Scouting report

January 11, 1998|By Ken Murray

Packers run offense vs. 49ers run defense Edge

The Packers pick their spots with the running game, and Dorsey Levens (1,435 yards, 4.4 average) came up big in the big games. But the 49ers had the No. 2 rush defense in the league, giving up a scant 85.4 yards a game. Unless defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young get worn down chasing Brett Favre, the 49ers will be hard to run against.

Edge -- San Francisco

Packers pass offense vs. 49ers pass defense

The Packers have big-play people at the skill positions with Favre throwing to wide receivers Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks and Derrick Mayes. The 49ers have been vulnerable on the corners with Marquez Pope and Rod Woodson, and nickel back Tyronne Drakeford is the man quarterbacks always seek to make plays against. Favre likes to use short passes to Levens and tight end Mark Chmura, too.

Edge -- Green Bay

49ers run offense vs. Packers run defense

The 49ers spent the whole season cultivating a ground game. The falloff from quicker-hitting Garrison Hearst, who's been hurt, to Terry Kirby is appreciable, even if Kirby had a big game last week. Nose tackle Gilbert Brown is gimpy with a lingering ankle injury, but he's still a dominating force inside.

Edge -- Green Bay

49ers pass offense vs. Packers pass defense

Despite losing Jerry Rice in the opener and having no 1,000-yard receiver, quarterback Steve Young collected his sixth passing title in the last seven years. He is coolly efficient, doesn't take the risks Favre does and can throw deep. One big factor: wide receivers Terrell Owens (6 feet 3) and J.J. Stokes (6-4) have a size advantage over cornerbacks Doug Evans (6-1) and Tyrone Williams (5-11).

Edge -- San Francisco

Special teams

The Packers' big move last week was to have Brooks returning punts and Freeman returning kickoffs. That's an improvement over all the players who tried to replace Desmond Howard this season, albeit a risky one. The 49ers used Woodson on punt returns last week, too. Packers kicker Ryan Longwell has a better leg than Gary Anderson, but is unproven in the postseason.

Edge -- Green Bay

Key matchup

The 49ers allowed 44 sacks in the regular season, and their offensive line will have to contend with defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur's varied blitz package. Shurmur likes to bring blitzes from either corner or from safety LeRoy Butler. How the 49ers react in picking those up determines how well Young will be able to execute the offense. If the 49ers can't run, Young is even more vulnerable.

Edge -- Green Bay

Intangibles

The Packers have the confidence of a Super Bowl champion, and don't mind letting you see it. The 49ers have a proud tradition and something to prove after playoff losses against the Packers each of the past two seasons. Home-field advantage in San Francisco, where the 49ers have lost two NFC championship games this decade, is not as big as in Green Bay.

Edge -- Green Bay

Prediction

The Packers' offense against the 49ers' defense is strength against strength. Barring a monsoon, Green Bay should have the advantage there. Big plays will put the Packers over the top by three.

Edge -- Green Bay

Keys to the game

1. Contain the quarterbacks: Brett Favre is at his best on the move, and Steve Young is the game's premier scrambler. Either one can trash a defense on the run.

2. Run the ball: It's more important for the 49ers to run and slow the pass rush against Young. But the Packers also need to run to be efficient.

3. Blitz: The Packers blitzed heavily in late season; the 49ers, not known for it, beat Denver with an all- out assault. Blitzes will change the game.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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