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Packers vs. 49ers: Five Questions to Ponder Before Week 1

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Packers vs. 49ers: Five Questions to Ponder Before Week 1

The Green Bay Packers open the 2013 regular season with a trip to San Francisco to take on the defending NFC champion 49ers.

As you'll likely recall, the 49ers used the Packers as a jumping off point for their Super Bowl run during the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs last January. Eight months later, the two will again lock horns in the same stadium that witnessed San Francisco beat Green Bay, 45-31.

Here's five important questions that the Packers need to answer during Sunday's rematch:

Are the Packers Better Prepared to Contain the Read Option?

There's really no excuse for Dom Capers' unit not to be. The defensive staff took a back-to-school journey this offseason, traveling to Texas A&M to meet with Kevin Sumlin and inviting a number of other college coaches, including new Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, to Green Bay to help solve the read-option riddle. Schematically, there should be no surprises. The Packers have also spent portions of every practice since OTAs working on the look, so being underprepared shouldn't be the issue it was in the Divisional round. Capers' game plan would appear to ask the Packers to hit quarterback Colin Kaepernick as often as possible, but we'll see how often that happens if Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter start gashing the defense on the dive. Hitting the quarterback isn't a sure-fire answer. The 49ers are going to get some plays out of the read option Sunday, but it's Green Bay's job to ensure that Kaepernick and Co. do not come anywhere close to the 176 yards and a touchdown they totaled using the look last January.


Can the Two Young Tackles Handle the 49ers Pass Rush?

If stopping the read option is focal point No. 1 on defense, protecting Aaron Rodgers with tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay tops the offensive list. Bakhtiari, a 21-year-old rookie who will be making his first start, couldn't ask for a tougher test in his NFL inauguration. He'll be facing the length and flexibility of Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks in 2012) and the strength and power of Justin Smith for most of Sunday. The two pass rushers are also among the best in the game at combination stunting, which will stress communication and cohesion with left guard Josh Sitton. Any confusion will mean easy sacks and pressures. Having a Pro Bowler next to him will help, especially on the stunts, but the overall performance of Bakhtiari will go a long ways in deciding who wins Sunday. Barclay, a former undrafted free agent, at least has experience in this environment. He was predictably up-and-down against the 49ers in January (seven pressures allowed), even when the Packers gave him help. Green Bay can adjust on the fly if one of the tackles is having trouble; if both are Sunday, game over.


Is Eddie Lacy Going to Be an Immediate Factor?

The Packers preached all offseason that the running game was going to be improved in 2013. The losses of DuJuan Harris (knee, IR) and Bryan Bulaga (ACL, IR) were uppercut punches to that plan, but second-round rookie Eddie Lacy was always going to be the harbinger of any real improvement. Vision, power, patience; Lacy is the real deal and the most talented runner of the football in Green Bay since probably Ahman Green. But Lacy can only do so much on his own. The offensive line has to win battles up front. With inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman healthy, few would be surprised if the Packers ran 15 times against the 49ers and picked up south of 50 yards. But Green Bay did rush for 104 yards in January, and Lacy looked promising when playing behind the first-team offensive line during the preseason. There's a glimmer of hope. At the very least, Lacy's presence should force the 49ers to be more honest about defending Green Bay's running game than in past meetings.


How Do the Packers Handle Vernon Davis?

The 49ers might come into Week 1 with the poorest quartet of receivers in the NFL. Veteran Anquan Boldin can still win with smarts and toughness, but behind him, Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton have a combined 47 catches in the NFL. That reality will force the 49ers to lean more on tight end Vernon Davis, who slowly built an impressive chemistry with Kaepernick during San Francisco's postseason run. After catching just one pass for 44 yards against the Packers, Davis exploded for 11 catches and 210 yards in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl combined. The 49ers have given Davis a crash course in playing receiver this offseason, and it should be expected that the fast and powerful tight end will line up in the slot and outside on a percentage of snaps Sunday. Boldin catching seven or eight passes wouldn't doom the Packers, but Davis getting that kind of workload could be big trouble. Without Davis providing the big plays, it's difficult to envision how the 49ers will hurt the Packers vertically in the passing game.


Will the Packers Win Third Downs? 

