This is the second part in a series that spotlights five 49ers-Packers matchups to watch Saturday, 5 p.m., at Candlestick Park.
49ers OLB Ahmad Brooks vs. Packers RT Don Barclay
Tale of the tape
Brooks (55): 6-foot-3, 259 pounds, seventh season, Virginia
Barclay (67): 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, rookie, West Virginia
The right side of the 49ers defense is where most eyes will be focused Saturday night.
After all, right defensive tackle Justin Smith will attempt to return to action after sustaining a partially torn triceps tendon nearly four weeks earlier against the New England Patriots.
And right outside linebacker Aldon Smith figures to receive a lot of attention, too. Aldon Smith finished second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks. He had a couple of first-half hits on the Patriots' Tom Brady on Dec. 16, but his quarterback pressures all but disappeared when Justin Smith left the lineup early in the third quarter of that game. Justin Smith missed the final 2 1/2 games of the regular season. And Aldon Smith did not increase his sack total over those three games.
The 49ers must find a way to apply pressure on the NFL's top quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, on Saturday or it could be a long evening for the team that enters the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
And, perhaps, the 49ers' best hope is on the other side, where left outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks will be up against a bit of an unknown.
On Monday, Brooks was asked if the Packers are giving their right tackle a lot of help in pass protection.
"Bulaga?" Brooks asked.
No, Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season in Game 9 with a hip injury. First, the Packers turned to T.J. Lang, but when he struggled and was injured, undrafted rookie Don Barclay was inserted into the lineup. And Barclay has played well enough to remain the Packers' starter at right tackle.
"Barclay? What number is he?" Brooks said.
Barclay is No. 67, and the Minnesota Vikings certainly had his number in the regular-season finale when defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen both had their way against the undrafted rookie from West Virginia. After playing left tackle out of a two-point stance in college, he was projected as a guard, right tackle or even a center in the NFL. He is not physically imposing, but even as a rookie he has earned a reputation as a battler.
"He tries to be physical but not a real explosive guy," an NFC scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week. "(He) doesn't have a lot of strength and doesn't create a lot of movement, but he will fight and tries to get position. (He's a) little bit mechanical as a mover. Needs to work on his punch. Doesn't bend all that great. He will struggle some against speed to power (rushers). He'll give ground. And he will struggle against better edge rushers."
Packers used a back or tight end to help him out on Saturday night in their NFC wild-card round victory over the Vikings. And Barclay also performed well on the occasions when he was solely responsible for protecting Rodgers' front side. In all, it was a much-better showing against the Vikings than one week earlier. Brooks said he expects to see a lot of double-teams.
"I think every team we play against is giving the right tackle a lot of help," Brooks said. "I don't get a lot of one-on-ones."
Brooks had a fine season in his second year as a starter. He had 13.5 tackles for loss along with 6.5 sacks and 34 hits on the quarterback, which ranked fourth on the team.
In 2010, Brooks made his first career start, and it came against the Packers. He sacked Rodgers twice that day.
There should be opportunities on Saturday to get to Rodgers, too. The Packers will put multiple wide receivers on the field, and Rodgers likes to get the ball down the field. As a result, he was sacked a league-high 51 times in the regular season.