1. How are the Smiths? Two Smiths are important to the 49ers’ defense.
Justin Smith is a disruptive force of energy and strength. He is going to play Saturday night with a brace to protect his torn triceps muscle.
Smith brings it every play in stopping the run and harassing quarterbacks.
Will he be his powerful self with that bulky brace?
The other key Smith is Aldon. As an outside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense, Aldon Smith can bring the heat on Aaron Rodgers.
However, Aldon seemed to wear down as the season went on as the 49ers played him more than twice as many snaps as last season. The bye and the return of Justin should help. The 49ers need both Smiths to play well to move on to the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row.
2. Is DuJuan Harris this season’s James Starks? In January 2011 the Green Bay Packers turned loose the oft-injured James Starks on the playoff field. While Mr. Starks was not a superstar, he did turn in a 100-yard game against Philadelphia and a workman-like effort in keeping defenses honest on the Packers’ road to another Super Bowl victory.
Mr. Harris’ improbably story has already been told ad nauseam. On the field he has produced: 4.6 yards per carry on the ground to go along with efficient pass catching. If he can keep this up against San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers will add to his incredible post season numbers (16TDs, 4 INTs, 105.5 rating) and the Packers could win.
3. Colin Kaepernick. Mr. Kaepernick has been impressive in his second year. He has been accurate (62.4 percent) while protecting the football (10 TDs, 3 INTs) since taking over for Alex Smith in week 10. Coach Harbaugh realized Smith could only take them so far and made the switch to make and win a Super Bowl.
Now we will see how Mr. Kaepernick holds up in a big spot. Aaron Rodgers was outstanding in his playoff debut against the Arizona Cardinals in January 2010. Can Colin do the same? With an outstanding running game and defense to back him up, Kaepernick can probably just be his efficient self and lead San Francisco to victory.
4. Frank Gore. Age 29 is when most NFL running backs start to break down and slow down. Obviously Mr. Gore did not get the memo (1,211 yards, 8 TDs, 4.3 YPC). Gore blasted through a supposedly rebuilt Packers' defense in their Week 1 matchup.
The Green Bay run defense was really gashed at times during the regular season and finished ranked 17th against the run. And 25 to 30 carries by Gore should be just what the 49ers need to win Saturday night.
5. Aaron Rodgers’ emotions. For the first time Rodgers will be stepping onto his boyhood field of dreams, Candlestick Park.
As a kid in Northern California, Rodgers dreamed of being Joe Montana or Steve Young. Rodgers has always played under control emotionally while fueling his game with slights…even the most minuscule.
Now he comes face to face with the ultimately slight. His boyhood team passed on him for the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Will he play under control and make the 49ers pay for 2005?