Thursday, January 10, 2013
Pressure constant in Packers-49ers rematch
By John McTigue, ESPN Stats & Information
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAYThe San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-22 in Week 1, with the 49ers leading by as many 16 points in the game. However, each team has gone through personnel changes that could lead to a different outcome this time around.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers fell to the 49ers in Week 1, but both offenses will look much different this time around.
For the 49ers, the most notable change is at the quarterback position, where Colin Kaepernick has supplanted Alex Smith as the starter. Smith was highly effective against the Packers in Week 1, specifically against added pressure.
The Packers sent five or more pass rushers at the league’s fourth-highest rate this season (40 percent), and did so 46 percent of the time against the 49ers.
Although Smith was sacked three times against such pressure in Week 1, he also completed 11 of his 12 passes for 141 yards and eight first downs.
On the season, Smith completed 72.6 percent of his attempts against added pressure, best in the NFL.
Kaepernick should expect a similar defensive strategy from the Packers in the Divisional Playoffs. No quarterback faced extra rushers on a higher percentage of dropbacks than Kaepernick did this season (39 percent) and his 56.6 completion percentage against those rushes ranked 20th in the NFL.
For the Packers, the biggest change will be at running back.
In Week 1, the Packers ran 61 offensive plays and 31 of those came without a running back on field. Only seven teams had more than 31 plays without a running back all season long.
With their backs frequently on the bench, the Packers dropped back to pass 85 percent of the time (dropbacks include sacks and scrambles), their highest rate in a game since Aaron Rodgers took over as starter in 2008.
The Packers best success running in Week 1 came from Rodgers scrambling (five scrambles, 27 yards). Then starting running back Cedric Benson ran nine times for 18 yards, all on first down.
The emergence of DuJuan Harris in recent weeks should lead to a different offensive approach for the Packers against the 49ers.
Six Packers running backs had at least 25 runs between the tackles this season and none was more successful than Harris.
Including the playoffs, Harris has averaged a team-high 4.3 yards per rush between the tackles this season. Benson gained only 17 yards on eight rushes between the tackles in Week 1.
Packers running backs were also targeted nine times in the Wild Card round (six to Harris), the second time this season Packers backs had at least that many targets. No Packers running back had a target in Week 1.
Despite the recent success, however, Rodgers thrived without a running back on field in Week 1, going 21-of-28 for 229 yards (9-of-16, 74 yards with a back on field).
Time will tell how things play out on Saturday, but the offenses will certainly look different than they did in September.