Gameday Notebook: First-Round Decisions

Never mind Rodgers vs. Smith: First-round decisions from yesteryear may decide tonight's outcome. Plus, can Rodgers' greatness offset the Niners' strengths? How will the OLBs attack Kaepernick? Does the OL have a prayer? The world's greatest game preview includes 21 points and 3,600 words of insight you won't find anywhere else.

With Alex Smith benched and Aaron Rodgers successfully bypassing the tired story line, surprisingly little was made of the San Francisco 49ers' ill-fated decision to take Smith ahead of Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft.

That, however, is not the only draft history that should be considered during tonight's NFC divisional playoff game at San Francisco.

In 2006, the Packers had the fifth pick and the 49ers the sixth. Green Bay needed lots of help after a 4-12 season, including at tight end, where Bubba Franks, Donald Lee and David Martin combined to catch 85 passes but averaged just 8.5 yards per reception. Instead of taking Vernon Davis, the Packers took linebacker A.J. Hawk. Davis went to San Francisco was the next pick.

In 2009, the Packers had the ninth pick and the 49ers the 10th. Green Bay was transitioning to the 3-4 defense, making the selection of nose tackle B.J. Raji a relative no-brainer, even though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn reported receiver Michael Crabtree was atop the Packers' draft board. Crabtree went to San Francisco with the next pick.

The careers of Hawk and Davis have been well-chronicled. The Packers won a Super Bowl with Hawk as their every-down inside linebacker but he's been relegated to part-time duty because of his limitations in coverage as the NFL has evolved rapidly to a more wide-open game during his seven-year career. According to, Hawk has played in 66.9 percent of the defensive snaps this season, with defensive coordinator Dom Capers using his dime package about one-third of the time to prevent Hawk from being matched up against athletic tight ends (like Davis) or athletic running backs (like rookie LaMichael James).

For Davis, it seems like eons ago when then-Niners coach Mike Singletary sent him to the showers during the middle of a game in 2008, followed by Singletary's famous "I want winners!" rant.

"I can just speak to what kind of a guy Vernon's been since I've known him over the course of two years, which has been a man that I truly respect, a fine person, a great football player," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said in a conference call this week.

Among tight ends, Davis is the franchise leader with 40 touchdowns. In two playoff games last year, Davis caught 10 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in one of the most dominant postseasons a tight end has had in NFL history.

"You have to always be aware of Vernon Davis because he's a tight end body type with the speed of a wide receiver," Capers said. "If you aren't careful, they lull you to sleep playing the run and all of a sudden he can get out of there vertically up the field. He creates matchup problems."

Added coach Mike McCarthy: "I think Vernon Davis is an excellent football player. He's played very well in our stadium the number of times the 49ers have come here. So, he's definitely someone that you focus on with the game plan. He has a unique set of skills, just the power and speed that he's able to play with. He runs better than most receivers, so I think he's an outstanding football player."

If the Niners get the edge in the 2006 draft, then the 2009 draft is too close to call. Raji and Crabtree are ascending players who have been dominant down the stretch.

Over Raji's last eight games, he's got 18 of his 24 quarterback hurries and 13 of his 20 run stops, according to

Crabtree posted career highs with 85 receptions, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. On third down, he tied for fourth in the league with 30 receptions and tied for first with five touchdowns. He's become quarterback Colin Kaepernick's go-to receiver. In his last five games, Crabtree has been targeted 11.2 times per game. During that span, he's caught 35 passes, topped 100 yards three times and scored four touchdowns.

"Michael was drafted to make that receiving corps better. It just took some time," said the man who will be covering him, Tramon Williams. "I think he's underrated, personally. You can see the ability when you look at film. Obviously in past years, they weren't the team that they were (the past two seasons). They're a good team now, so now people are going to recognize it and see what's going on."

The quarterbacks

The 49ers have statistical advantages in practically every area, including running game, run defense, pass defense and turnovers, as well as playing at home.

Will the play at quarterback outweigh all of those other factors?

Aaron Rodgers, statistically, is the best playoff quarterback in NFL history. Among quarterbacks with 150 postseason passing attempts, Rodgers is first in passer rating at 105.4. Only four quarterbacks (Bart Starr, 104.8; Drew Brees, 103.9; Kurt Warner, 102.8) have career ratings of at least 100.

