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49ers-Packers matchup of the day: Friday

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

Here’s a look at a key matchup heading into the Week 13 game between the Packers and 49ers at Lambeau Field.

Packers RBs Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and Dimitri Nance vs. 49ers run defense

After an obviously weak effort last Sunday in the loss to Atlanta, Green Bay’s ground game is feeling the heat heading into the Niners game. RB Brandon Jackson, FB John Kuhn and undrafted rookie Dimitri Nance (questionable with a concussion) have been serviceable much of the season in place of the injured Ryan Grant. But after failing so miserably in short-yardage situations against Atlanta — including twice within a few Dan Arkush whiskers of the goal line — head coach Mike McCarthy in effect eliminated the running game from Green Bay’s offensive repertoire in the second half, preferring to operate much of the time out of the shotgun and in empty-backfield formations.

But with cold weather coming into play at Lambeau Field, look for the Packers' running backs to get a lot more usage Sunday, even though the Niners’ defense is much better against the run than the pass. While it’s true Jackson & Co. need to hit the holes with greater zest this week, they also need more help from Green Bay’s blockers, who didn’t stay low enough last week to create adequate surge.

The key run defenders for San Francisco are ILB Patrick Willis and relentless DRT Justin Smith. Willis, who led the league in tackles two of his first three seasons and is widely considered the league’s best inside linebacker, runs like the wind, makes plays from sideline to sideline and is as sure a tackler as there is in the game. Smith is just a relentless bulldog with great upper-body strength. Willis leads the Niners in tackles with 96, and Smith leads Niners D-linemen in tackles and is fifth on the team with 47.

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