While much of the talk will surround the offenses in this Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, the big key for both teams will be how well does their defense play. In its last two games against the 49ers, the Packers have gotten torched by Colin Kaepernick passing the football, as well as him running the ball. Add that the Packers are without their best defensive player in Clay Matthews and this defense could be in serious trouble. The 49ers defense has its own issues to deal with, mainly the fact they are facing Aaron Rodgers. Here is a breakdown of the defenses.
It has been said that the 49ers have the best front seven in the NFL. The first part of that front seven is their defensive line. They are led by defensive end Justin Smith, a 13 year veteran that has helped the 49ers defense hold opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game. Along with Smith, the 49ers have defensive lineman Ray McDonald and Glenn Dorsey, a former top five pick with the Kansas City Chiefs. With those three big bodies up front, it is hard to move the football on the ground. The Packers aren’t lacking names on their defensive line either. Big nose tackle B.J. Raji has shown week in and week out why he was a top 10 draft pick. The Packers have also gotten some success from Mike Daniels, who was a fourth round draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft. While the Packers do have some size, the 49ers defensive line is so hard to run the ball against, which gives them the advantage.
The position where the 49ers really own the Packers in is the linebackers. The 49ers might have the best linebackers in the league, led by pro bowler’s Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. Smith and the other outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks are a dangerous pass rushing duo that both have eight and a half sacks on the season. Willis and NaVorro Bowman are the two middle linebackers who have extraordinary pass covering skills. When healthy, the Packers also have the linebackers that can be among the best in the league. The key work there is healthy. With Clay Matthews out and rising middle linebacker Brad Jones battling the injury bug, the Packers have been forced to play the inexperienced Andy Mulumba and Jamari Lattimore, who have played well in Matthews and Jones’ absence.
The two secondaries are built very differently. The Packers have a very opportunistic secondary that prides itself in forcing turnovers. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are making a case that they are one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, and rookie Micah Hyde is showing that he cover the big name wide receiver if called upon. The 49ers’ strength is the Packers weakness. The Packers weak spot on defensive is their safeties, which have been very inconsistent all season. The 49ers defense likes to hit their opponents and hit them hard. Part of that is from safety Donte Whitner. Whitner has been penalized for multiple hits to the helmet, which has made him want to legally change his name to Hitner. The Packers secondary has the big time ability to force turnovers, which is why I give them the advantage.
Statistically, the 49ers have the better defense between the two teams. With the Packers missing Clay Matthews, they will need to find creative ways to rush Colin Kaepernick. On the other side, the Packers offensive line will need to keep that dangerous 49ers front seven off of Aaron Rodgers. Considering that it will be sub-zero temperature at Lambeau on Sunday, one hard hit to Rodgers could be very bad for the Packers. The 49ers hold the defensive advantage, but the Packers defense is different from that first meeting. Sunday will show what this defense is really made of. Both defenses will have their work cut out for them. Sunday should be really fun to watch.