Rodgers is also fourth in accuracy at 66.0 percent and third in interception percentage at 1.6. He's thrown 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions, averaged 293.6 yards and had passer ratings of at least 110 in four of his seven starts. How's this for perspective: Joe Montana holds the record with six, but it took him 23 starts. Brett Favre and Tom Brady are next with five, in 24 and 22 starts, respectively.

Rodgers has been even better on the road. In four starts, he's completed 94-of-135 passes for 1,213 yards, with 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 113.0. In NFL history, only Ben Roethlisberger (107.3) is over 100 in playoff road games (at least 100 attempts).

Rodgers is 5-2 for his playoff career. His only losses have come against Hall of Fame-worthy quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Eli Manning.

"I just try and be focused and know that I have a direct impact on the game," Rodgers said of his big-game acumen on Tuesday. "I touch the ball every play and guys are counting on me to play well. I take that to heart and I know my role as a quarterback and a leader, and I try and go out and play well for my guys."

His counterpart tonight, Kaepernick, might embark on a Hall of Fame career — with Saturday night as a launching point. However, the production and experience are overwhelmingly in Rodgers' favor. Rodgers has started seven playoff games. Kaepernick has started seven games, period.

Kaepernick has been outstanding, which is what Harbaugh was counting on when he went with the 2011 second-round pick instead of Smith after Smith's midseason concussion. In three starts at home, Kaepernick's passer rating is a gaudy 116.0. Since taking over as the starter in Week 11, he's second in the league with 8.4 yards per passing attempt and fourth with a 99.9 rating. He's obviously helped by having a superior running game at his disposal and a defense he can lean on. He earned a signature win at New England, which broke the Patriots' 20-game, 10-year December home winning streak.

"If a guy hasn't been there, you don't know how he's going to respond," Capers said. "He's obviously responded well from the time they made the switch. I think they have a lot of confidence in him, and as you watch him on tape, you can see why they do have a lot of confidence in him. The guy can make big plays, not only throwing, because he has a strong arm, but he's got excellent feet and can run very well."

Rodgers has been on this stage before and knows what it takes in these situations — especially on the road. On the way to becoming universally recognized as one of the great quarterbacks, Rodgers in 2010 helped lead the Packers to wins at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago to get to the Super Bowl.

"I think that gives you the confidence that you can do it," Rodgers said. "This is a different team, though. That was a team that had its own set of adversity and things we had to get through together and learn together, learn how to win, learn how to win big games. We kind of went into the playoffs almost playing with house money, if you will, because we had to win our last two and nobody expected us to do a whole lot as a sixth seed. This year, we had to learn again how to win, how to grow as a team, how to deal with adversity. We're in this position, we're excited about it, we have a tough test in front of us, but anything can happen."

Outside linebackers challenged again

Last week, the Packers' outside linebackers faced the challenge of walking that fine line between playing aggressive but not too aggressive against Adrian Peterson. It's a similar story this week for Clay Matthews, Erik Walden and Dezman Moses when they rush Kaepernick.

Even though he's started just seven games and seen spot duty in six others, Kaepernick finished second on the team with 415 rushing yards. Only Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (6.8) averaged more than Kaepernick's 6.6 yards per carry.

"If he gets out of the pocket, he has the ability to do a lot of things," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "He's very athletic, he's very accurate on the run throwing the ball. Obviously, the challenge is finding a way to keep him hemmed in because he's going to try to get out."


"We've really got a pretty good game plan," Greene started with a serious tone. "We're actually going to blind the referees' eyes and put in about 15 guys on defense."

Facing Christian Ponder (twice), Jake Locker and Joe Webb over the last month has provided some good training, but at 6-foot-5, 233 pounds, sub-4.5 speed and a rocket arm, Kaepernick poses a bigger challenge than the others.

"As you rush the passer, I think you always have to have awareness of where the quarterback is in the pocket," Greene said. "As you engage an offensive lineman or running back or tight end in your pass-rush move, you can never lose situational awareness — where you are as far as your depth in the pocket and where his setup depth in the pocket is and what his movements are in the pocket. You always have to have awareness of where that quarterback is as you are working your pass-rush move on your opponent."

