NFL Preview - San Francisco (4-7) at Green Bay (7-4)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The last time the San Francisco 49ers departed Lambeau Field victoriously, Joe Montana was still chucking touchdown passes to Jerry Rice and head coach George Seifert was calling the shots in 1990.
Mike Singletary had already established himself as an elite middle linebacker by that time with the Chicago Bears and 20 years later, he's the head coach of one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. Singletary and the 49ers are set to take on the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in Wisconsin with playoff aspirations on the line for both NFC clubs.
San Francisco sports a 4-7 record this season but is still only a game out of first place in the NFC West, in which Seattle and St. Louis are tied for the top spot in the division with identical 5-6 marks. With so much parity in the league these days, the 49ers have a strong chance at making a run for a West title.
"Well, being that that's where we are and we have the opportunity to get, to continue to move forward and win the division, my feelings are very positive," Singletary said on the team's site in reference to his team's current standing.
The former anchor to the 1985 Chicago Bears' Super Bowl-winning defense also added that Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore will not require surgery on the hip injury he suffered in Monday night's 27-6 win in Arizona -- the 49ers' first triumph as the visitor this season (1-4). Gore sustained a fracture to the bone and will miss the rest of the season.
Gore has been an integral part of the San Francisco offense and has recorded 853 rushing yards and three touchdowns this season. Luckily for Singletary, he has veteran backup Brian Westbrook to lean on.
Westbrook has played in all kinds of contests and atmospheres during his career, including several playoff games, Pro Bowls and the Super Bowl. The ex- Philadelphia Eagle is expected to share the load with rookie Anthony Dixon for the remainder of the season with hopes of helping the team to the playoffs. Westbrook, who ranks first on the Eagles' all-time yards from scrimmage list with 9,785 total yards, ran for a season-high 136 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against the Cardinals and said it felt good to get out there again.
Once labeled as one of the most dangerous players in the game before injuries slowed him down the past few years, Westbrook is determined to keep the 49ers on track.
The Niners have won four of six games since opening the 2010 campaign with a horrid 0-5 mark. There's still a lot of work to be done, however, and facing a tough Packers defense on the road will be no walk in the park, and neither will the chilly conditions that are expected for Sunday's contest.
Much like San Francisco, Green Bay is a game out of first place in its respective division and doesn't want to fall behind any further with just a few games remaining in the regular season.
The Packers are 7-4 on the season and sit one game behind the rival Chicago Bears in the NFC North standings. They dropped a tough 20-17 decision in Atlanta last week, when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the team with 51 rushing yards and a score while throwing for 344 yards with a touchdown pass.
Green Bay had a four-game winning streak stopped and proved it's having trouble running the football, as evidenced by Rodgers' rushing total. Top back Brandon Jackson hasn't been much of a factor and the Packers had to mostly rely on their stout defense.
Now Green Bay is back in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, where it owns a 4-1 record as the host this season. Head coach Mike McCarthy knows full well that taking care of business at home can lead to possibly bigger and better things.
"No. 1, you have to win your home games. Everybody knows that, especially this time of year," McCarthy stated. "We feel it is an advantage for us to A: play at home, and B: to play at home this time of year. To be able to play at noon (ct) in front of our crowd, I know everybody is excited to get back home and have that type of environment that we are blessed to have here with our fans. We're looking forward to it."
As usual, wide receiver Greg Jennings has been Rodgers' favorite target all season, though he failed to reach the end zone in Atlanta. Possibly bothered by an injured foot, Jennings was still able to post his third 100-yard receiving game of the season and is on pace for his third straight 1,000-yard campaign.
On the defensive side of the ball, talented young cornerback Tramon Williams earned a long-term contract extension from the Packers this week. The fifth- year pro, an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech in 2006, is fifth on the team in tackles (46) and first in interceptions (4). Having learned under All-Pro cornerback and current teammate Charles Woodson and recently-departed veteran Al Harris, Williams has had no quarrels with throwing his body around. He was playing under a one-year contract after re-signing as a restricted free agent back in June.
Green Bay has a 29-25-1 edge in its all-time regular-season series with San Francisco and has won eight consecutive non-playoff meetings between the clubs, the most recent being a 30-24 ousting at Lambeau Field last year. The 49ers last trumped the Packers in a regular-season contest in 1990, which did take place in Green Bay, and are 0-5 at Lambeau Field since that game.
The franchises also have an extensive postseason history, having met five times in the playoffs between 1995 and 2001. Green Bay won four of those games, with the biggest victory coming in a 23-10 road decision in the 1997 NFC Championship. The Niners' only playoff win over the Packers was a memorable 30-27 home triumph in a 1998 NFC First-Round Playoff, with quarterback Steve Young throwing the deciding touchdown pass to Terrell Owens with just eight seconds remaining.
Including postseason games, Green Bay is 12-1 against San Francisco since the 1990 loss, which includes a 7-0 mark at home.
