loss.) in his first game since breaking his collarbone vs. the Rams in Week Seven.

Woodson and Burnett took turns coming down in the box to help limit Peterson last Saturday night. Woodson, Matthews and Walden, who is benefiting from staying fresher by relinquishing occasional touches to rookie Dezman Moses, had a combined four tackles for loss.

The Packers’ front wall of NT B.J. Raji in the middle and DEs Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson was rock-solid vs. Peterson (Wilson had six tackles). It will also need to once again to come up big. Raji was dominant last Saturday night vs. a quality Vikings O-line after looking awful on the opening possession.

As they did in Week One, don’t be surprised if the Niners come at the Packers with a lot of jumbo packages, with burly linemen like Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore lining up as tight ends in front of Gore. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said early this week that he expects the Niners to run more big-people, multiple-TE sets, using personnel groups that most teams only run in goal-line situations.

The 29-year-old Gore will be well-rested, which could spell trouble for a Packers defense that is more of a finesse than physical unit. A terrific back both rushing, receiving and in blitz-pickup, Gore’s ability to get low to the ground is unmatched. He also has excellent field vision, soaks up every bit of information he can get his hands on leading up to every game and is as hard a worker as any player on the Niners.