Offensive line has something to prove

The Packers' offensive line knows the perception: 51 sacks, a 20th-ranked running game and the only playoff group without a first-round pick in the starting lineup — or second- or third-rounder, for that matter — means it's not good enough to win a game against the mighty 49ers.

"I think you want to prove a point every time you take the field," offensive line coach James Campen said. "I don't think it's heightened by anything. These guys work hard. They're very proud men and they display it every day.

"Externally, that kind of stuff means nothing to me."

All week, the Packers were reminded how physical the 49ers are — both on defense and their offensive line. Guard T.J. Lang, who will see a lot of Justin Smith, says they're "sick of hearing about how we're soft and not physical."

But, as the signs in the locker room said, it's about "Trust Your Training."

"Every game, you want to go out there and play physical," Lang said. "You want to impose your will on defenses. A lot of it, it's not like high school football where you can just tee off on the guy in front of you. You have to pick the appropriate time. If you try to jump off the ball and smash the guy, you put yourself in position to whiff on a block. As an offensive lineman, you have to rely more on your technique and fundamentals. When those are working for you, then you can start using the physical aspects of it."

The line has played better down the stretch, and its hardly a coincidence that Rodgers enters this game with four consecutive games with 104.9-plus passer ratings. While Rodgers has been sacked 17 times in the last six games, an argument could be made that he could have avoided a half-dozen of those.

Tonight, a lot will be riding on the offensive line. There's a good chance McCarthy's game plan will be to come out winging it by spreading the field with three receivers and tight end Jermichael Finley or four receivers. That means there won't be much help for the linemen — Lang and left tackle Marshall Newhouse, in particular, as they face Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. The line will need to sustain its blocks better than it has all season as Rodgers tries to find holes in a superb secondary.

"It's something we say all the time: You can't have a time clock because Aaron's a guy that likes to get out of pocket and make some plays that way," Lang said. "And when he does, that can be very effective. We get a lot of big plays out of that. So, your mentality when you're blocking for him is make sure you stay engaged. You can't have a time clock in your head, thinking the ball might be gone. You've got to stay locked up with those guys, match their effort. As long as they're moving, you're moving to try and stay in front of them."

Key numbers

— The 49ers are 10-0-1 when scoring at least 20 points.

— The 49ers are front-runners: They are 3-0 when scoring on the first drive, 8-2 when scoring first and 9-1 when leading at halftime. Then, the 49ers go for the kill. They ranked third with 51 points on their first possession of the second half and they led the league by allowing only 10 points on their opponents' first possession after intermission.

— In two seasons under Harbaugh, the 49ers are second with plus-31 in turnovers, with a league-low 26 giveaways. They are tied for eighth this season at plus-9. When the 49ers win the turnover battle, they are 20-2-1, including 8-0-1 this season. In the same two seasons, the Packers are third at plus-31. They are tied for 10th this season at plus-7. This season, the Packers are 8-0 when they win the turnover battle and they're 56-6 under McCarthy.

— The Packers finished third in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 68.1 percent of their treks inside the 20. They finished with a flourish by getting six points on 13 of their last 15 red-zone possessions. The 49ers' defense is excellent but has been surprisingly soft in the red zone, where they're 28th with 61.1 percent touchdowns.

History lessons

— Harbaugh is just the third coach in NFL history to win back-to-back division titles in his first two seasons as coach after inheriting a team with a losing record. The others? Chuck Knox with the Los Angeles Rams and Ted Marchibroda with the Baltimore Colts. Those coaches never won the Super Bowl. Only George Seifert (28) and Steve Mariucci (25) — both with San Francisco — have done better than Harbaugh's 24 wins to start his career.

— Green Bay is 30-17 all-time in the playoffs, giving it a league-best .638 winning percentage and the third-most wins. San Francisco is fourth with 26 wins. The Packers are 5-1 all-time against the 49ers in the playoffs, including 2-1 at Candlestick Park. You could argue the Packers should be 6-0 and 3-0. In the 1998 playoffs, Steve Young's dramatic game-winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens never should have happened, since Jerry Rice fumbled on that drive. There was no instant replay back then, though.

— The 49ers are 12-3 all-time at home in divisional playoff games. One of those losses was Green Bay's famous 27-17 victory at San Francisco on in the 1995 playoffs, a game frequently cited as the Holmgren-Favre-White team's coming-out party.

