Niners prepare for a new Packers team
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The San Francisco 49ers can toss their film from the season opener against Green Bay in the trash for as much good as it will do now.
Cedric Benson is gone, and the Packers' running game is now powered by DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant — neither of whom was on the roster Dec. 1, let alone back in September.
Randall Cobb, whose 75-yard punt return gave the Packers a fleeting chance late in the 30-22 victory by San Francisco, is now one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite receivers.
And a defense that may as well have been holding rookie orientation for all its newcomers is now a savvy, stingy bunch of veterans.
“A lot's happened,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We're a different football team. We're a different football team than we were four weeks ago.”
The Packers (12-5) play San Francisco (11-4-1) on Saturday night in an NFC divisional game after beating Minnesota in the wild-card round.
San Francisco has had its share of changes this season, too, the most significant being coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to stick with Colin Kaepernick after Alex Smith recovered from his concussion.
But that's nothing compared with the Packers, who've had so many injuries and lineup changes that defensive coordinator Dom Capers was watching film of the season opener Sunday partly to remind himself of who was — and wasn't — on the field back then.
More than a dozen starters or projected starters have missed a game or more with an injury, including: Charles Woodson, who played Saturday for the first time since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21; Greg Jennings, who missed eight games with a torn muscle in his groin; Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson, who missed four games each with hamstring injuries; and Benson, who played only five games before a season-ending foot injury.
Change has been the only constant on the offensive line the second half of the season, with the Packers on their fifth starting lineup. Same in the secondary, where three players started at right corner over the last seven games.
That kind of upheaval would doom most teams, but the Packers have managed to thrive. Somewhere amidst the chaos, they not only found solutions, they found themselves.
“Everybody starts the season and has an idea and vision of who you want to be,” McCarthy said Sunday. “But the reality of it is, you go through a 16-week season, there's a lot of things happen. There's injuries to different players, players coming in, players going out. I think all those things factor in to who you really are and who you think you are.”
The biggest difference the 49ers will see is in the running game. Green Bay managed a measly 45 yards on the ground in the opener, and Rodgers and Benson were the only two ball carriers. Rodgers, not Benson, led the Packers.
It took the pint-sized Harris to bring Green Bay's offense into balance, a speedy and elusive back whose surprising power gives defenses fits. After cracking the 100-yard mark three times in the first eight games, the Packers have done it in five of the last seven.
Defensively, the Packers may not have as many takeaways as they did last season, but they're far more consistent and aren't likely to get burned by the same thing twice. Or three times in the case of Adrian Peterson. After bulldozing Green Bay for 409 yards in the first two games, Peterson was held to just 99 on Saturday night.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.