John Clayton's Last Call column broached a unique angle in looking ahead to Saturday night's divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park. Namely: Will the Green Bay Packers have an advantage because their defense is less beat up than the San Francisco 49ers?
As Clayton points out, the Packers set out to expand their defensive rotation this season because they thought their defense was worn down when the 2011 playoffs began. That's part of why they selected six consecutive defensive players at the top of their 2012 draft, and the numbers show they have spread out playing time and reduced the number of high-frequency snap counts as a result.
The chart lists every player who participated in at least 60 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps in 2011 and 2012, in each case including one playoff game. According to numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus, the number dropped from 10 such players last season to seven in 2012.
All told, 21 players played at least 200 defensive snaps this season compared to 16 in 2011. Injuries to cornerback Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews reduced their playing time this season, but regardless of the reason, both entered the playoffs with less wear on their bodies than usual.
The most obvious non-injury reduction in playing time happened with nose tackle B.J. Raji. After playing more than 80 percent of the snaps last season, Raji has been on the field for 59.2 percent this season -- a significant difference of 238 snaps. He missed two games because of an ankle injury, but his snap totals would have been down even if he had played both at his regular rate.
Meanwhile, as Clayton notes, the 49ers have had only 13 players get at least 200 defensive snaps. Seven of them have more than 1,000 snaps and an eighth, defensive lineman Justin Smith, was on pace to do the same before he was sidelined by injury.
The 49ers, of course, were the NFC's second seed and thus had a bye week to rest and recover from the regular season. They should be relatively fresh Saturday. But compared to last season, at least, the Packers will be as well.