By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are five keys for Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers:
>>Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers must maintain his red-hot passing hand against the 49ers’ outstanding defense. Rodgers has seemingly taken his already exceptional game to a whole new level. In the past four weeks, he has thrown 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also is taking full advantage of his many talented targets, setting a postseason record against Minnesota last week with completions to 10 different receivers.
>>The 49ers have to find success in their passing game against the Packers’ tight pass coverage. The Packers’ did a superb job against the pass in their wild-card victory against the Vikings. But they figure to face a much greater challenge against Michael Crabtree, who has done a good job of consistently getting open and being the most reliable option for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Niners also will look to utilize their speedy and athletic tight ends, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, on deeper routes. But Green Bay will look to shut them down with Charles Woodson, who returned to action last week from a broken collarbone.
>>The Packers’ offensive tackles need to hold up against the 49ers’ pass-rushing terrors. This won’t be easy, because Green Bay’s tackles have not played well. The Packers will likely have issues in pass-protection when trying to block any of the Niners’ pass-rushers one-and-one. But that’s inevitable with the scary trio of Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and Aldon Smith.
>>San Francisco has to establish a dominant running game that controls the tempo and helps keep Rodgers and the rest of the Packers’ passing game off the field. Frank Gore and the big, physical 49ers offensive line should be able to find success against the Packers’ defense, which struggles against the run. Gore began the season by running for 112 yards against Green Bay. And Gore isn’t San Francisco’s only rushing threat. The 49ers have an excellent change-up in LaMichael James, who is extremely explosive.
>>Packers linebacker Clay Matthews must put some consistent heat on Kaepernick. Matthews had two sacks against the Vikings and two-and-half when the Packers faced the Niners in the regular season. But he will have an enormous challenge trying to get past Joe Staley, one of the very best offensive tackles in the league.
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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