Change Aplenty Since Week 1

Both teams have major personnel differences since the 49ers won 34-28 on Sept. 8. Michael Crabtree is back for the 49ers, Eddie Lacy is in a featured role for the Packers, and Green Bay's big defensive star, Clay Matthews, is out for Sunday's Wild Card game

After Anquan Boldin lit up the Green Bay Packers' defense for 13 receptions in Week 1, he quickly came to a realization.

"After playing them the first game, we knew that they'd most likely be in the playoffs and is probably a team that we'd have to see again," Boldin, the San Francisco 49ers' veteran receiver, said in a conference call on Wednesday.

While the Packers and 49ers will be playing for the fourth time in about 16 months — San Francisco won the previous three games — the teams have changed significantly since this year's Week 1 matchup.

For Green Bay, there's a legit running attack with the emergence of rookie Eddie Lacy. Safety Morgan Burnett missed this year's first matchup, but Jermichael Finley is on injured reserve and Clay Matthews is out after re-injuring his thumb.

For San Francisco, receiver Michael Crabtree returned to the lineup after tearing his Achilles during OTAs.

Crabtree, who caught nine passes for 119 yards and two scores in last year's playoff game, missed the first 11 games. He returned with a 60-yard reception against St. Louis, and posted a five-game total of 19 catches (33 targets) for 284 yards (14.9 average) and a touchdown.

Between quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 412-yard performance against the Packers in Week 1 and Crabtree's return, Kaepernick had just two 200-yard games and none of more than 252. In the last five games, Kaepernick had three 200-yard games, including 275 against St. Louis and 310 last week against Arizona.

"It's meant a lot," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said in a conference call on Wednesday. "He has stepped right back in from the first game he played in and contributed in big ways. It's a real testament to his athletic ability, with his mental toughness, going through grueling rehab, treatment, etc. To step in to be where he was before he was injured and when he was playing last year, that's rare. It's a rare thing, but these guys are rare. These guys that play this game are the greatest athletes in the world. They've been blessed physically in ways that you, me and a lot of other people were not."

Without Crabtree, Kaepernick had four games of 100-plus passer ratings in the first 11 weeks. With Crabtree back on the field, Kaepernick had a 100-plus passer rating in four of five games. On the scoreboard, the 49ers went from 24.9 points per game to 26.4.

"It's helped a lot," Boldin said of Crabtree. "We all know how big of a threat he is anywhere on the field, so he's definitely opened some things up for the rest of the offense."

From Green Bay's perspective, the offense is better with Lacy's emergence. At San Francisco in Week 1, he carried 14 times for 41 yards and a touchdown but spent a significant chunk of the game on the bench after a first-half fumble.

In the last 13 games, Lacy has averaged 86.7 rushing yards per game and scored 10 touchdowns. Showing Lacy's impact on a game even when he seemingly isn't gaining a ton of yards, the Packers are 8-2-1 when he averages even 3.1 yards per carry.

"I think they're going to see a confident, hard-running Eddie Lacy," fullback John Kuhn said. "He's going to be determined, assertive. There's things that he's learned throughout the course of the year. He's a great running back and I think they're going to have their hands full."

Only the Eagles' LeSean McCoy (1,139) has outrushed Lacy (1,127) in the last 12 games.

"He's a fantastic player," Harbaugh said. "Has many skills and the Packers are utilizing them very well. He's been A-plus-plus."

On the other side of the ball, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers must find a way to slow down a 49ers offense that has averaged 36.3 points in the three recent matchups. The Packers had Matthews for those games — he was dominant in Week 1 — but they'll be without their most disruptive defender on Sunday.

"You know, we don't have another guy quite like Clay," Capers said. "You do the same things. What you do when you go into the meeting room, you look at the guys you have available and you try to design what you're going to do based off of the guys you have available. We know we're going to get great effort out of those guys. When you get to this point in time you'll get everything these guys have. So, you have to just make sure you don't bog them down too much and slow them down with giving them too many things to think about."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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