— According to, the No. 2 seed is a whopping 21-7 against the No. 3 seed since the NFL went to a 12-team format in 1990.

The other sideline

— In four games against the Packers, tight end Vernon Davis has caught 16 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns. He's scored at least one touchdown in every game. He caught four balls for 126 yards in 2010 and six balls for 108 yards in 2009. In Week 1, he was limited to three catches for 43 yards. After catching six passes in Kaepernick's first game as the starter, he's had just six catches for 61 yards and no touchdowns in the previous six games.

"Vernon's on the field an awful lot," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman told beat reporters. "And while many people point to one statistic, ‘Well, how many catches does this guy have?' the reality of it is, every play, he is critical to the success of the 49ers. Whether it's pass protection, run blocking, adjustments, running a route, getting open, making a play. From our standpoint, he's had a really good year."

— No receiver has hurt the Packers more than Randy Moss. In 15 games against Green Bay, he's caught 73 passes for 1,320 yards and 14 touchdowns. The touchdown count is the most against Green Bay in franchise history, and the yardage tally is 9 yards behind Elroy Hirsch for also being the most in team history. Moss scored a touchdown in the Week 1 game.

— For back-to-back weeks, the Packers are facing an elite running back in the playoffs in Frank Gore, San Francisco's career leader in rushing yards (8,839) and rushing touchdowns (51). Like we pointed out last week with Minnesota, San Francisco's five starting offensive linemen have started every game this season. Only one other team (Jets) did the same. Right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati were taken 11th and 17th in the 2010 draft, respectively, and left tackle Joe Staley was their No. 1 in 2007. With that power, the 49ers ranked fourth in rushing (2,491 yards), third in average (5.1) and second in 10-plus-yard runs (81).

— Here's the challenge for Rodgers: In four games against elite quarterbacks (Rodgers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady), the 49ers held those quarterbacks below their season passer ratings by a cumulative 54.5 points. Rodgers was 93.3 compared to 108.0, Brees was 86.1 compared to 96.3 and Brady was 68.9 compared to 98.7. Only Manning beat his rating but barely so (97.4 compared to 87.2).

Four-point stance

— Will either team trust their kicker with the game on the line? The Packers' Mason Crosby has made five in a row but hit a league-low 63.6 percent for the season. The 49ers' David Akers won a kicking competition against Billy Cundiff this week after finishing next-to-last with 69.0 percent accuracy. Last year, Akers was first-team All-Pro and Crosby hit 24-of-28.

"I think you look at what he's done the last couple games and how he finished the season," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "He had some tough times that he dealt with and I think it shows what kind of character he is. He kept working and kept plying his trade. I look forward to seeing him kick."

— The 49ers' defense makes opponents go the long way to score points. It ranked first with just 157 plays allowed of 10-plus yards, and it allowed only seven touchdowns of at least 10 yards. San Francisco's pass defense led the league with 10.31 yards per completion, was second with 6.13 yards per attempt and tied for third with 21 passing plays allowed of 25-plus yards. Green Bay, meanwhile, led the NFL with 17 touchdowns from outside the red zone.

— In its eight home games, San Francisco allowed a league-low nine touchdowns and was second with 13.9 points allowed per game. On the other hand, since taking over as the starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers leads the league with a 103.0 passer rating and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3.52 (81 touchdowns against 23 interceptions) in road games. For his career, Rodgers' road rating of 102.3 is 7.8 points better than No. 2 Tom Brady.

— Green Bay and San Francisco tied for second with just 16 turnovers this season. Rodgers is on a streak of 177 consecutive passes without an interception. Kaepernick hasn't thrown an interception in 99 passes at home.

Quote of the week

Or, the best quote that we couldn't work into a story …

Harbaugh, on his concern about Kaepernick's lack of playoff experience: "Well, there's concern about a lot of things. Our biggest concern, our biggest challenge, our biggest task is the Green Bay Packers. That's where the greatest area of concern is. I can remember back in high school football and sometimes in college football, too, I remember (Michigan coach) Bo (Schembechler) getting ready for an opponent and Bo saying, ‘These guys are good, but they're not the Green Bay Packers for God sakes.' And here we are playing the Green Bay Packers. So, our biggest challenge is preparing for a great team."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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