McCarthy is 2-0 as a head coach against the 49ers, for whom he served as offensive coordinator in 2005, while Singletary lost his only career encounter with both McCarthy and Green Bay.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
San Francisco will get another chance to see whether or not Westbrook's Monday night performance was a fluke after the former Pro Bowl back's career in Philadelphia faded due to concussions. Westbrook (145 rushing yards, 1 TD) used to give the Packers headaches from his days as an Eagle and owns 455 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in his last three tilts against Green Bay. The 49ers are only 17th in the NFL at 110.8 rushing yards per game, while Green Bay is 18th in run defense, allowing 112.5 ypg. Dixon (72 rushing yards, 2 TD) recorded 54 yards and a score on 14 carries against the Cardinals to help fill the void left by Gore as well. The rookie said after Monday's win that he's learned a lot from Westbrook since the two have been together, while Westbrook credited the blocking up front and downfield for his success. Pass catchers such as tight end Vernon Davis and wideout Michael Crabtree will have their hands full with Green Bay's linebackers and defensive backs, most notably Woodson. 49ers quarterback Troy Smith (829 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) has led San Francisco to three wins in four starts in place of the previously- injured Alex Smith.
The Packers will try to shut down a San Francisco running game that received a jolt of confidence with Westbrook taking over for the injured Gore. Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, led by nose tackle B.J. Raji (28 tackles, 3 sacks), will be aiming to bounce back from a rough showing the week before in Atlanta in which Falcons running back Michael Turner pounded the Packers' 18th-rated run defense for 110 yards and a score on 23 carries. In their last four games, the Packers have allowed their opponents to rush for 92.0 yards per game and one rushing touchdown. They have given up just five rushing scores all season, which is tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL. Until Vikings star Adrian Peterson rushed for 131 yards in Week 7, Green Bay's defense hadn't allowed a running back to surpass the century mark for 19 straight games. Peterson and Turner are the only backs to eclipse 100 yards on the Pack since Week 3 of 2009. Westbrook hopes to make it three. Green Bay has been typically known for being a stingy stop unit and ranks No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, allowing the opposition an average of just 15.1 points per game. Green Bay, which leads the NFL with 87 points off of takeaways as well, will unleash sack master Clay Matthews (39 tackles, 12 sacks, 1 INT) on the 49ers, though the outside linebacker had only three stops last week.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Despite having had trouble running the football, the Packers have a deadly offense led by Rodgers (2,945 passing yards, 20 TD, 9 INT). The former Cal standout hasn't thrown an interception in four straight games and has recorded a passer rating of 100 or better for three consecutive weeks. Rodgers has thrown eight touchdown passes in his last three games as well and leads all NFL quarterbacks with 13 rushing scores since 2008. He had a fumble at the goal line against the Falcons, but enters Sunday's game with 147 consecutive passing attempts without an interception, the third-best mark of his career behind former streaks of 159 and 157. His current streak ranks third among active quarterbacks, behind only New England's Tom Brady (199) and Atlanta's Matt Ryan (165). Rodgers is also part of an offense that has compiled touchdowns on 22-of-34 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. The Packers have outscored their opponents 269-166 this season -- the largest point differential in the NFL through Week 12. Jennings (51 receptions, 822 yards, 9 TD) has contributed to those numbers and owns six receiving touchdowns in his last six games for Green Bay's seventh-rated pass attack. The Packers are averaging 24.5 points per game.
San Francisco held the Cardinals to 203 net yards earlier this week, but it may be tough to do that Sunday in Lambeau Field. The crowd will be in full force hoping to distract the opposing players, something Singletary is all too familiar with from his Hall of Fame playing days. The 49ers have a strong run defense, allowing an average of 98.3 yards per game, and are led by linebacker and leading tackler Patrick Willis (96 tackles), who is also tied with defensive end Justin Smith (47 tackles) for the team lead with five sacks. Willis had five stops, including a sack, and a pass defensed against Arizona. Smith, meanwhile, owns three sacks in his last four games and looks to apply the pressure on Rodgers before he picks apart the Niners' secondary. San Francisco is 16th in pass defense, allowing 218.5 yards per game, and has a veteran cornerback in Nate Clements to keep things cool. Clements (57 tackles, sack, 2 INT) has been around for a while and understands how potent Green Bay's offense can be. On the other side, Shawntae Spencer (24 tackles) leads the 49ers with three interceptions. Not that San Francisco has to worry since Green Bay's ground game is weak, but the 49ers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 games.
Rodgers is one of the top five quarterbacks in fantasy football and is aiming for 3,000 yards passing for a third straight season. He will continue his dedication to Jennings this week, while the wideout hopes to get into the end zone after coming up empty in Atlanta. Green Bay's defense is a must-start, especially at home, and kicker Mason Crosby is too.
Westbrook was a hot item on the waiver wire this week after he picked up where Gore left off. Dixon, Davis and Crabtree are usually good choices but won't amount to much on Sunday.
Green Bay will get that sour taste out of its mouth from last week's loss in Atlanta with a convincing win Sunday versus the 49ers. Despite the recent defeat, the Packers defense has been nothing short of formidable and will keep the team within an arm's length of Chicago in the NFC North. The Packers, whose four losses this season have all been by three points, are one of four NFC teams with a 7-4 mark and need this win to stay in playoff contention. A loss in the conference would only hinder the team's chances in tiebreakers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 31, 49ers 13
12/02 18:24:17 ET