The Green Bay Packers are looking to avenge a Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers when they visit Candlestick Park this Saturday for the NFL Divisional Playoff round.
Joe Staley, meanwhile, is also looking for redemption.
San Francisco's Pro Bowl left tackle is eager to face Packers Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the very same player who opened up the 2012 regular season with a 2.5-sack outing against Staley.
The 49ers were victorious 30-22 that day and Staley held up well against the talented pass rusher for much of the game, including successful run blocks throughout an impressive road win. Staley, however, believes it wasn't his best outing. The fifth-year pro wants to fare better when the Pro Bowlers match up in the postseason.
"I'm excited," Staley said on Monday, addressing the media in a knitted sweater adorned with a large red-nosed reindeer.
The left tackle, however, didn't specify his eagerness to play against Green Bay. Instead, Staley singled out the pass rusher he'll be blocking all by himself.
"I'm excited for the opportunity to play against Clay again," Staley said. "I didn't' play terrifically well the first time I played against him, but I'm happy to have the opportunity to go against him again."
Staley battled throughout the season opener, even when his face was bloodied in the first quarter. A new helmet being broken in by the veteran tackle was the cause of the pain. It was pushing down on the bridge of Staley's nose every time he contacted a defender.
Once the cut was there, it remained an issue throughout the game. Staley's white road jersey had become rosy by halftime. In the second half, Matthews managed to record key sacks while Green Bay made its comeback bid.
"After watching the game, there were a lot of technique issues," Staley said, downplaying the injury to the bridge of his nose as a reason for giving up the sacks. "When you're going against a player of that caliber, you have to be on your technique on every single play, every single snap."
Despite a few hiccups in pass protection, Staley and the rest of the 49ers offensive line paved the way for 186 rushing yards against the Packers, the most by the franchise on opening day since 1998.
The toughness shown by Staley that day was certainly appreciated by his offensive teammates. It also spoke volumes about the character of the offensive line's longest tenured starter.
"Bust your nose open like that and have to play against a guy like Clay – that's tough," right guard Alex Boone. "For him to come back and have a great season, be a Pro Bowler, that speaks to his character, his toughness and what he can handle."
It also speaks to the talent on the 49ers offensive line, one that consists of two Pro Bowlers and three Pro Bowl alternates. Altogether, San Francisco rushed for 2,491 yards, fourth in the NFL. as well as posting the fourth-highest total in franchise history.
On top of that, the 49ers averaged 5.1 yards per carry, third-best in the league.
So while Green Bay undoubtedly has an understanding of San Francisco's powerful run game, the Packers still haven't seen its full volume in person.
With Colin Kaepernick under center for the second half of the regular season, the 49ers running attack became even more diverse than the 112-yard outing from Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore back in Week 1.
Now, the 49ers feature multiple running schemes, ones that are equally difficult to defend.
"It's a different scheme, but powers are different than traps," Staley pointed out. "Outside sweeps are different than the power game. It's all relative, a different aspect of what we can do in the run game and I think that's why we've been successful. We can run a lot of different styles of run plays. We don't just come at you with one."
With all those contributors, the 49ers gained 4-or-more yards on 249 of 454 first-down plays (54.8 percent), ranking 1st in the NFL.
Consistent runs on offense also helped the unit rank t-3rd in the NFL with 81 runs of 10 or more yards and t-2nd with 17 runs of 20 or more yards.
"We don't just run power 30 times and hope that one breaks – we can do a lot of different things," Staley said. "I think that's a tribute to our coaches, the athletes in the offensive line room, the fullback, the wide receivers – it's a complete team effort."
That team effort will be needed once more on Saturday against a Packers run defense coming off a less-than-stellar outing against the Minnesota Vikings. Green Bay allowed 167 yards (5.8) yards per carry to Minnesota in a Wild Card Playoff win, including 68 yards (9.7 per carry) to mobile quarterback Joe Webb.
The 49ers, on the other hand, feel good about the running success they've had against the Packers and will look to continue it when the team's meet for the sixth time in the postseason.
San Francisco also knows it has to produce in pass-protection by limiting the production of Matthews and outside linebacker Erik Walden, who combined for 3.0 sacks against the Vikings.
"I think at the end of the day it's all about scoring points and winning games," Staley said.
And the challenge of blocking Matthews?
"I've cleaned that up and I'm a different player now at this point of the season than Week 1," Staley said. "I'm excited to go against him again."