The 2013 NFL season will kickoff in the Bay Area as the Green Bay Packers travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers in a redo of the 2012 season opener. This is the last season opener at Candlestick Park and there is a lot of excitement about football getting under way once again.
These are two teams that are very likely to be in contention for the NFC Conference Championship. There is a history between these two teams. This game presents a clash of two different style teams. The 49ers are a power football team that relies on their running game and their defense to dictate the outcome of the game. The Packers are a pass first team that relies on the greatness of Aaron Rodgers to allow them to come out on the winning side of shootouts.
Clay Matthews has made some interesting comments about how the Packers will hit Colin Kaepernick. It is no secret that the Packers’ coaching staff will be looking to limit the production of Kaepernick, especially his ability to run the ball. The Matthews comments were not wise as it will now draw a lot of attention to the refs and how they will enforce the defender’s ability to hit the quarterback in the read option. The end result may be some premature roughing the passer calls that will benefit the 49ers.
Aldon Smith vs David Bakhtiari This is a matchup that can really turn the game in the 49ers’ favor. Aldon Smith is arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL. He will be going against a rookie left tackle in Bakhtiari. There have been games such as the Monday Night game last year against the Chicago Bears in which Aldon Smith was simply unstoppable. Look for the stunt by Aldon and Justin Smith to give the rookie all kinds of problems. This match up will also cause the Packers to keep a back in backfield to chip block to help slow down the fierce pass rush.
Aaron Rodgers/Packers Wide Receivers vs Eric Reid/49ers Cornerbacks The Packers are a team that will ride the arm of their talented quarterback. He will look to work the vertical passing game with his downfield receivers: Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Randall Cobb will be the option in the middle of the field and to keep the chains moving. Nnamdi Asomugha will be called upon to play a lot as the 49ers will work their nickel package. He will line up primarily on the right side and will get the chance to play man defense which is his specialty.
Carlos Rogers will bump inside and cover the slot. Vic Fangio has shown that he will send his nickel corner on the blitz in the presesaon and they did so last year in the season opener. Most importantly, Eric Reid will need to stay deepest of the deep to prevent the Packers from making explosive plays. The Packers will try to confuse him and entice him to jump teaser routes underneath so that they can go over top on him.
Vernon Davis/Vance McDonald vs Packers Pass Defense Davis and McDonald will see a lot of time on the field together as the 49ers will continue to use a heavy rotation of 12 personnel formations. Davis is too fast for any of the Packers’ safeties or linebackers. Last year he ran right by A.J. Hawk for a 44 yard reception. Morgan Burnett is questionable in this game and if he can’t play, that will spell even more trouble for the Packers.
McDonald is 6’4″ 267 pounds and will use it all to get a body on whoever is defending him. This will allow him to be able to get positioning in the short passing game. McDonald has already shown that he has the agility to hurdle defenders in the flat. This rookie will have an impact on this game as so much attention is paid to stopping the read option.
Colin Kaepernick vs Packers Defense The threat of Kaepernick running the ball alone will draw so much attention from the Packers defense. Many don’t realize that a lot of his yards are gained by scrambling when the pocket breaks down. He has routinely taken off for big runs on third downs and it deflates defenses.
More importantly, watch how Greg Roman sets up the mid range passing game with play action out of the read option. It will be on Kaepernick to make his reads quickly and throw the ball in tight spots with more touch than force. He will have to fight the adrenaline that can cause him to fire the ball too hard to his receivers. If he can make the right reads, the 49ers’ passing game will benefit from the attention focused on stopping the read option running threat.
Eddie Lacy vs 49ers Front Seven The 49ers’ front seven is the best in the NFL. They are capable of completely smothering the rushing attack of most offenses. Eddie Lacy is a big, power running back and the Packers are hoping that he can provide the aggressive running that is needed to establish balance on offense. They will try to get Lacy going but if it doesn’t work, the question is how long will they commit to running the ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Quinton Patton WR The rookie receiver has flashed in the two preseason games that he played. Casey Heyward will be out of this game and he would have been the best option to defend Patton. Look for him to make plays outside. He has shown the ability to really work corners off of the line and make something happen with the ball after he catches it.
Frank Gore RB The 49ers are almost unbeatable when they are able to get Gore going for 100 yards or more. Look for the 49ers to get him involved early. The trap play that they run can be executed out of the read option and base formations as well.
NaVorro Bowman LB Bowman win need to be able to help out in coverage against Jermichael Finley. He and Patrick Willis will need to cloud the passing lanes for Aaron Rodgers. Both of these players are athletic enough to get back into their drops quickly and make plays against the pass. They will also need to fill the gaps with force against the running game.
Donte Whitner SS Whitner has set the tone in the past. He is a box player that will be required to come up and fill against the run. The Packers have shown that they are confident in their big back Eddie Lacy. Nothing will set the tone more than Whitner coming up and laying a tremendous hit on the rookie running back.
Morgan Burnett did not practice on Friday. He is the Packers’ best safety and is listed as questionable.
Kyle Williams has been named the starter is has gotten the full clearance to play this week.
Jim Harbaugh has sought out clarity of the defense’s ability to hit the quarterback in the read option.
Mike McCarthy is a former offensive coordinator of the 49ers and was a part of the reason why Alex Smith was selected over Aaron Rodgers.
The Farewell Candlestick Series kicks off with a look back at Joe Montana returning from injury against the Cardinals in from surgery in November of 1986.
Here is the injury report for Sunday’s game:
Casey Heyward CB Hamstring (Out)
Morgan Burnett S Hamstring (Questionable)
Brad Jones LB Hamstring (Questionable)
Jarrett Bush CB Ankle (Probable)
LaMichael James RB Knee (Questionable)
Nnamdi Asomugha CB Collarbone (Questionable)