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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. 49ers


Now that the Minnesota Vikings have lost four straight games after getting off to a 6-0 start, the goals for the Green Bay Packers have changed.

The Wild Card remains a possibility, but the more realistic thing would be to just win the NFC North. Since winning the division would feel a whole lot sweeter anyway, you can be sure the Packers feel pretty good about where they're at coming off the win at Tampa Bay.

But as big as that win was, it will be a waste if the Packers can't take care of business at home down the stretch.

Step 1 in that effort is to beat the San Francisco 49ers this weekend.

Like the Packers, the 49ers are 5-5 and are surging a bit having won three of their last four games.

Two of those wins are thanks to backup quarterback Tim Rattay, who is filling in for an injured Jeff Garcia (ankle). Rattay has looked sharp in his starts and has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season for 653 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception.

Whereas Garcia is a run-and-gun style passer, Rattay isn't quite as elusive. Rattay does has a very strong arm however and goes through his progressions extremely well to find the open receiver.

In the Monday night win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the best things Rattay did was to get the ball to wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is one of the best playmakers in football.

Owens is the total package: speed, strength, heart and flamboyance.

He frequently draws comparisons to Minnesota's Randy Moss, but they're different types of receivers. While Moss likes to go downfield and leap for 60-yard passes, Owens will take a 6-yard pass and turn it into 60 yards.

Owens has the strength to break out of any tackle, so it will be of the utmost importance for the Packers to wrap up each time they get the chance to take down T.O.

I think this game is a perfect example of why the Packers traded for cornerback Al Harris in the offseason. When he was with Philadelphia, Harris did a great job neutralizing Owens, whereas former cornerback Tyrone Williams was often overpowered.

Mike McKenzie is a proven cover corner and he and Harris will get physical with Owens and try and frustrate him.

If the Packers can take away Owens as an option, it should help the defensive line find time to get pressure on Rattay.

When the Niners aren't passing the ball with their modified West Coast attack, they're running it with the two-headed monster of Garrison Hearst and Kevin Barlow.

Under first-year head coach Dennis Erickson, the Niners coaches do a great job of rotating those guys in and out.

Fred Beasley is the fullback. He reminds me a lot of William Henderson because he can throw his body around in the running game but he also has great hands to catch passes.

One of San Francisco's best plays is when Beasley leads the way up through the gap and sticks a linebacker to spring Hearst or Barlow.

If the Packers linebackers of Nick Barnett, Na'il Diggs and Hannibal Navies continue to play well and fight off blocks it will go a long way toward shutting down the San Francisco attack.

The defensive line also will be a major factor, because while the Niners' front five are great run blockers, I think they might have trouble dealing with the Packers' power tackles and rush ends in the passing game.

The Packers need to keep an eye out for the play action all day long, because Rattay makes great fakes and then looks for Owens running an out-and-up on the backside.

Shutting down the run is always important in football, but I think that will be especially true for the Packers this week.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers will do their best to establish the run on San Francisco's small, but quick defensive unit.

After his performance at Tampa, Najeh Davenport now gives the Packers a two-headed running attack, along with Ahman Green.

Considering the way they handled the Buccaneers, the Packers should have all the confidence in the world that they can move the ball on anybody.

It could rain Sunday, and if it does the running backs have to hang on to the football so there won't be a replay of the Philadelphia game.

In a way, I want it to be wet, because I want Brett Favre to be able to prove to people that his fumbles against Philly were a fluke.

Over the years the Packers have played in a lot of wet and muddy games with the Niners, including last season. It just wouldn't be right if the jerseys didn't get dirty.

Assuming it's not so wet that the Packers are forced to run it all day, I think you'll see Favre rolling out of the pocket quite a bit as he looks to give Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker some chances to make plays.

Favre needs to be very aware of defensive end Andre Carter, who is a physical specimen capable of taking down a runner or getting to the quarterback on every play.

Considering how well the Packers offensive line has looked this season, Carter hopefully won't be too much of a problem, but one play here or there could be the difference in a touchdown drive or a punt.

In recent weeks the Packers haven't run as many screens as they usually do, so I expect Green will get involved in the passing game a little bit, as will Henderson and the tight ends.

I like the match-up of those guys against the Niners' linebackers.

My favorite set that the Packers run is when they go with the three tight ends in Bubba Franks, Wesley Walls and David Martin, giving them the option to run or pass.

The formation should do wonders against the Niners, who haven't fared as well against offenses with balanced attacks.

Special teams has been a strength for the Packers all season and needs to continue to shine this weekend.

I really thought Davenport and Ferguson gave the kickoff return team an extra spark against Tampa, so I'm excited to see what they can do this week.

The Packers have been solid all season, but they're due for a game-breaking play.

It could come in the form of a punt block this week, because San Francisco's punter could lose his rhythm in the swirling winds of Lambeau Field.

Speaking of Lambeau Field, it's about time the Packers re-established their dominance in that stadium.

When I was a player, I felt like we were up 7-0 on the opponent before the game even started any time we walked out on Lambeau Field. But for whatever reason the Packers haven't been able to make the best out of that home-field advantage.

The good thing is that it only takes one solid victory to turn streaks like that right around.

Looking back over my career, the Packers almost always had the Niners' number in big games, especially at Lambeau Field.

Of course, the Packers traditionally have lost in the Metrodome and Raymond James Stadium, too, but got wins there this season, so nothing in the NFL is guaranteed.

If this Packers team is playoff bound, winning this game would be a great way to demonstrate their post-season intentions.

If the Packers want teams to fear them in Lambeau again, they have to play hard, play well and win. Period.

The rest will take care of itself.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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