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Best Shot To Beat Pack?

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Tenacious defense is key

Fox By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com
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Let's say this up front: Green Bay is going to be a tough out. The way Aaron Rodgers is ruthlessly picking apart defenses and putting up points, it is going to be hard to derail the Packers in the playoffs.

Green Bay has scored 50 touchdowns and leads the NFL in scoring, averaging 35.8 points per game. No team has held it below 24 points in a game this season, and only four have come within a touchdown or less.

That said, if San Francisco can get back to playing the way it was playing a few weeks ago, it will have as good a chance as any team to derail the Packers juggernaut.

The 49ers, who like the Packers have already won their division, got to 10-3 on the strength of their tenacious defense. They lead the NFL in allowing just 14.0 points per game and are fifth in total defense, allowing 305.1 yards per game, and are first against the run. Against San Francisco, teams are averaging just 70.5 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry. No one has scored a rushing touchdown against the Niners all season.

Equally as impressive, San Francisco is second in the league with 31 forced turnovers. The Niners are tied with New England and Detroit with 18 interceptions (only the Packers, with 27, have more), and they are tied with Cincinnati with 17 forced fumbles. No one has more fumble recoveries than San Francisco, which has 13.

In the postseason, every possession is crucial. San Francisco has a defense that can give the ball back to the offense and, more importantly, send Green Bay's offense to the bench. Rodgers can't hurt you if he's not on the field.

San Francisco also has an offense that is predicated on the run. When Ted Ginn Jr. doesn't give the Niners outstanding field position with a dynamic return, the offense grinds out drives by giving the ball to Frank Gore, who is fourth in the league with 1,054 yards.

Gore has been having knee and ankle issues and has not posted a 100-yard rushing performance in five games, but earlier this season, he was on a tear with five consecutive 100-yard games.

If the defense can create turnovers and get stops, and the offense can ride Gore with long, productive drives that result in touchdowns -- not field goals -- the Niners could have a chance at knocking off the defending champs.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Potent offense a must

Clayton By John Clayton
ESPN.com
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Defense and the ability to run the ball used to be the formula for going to and winning the Super Bowl.

Not anymore.

It's a quarterback-driven league, and because of that quarterbacks better produce touchdown drives if they are going to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. One of the reasons the Packers beat the Saints 42-34 in the season opener was because Drew Brees was stopped on downs at the Packers' 7-yard line and the Saints settled for two field goals.

The Packers won because Rodgers produced six touchdown drives.

Still, the Saints have a better chance than the 49ers to beat the Packers in a playoff game. The Saints, the opener notwithstanding, produce touchdowns. The 49ers settle for field goals.

Neil Rackers of the Arizona Cardinals set the record with 40 field goals in 2005. Bruce Gossett of the 1966 Los Angeles Rams set the record for attempts with 49. San Francisco's David Akers might shatter both records, which is great for a trip to the Pro Bowl, but not for the Super Bowl.

Field goals don't beat the Packers. Akers has 36 field goals in 42 attempts. Alex Smith has produced only 25 touchdown drives.

The Saints and Brees have produced 45 touchdown drives and they have 26 field goals in 31 attempts.

The numbers in the red zone are even more telling. The 49ers are the worst red zone team in football. Smith has only nine touchdowns in 45 drives into the red zone. Brees has only 11 red zone touchdown drives, but because he generates so many more big plays that result in touchdowns, that it isn't a big deal.

Everyone knows the Packers have troubles on defense. But if the opposing offense isn't good enough to exploit those weaknesses, it won't be a hindrance.

The Saints have already shown they can compete with the Packers. Are we sure they could pull off the upset? No, but their chances are much better than San Francisco's.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.