The grueling season begins Sunday for the San Francisco 49ers and with one of the hardest tests they will have all year. The Green Bay Packers will host the visiting 49ers in Lambeau in a classic duel between offense and defense.
QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were the third best team in total offense last year with 6482 yards. Meanwhile, the 49ers had the 4th best defense overall allowing 4931 yards. While this might be initially read as even contest, it is really a mismatch.
The Packers strength on offense comes from their passing attack which was third overall with 4924 passing yards. The 49ers defense is built to stop the run so that their opponent is forced to become one dimensional. The Packers, however, are one of those teams that rely on the pass much more than their running game.
If the 49ers are to stop this Green Bay offense, they will have to rely heavily on their defensive backs. Pass coverages of 5 or 6 DB’s might be needed frequently stop Rodgers and the passing attack.
Effective coverage, however, might mean nothing without pressure on the QB. Getting pressure is often equated to sacks and turnovers. The 49ers forced 38 turnovers last year which was tied for the most across the NFL. Their pass rush had 42 sacks in 2011 which had them tied with two other teams for 7th overall. Linebacker Aldon Smith was a big reason for that getting 14 sacks in his rookie season last year.
Forcing the Packers to make a mistake will be easier said than done. Aaron Rodgers threw only 6 picks last year while throwing for 45 TDs. Getting him to make a mistake will not be easy. As a team, the Packers committed the 2nd fewest turnovers across the NFL last season with just 14.
The one team who made fewer mistakes? The 49ers. While Alex Smith is criticized for being a game manager while under center, it fit well with that defense and allowed them to win a lot of games. They committed just 10 turnovers in 2011 which is 13 fewer than 2010. While Smith took less chances, his team was better off with less mistakes being made. That could be a plus for this game as the Packers were the team tied with the 49ers for most forced turnovers with 38 last season. They actually led the NFL in Interceptions with 31.
While the offense took less risks last season it might’ve led to fewer rewards. This upcoming season might be different. On a question about being better for third down this year as opposed to last year, Alex Smith said “I think in the end it just comes down to execution. For me, the quarterback, it comes down to being decisive and pulling the trigger. Last year at times there were some opportunities out there and for whatever reason we didn’t get them. Maybe we were unsure or hesitant. As an offense, and myself speaking, I think we’ll be better at pulling the trigger this year, taking our shots that are there. Executing.” (Greg Cohn, Press Democrat)
More confidence in the trigger finger this year might be rooted in their additions to the passing attack. Veterans Randy Moss and Mario Manningham definitely adds depth to WR which was leaning on Michael Crabtree last year along with TE Vernon Davis. It will also be interesting to see how much the team uses rookie WR A.J. Jenkins. He had 8 receptions for 122 yards and a TD in the preseason.
The rushing attack will likely be leaned on again in this game and the whole season. The 49ers were 8th overall in rushing with 2044 yards in 2011. Frank Gore had the bulk of that with 1211 yards but one has to wonder how much longer Frank Gore can go. He’s 29 years young and in his 8th season in the NFL. One has to be concerned with how long those legs of his can keep going.
Kendall Hunter was a fine #2 RB to assist on third down. His carries will likely be lessened over the season with Brandon Jacobs joining the team. As for this Sunday’s game, Jacobs is still ruled as questionable due to a knee injury sustained during the second preseason game vs. the Falcons. If Jacobs can’t play, that would mean some playing time for Hunter and rookie RB LaMichael James.
Packers defenders to worry about are surely NT B.J. Raji and ROLB Clay Matthews. 49ers Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is concerned with both of these players but also with Packers rookie LOLB Nick Perry. Roman spoke of him saying “Nick Perry is an extremely powerful player. He’s just been killing tight ends this preseason. He’s got an incredibly strong lower body. He looks like a defensive end, which he played in college at USC. He’s extremely powerful and sets a mean edge.”
As intimidating as these figures might be, the 49ers could fare well against this defense. The Packers were dead last in the league in total defense last year with 6585 yards allowed. The reason mostly had to with the Packers being dead last in passing yards allowed in 2011 with 4796. If the 49ers can effectively pull the trigger with a better passing attack, then they might play the role of spoiler at Lambeau.
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Written by Daniel Trucios