Davis on playoffs: 'It's do or die; you get one opportunity'
Vernon Davis has seen his targets drop since the 49ers' quarterback switch, but stepped up in the playoffs last season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
This is the first part in a series that spotlights five 49ers-Packers matchups to watch Saturday, 5 p.m., at Candlestick Park.
49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. Packers DB Charles Woodson
Tale of the tape
Davis (85): 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, seventh season, Maryland
Woodson (21): 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, 15th season, Michigan
Not only did 49ers tight end Vernon Davis have fewer receptions after the quarterback switch to Colin Kaepernick. The ball was in Davis' hands for a lot less time when he did catch it.
As the 49ers return to practice Monday to face the Green Bay Packers in an NFC divisional-round playoff game, one of the major issues facing the team is to solve the riddle of the disappearance of Davis from the passing game.
And things do not figure to be easy Saturday, as the Packers will likely defend Davis with a heavy dose of safety Charles Woodson, an eight-time Pro Bowl player. Woodson returned to action in the Packers' victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round after missing nine games with a broken collarbone.
The Packers will change coverages on Davis, just as they did in the Week 1 game at Lambeau Field, as they like to move Woodson around. But Davis figures to see plenty of the 15-year veteran. Davis caught three passes for 43 yards and one touchdown in the 49ers' 30-22 victory in the season opener. The 49ers ran a pick play near the goal line that freed Davis for a 4-yard touchdown reception -- a play in which Woodson was not in coverage.
A year ago, the 49ers relied on Davis in the playoffs. But he has not been much of a factor with Kaepernick at quarterback. Four of Davis' five regular-season touchdowns came with Alex Smith at quarterback. Kaepernick and Smith both attempted 218 passes this season. Davis had 26 catches for 380 yards with Smith, and 15 catches for 168 yards with Kaepernick.
With Kaepernick, Davis did not get the ball in positions to make yards after the catch, either. According to figures obtained from Pro Football Focus, Davis had 140 yards after the catch on throws from Smith, and just 24 yards after the catch on Kaepernick passes.
It's one of the great mysteries of the 49ers season. How could Davis be the target of just 56 passes the entire season? Davis ranked tied for 29th among NFL tight ends in passes thrown his way.
With 41 catches on the season, it was Davis' lowest output since 2008 when then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz kept Davis in to block on a lot of passing downs. But Davis, who recently talked about a lack of chemistry with Kaepernick, says he is not frustrated.
"I look at the season as one of the best because we're winning, just like last year," Davis said recently. "I look at last year as one of my best seasons, even though my stats weren't close to what they were in the past when I was a starter in the Pro Bowl.
"But I still look at it as one of my best seasons, because at the end of the day, it's all about contributing and doing whatever I can to help my team win. I think my time will come when I'm getting eight or nine balls a game, but right now it's one of my best seasons."
Davis exploded in the playoffs a year ago with 10 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns in games against New Orleans and the New York Giants. Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers told reporters on Sunday that his unit has to be prepared for everything from the 49ers. History suggests that Davis is capable of putting up big numbers.
"They do a nice job of mixing the play-action pass in there," Capers said. "When you have multiple tight ends and guys with the speed of Davis, he's like a wide receiver in a tight end's body."