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Secondary Set to Host Green Bay

Posted Jan 7, 2013

Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s air-it-out offense are coming to Candlestick.

As they prepare for the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs after last week’s bye, the 49ers are a battle-tested group who have fared well against the NFL’s elite quarterbacks this season.

Cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers along with safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner have started together for each of the past 30 games including the playoffs, giving them the confidence to corral such a vaunted offense. In the 30-22 Week 1 49ers win at Lambeau Field, Rodgers went 30 of 44 for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“It’s definitely going to be a fast-paced game,” Brown said. “A lot of running, a lot of balls in the air. But it’s the type of game that we’re looking forward to.”

As a 15-year NFL veteran at quarterback, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has seen his fair share of signal-callers throughout the decades. In Harbaugh’s estimation, Rodgers is up there with the best of them.

This season, Rodgers finished as the league’s top-rated passer (108.0) after completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“That competition is as good as it gets in the National Football League – their quarterback, their receivers,” Harbaugh said. "Big task and one we look forward to.”

One player on the 49ers defense who figures to get more playing time than usual is fourth cornerback Perrish Cox, as the Packers often use four-wide receiver sets.

Wideouts Randall Cobb (954), James Jones (784), Jordy Nelson (745) and tight end Jermichael Finley (667) have all played big roles in the offense while wideout Greg Jennings, who has battled injuries throughout the year, is healthy after posting 366 yards in eight regular season contests. Nelson limped off the field late in last week’s win against Minnesota, but is expected to play despite suffering knee issues lately.

Facing such a pass-heavy offense in Week 1, the 49ers went to their dime package with six defensive backs often, bringing Cox out on to the field as a slot cornerback.

“Week 1, that’s the most I played all season in one game,” Cox said. “I’m always prepared for the game and to get in. I don’t know when my name is going to get called, but I’ll be prepared for anything. It gets tough to play in that slot because there’s so much field to work with and sometimes they run receivers out of the backfield. It’s tough but I’m ready for it.”

Both Brown and Cox also noted Rodgers’ ability to extend plays with his feet, meaning they might have to stick on their opponent a bit longer than usual. In fact, Cox called Rodgers’ mobility “the hardest thing” about defending the Packers offense.

“He gets out of a lot of situations scrambling and he’s always looking downfield to throw the ball,” Brown added. “So you always have to be plastered on your guy. … The thing that he does so well is that he keeps his eyes downfield the whole time. He’s always looking for the big play and he’s always looking to capitalize on guys’ mistakes or errors.”

While Rodgers ranks among the league leaders in several notable quarterback categories, he was also sacked 51 times in the regular season, more than any other signal-caller in the NFL. That could bode well for a 49ers defense that features Pro Bowler Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks in the regular season, including one of Rodgers in the opener.

Looking ahead to the 5 p.m. Saturday matchup, Brown said pocket pressure will be a key for the San Francisco defense. From the comments of 49ers players and coaches, it appears the team will also receive a boost from All-Pro Justin Smith, who could return to game action for the first time since injuring his triceps in Week 15 at New England.

“I think the challenge is just to try and get to the quarterback,” Brown said. “And making sure everybody is on the same page, every down and every play.”

Aldon Smith has garnered much of the national spotlight for his abilities to take down the quarterback, and deservedly so, but fellow outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has also quietly become one of the game’s best at his position. Brooks, who also recorded sacks on Rodgers in Week 1, said he expects to receive his usual dose of double teams on Saturday.

“I think every team we play is giving the right tackle a lot of help,” Brooks said. “I don’t get a lot of one-on-ones.”

Since the Harbaugh era started, the 49ers have shown a knack for showing up on the biggest stages. This season included big road wins at Green Bay, New England and New Orleans while the 49ers also claimed hard-fought home victories against teams like Seattle and Chicago.

So as the 49ers prepare for Saturday’s postseason showdown, Brown doesn’t anticipate anyone in the locker room feeling butterflies.

“The team definitely looks forward to big challenges,” Brown said. “We love playing these big games, because we know big-time players make big plays in big games. We look forward to that. We relish the opportunity and the coaches are ready as well.”

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