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Grant Cohn: Packers have a painful plan for 49ers, but a solution is in the strategy

  • Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews hits Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb after throwing a pass during an NFL wild card playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Jim Harbaugh has to understand Clay Matthews isn't bluffing.

Matthews wants to take out Colin Kaepernick. Every Packer does. Matthews said so. If the 49ers run the read-option, the Packers will try to hurt Kaepernick.

They'd be nuts not to. It's legal. It's smart. Knocking him out is the Packers' best chance to win, and the read-option play is the best opportunity to knock him out. On a read-option, the offense leaves one pass rusher unblocked. The read-option is supposed to trick the rusher, he doesn't know if the quarterback or the running back has the ball.

But the Packers' rushers may not care who has the ball. They may just take out Kaepernick while he's handing off on the option-read, while he's still pretending to be a runner. Sure, Frank Gore may take the ball and gain 15 yards. But if Kaepernick goes down, the game would be over. Colt McCoy cannot beat the Packers. Sorry, Colt.

The 49ers should not run any read-option plays against the Packers. There is no reason to expose Kaepernick to unnecessary bodily harm. He can put up 30 points against the Packers' defense as a traditional drop-back quarterback. The 49ers scored 30 points last year in Green Bay with Alex Smith at quarterback.

If the 49ers fall behind on Sunday, maybe they can use the read-option in the red zone. That's the only time. They're subpar in the red zone, so the read-option may be their best option down there. They could use it in the red zone because if the Packers focus on Kaepernick, Gore could burn them for a touchdown up the middle.

But is it worth the risk to run the read-option at all? The Niners have no chance of making the playoffs without Kaepernick.

So, let's assume the 49ers protect Kaepernick, and he barely uses the read-option, and he doesn't get knocked out of the game. Can they still possibly lose?

Yes.

When the 49ers lose, they get bullied. Offenses run the ball right into Justin Smith and Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. These runs usually aren't big-gainers – the 49ers' front-seven is excellent – but the commitment to a balanced offense is key.


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