Playing the read option more effectively has been an obvious teaching point for the Packers defense since January. But equally important for Sunday is how Green Bay defends Kaepernick and the 49ers offense on third downs, a situation in which San Francisco owned the Packers in the Divisional round. While 99 of Kaepernick's 181 rushing yards came off the read option, another 53 was surrendered when the 49ers quarterback scrambled on third downs. Overall, his scrambles accounted for 75 yards and a touchdown—nearly equal to his contributions using the read option. The 49ers ended the night 8-of-13 on third downs, with five of their seven scoring drives including a third-down conversion. In fact, San Francisco's first two touchdowns (Kaepernick 20-yard run, Michael Crabtree 12-yard reception) came on third-down plays. Not having Crabtree in the lineup is a big deal for the 49ers, as he was the offense's go-to receiver on the critical down. But keeping Kaepernick in the pocket—regardless of down—is just as paramount if the Packers plan on leaving San Francisco with a Week 1 win.

Prediction: San Francisco 27, Green Bay 23

Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (49) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Good article Zach.

I would agree with those points. I do question though how much they will actually use the read option, and I also wonder how many new 'wrinkles' they are going to add to it.
For example running the read option and as soon as the defense comes up Kaepernick drops back and try's to throw one deep.

For me the keys to the game are...

Stopping the run
Running the ball
Creating Pressure and not allowing Kaepernick to run wild

L's picture

...and protecting Rodgers!

antonio's picture

Sorry for saying that but it's going to be 49ers 45 - Packers 10. We're gonna get crushed...

Evan's picture

We very well might lose, but it won't be by 30+ points.

Cow42's picture

Not so sure.

49er fan's picture

Rodgers is a great quarterback and the whole Green Bay team played their hearts out. I have a feeling the two will meet again this year.

Wisconsinexile's picture

Let's just let the Packers play the game first, shall we? Thankfully "fan" votes don't determine wins and losses.

zub's picture

Packers are a young team with many new faces in key positions. Pack will start off the season slow before they come together as a team. I believe it will be a strong possibility they start the season 0-3, which is not the end of the world, as long as they are firing on all cylinders in December

Ron Fourett's picture

I have the 9ers up by 21 at half and the Packers reeling. Why? Dumb Capers defensive scheme that only he understands. You play man coverage with the worst dbacks in football? It takes skill. speed and talent to play cover and none of our backs have that. Sorry but it will be a passing and run frenzy for the 9ers.
The other bad news, all the other teams we play will learn a great deal from this game.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Packers have the worst DB's in football? Wow, when did that happen? I didn't realize that Sam Shields was slow. He only ran a 4.3 40. I guess that's to slow to play CB?

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

to paraphrase the Joker: "this (comment) needs an enema!"

worst dbacks in football? lay off the bath salts dude.

i seem to be the only one with a positive outlook about this season - so be it. the difference in this game won't be about the dbacks, or even LB's, in my opinion. it will be about big ol' Jolly and big ol' Jones. two extremely large, extremely athletic defensive players we didn't have on the roster last year.

guys, remember, we are Packer fans. just because we're optimistic one day doesn't mean we have to be screaming for the coach's head the next -- this isn't NY, or Chicago.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I'm right there with you Josh...

I love it when people look at how badly the team looked in preseason and judge the season on that. Even though a majority of those players are no longer on the team...

Cow42's picture

I look at playoff debacles.

Derek in CO's picture

Question #2 is my biggest concern, our young OTs against their OLBs/DEs. If we can handle them and protect AROD, we can win.

L's picture


Bearmeat's picture

I've been thinking the same thing for awhile.

The 9ers have no vertical threat outside the numbers, and GB has been prepping for Kaep's running ability. So I'd bet we see a heavy dose of Gore's power running.

I think GB's run D is going to be VERY good this year - starting Sunday. Which means that if the young OT's can keep the 9ers passrush at bay, GB will have a good chance to win.

49er fan's picture

Your right, 49er's run game was stopped cold and the read option was a non-factor. It was Kap's arm that did all the damage. In the end, Boldin was the difference.

MarkinMadison's picture

I'm thinking this will be a low scoring game. The Packers will try to take pressure off of the young tackles by committing to the running game as much as they can. The 49ers passing offense can be neutralized by assigning a safety over the top of whichever corner Vernon Davis lines up against. The D will then have to do its job by stopping the 49ers running game and controlling 3rd down. My guess, 49ers 17-14.

steven's picture

Am I the only one that finds it funny that last year people were arguing about Rodgers being a system WB and now were freaking out about a back up. Hey if its the system shouldn't our back ups all throw up decent stats? Lol

Tarynfor12's picture

Its all about the run...

Wisconsinexile's picture

I get the feeling that Hyde will be either the hero or goat. Sure hope it's the former, but given that this is his first NFL game, it could well be the latter. Looking forward to the game!

themasterfake's picture

you can't be a goat in your first NFL game

packsmack25's picture

Packers roll. You guys are nuts.

hayward4president's picture

I'm with ya man. Everyone wants to talk about the qb they have. What about ol #12 ? You know the best qb in the NFL? Cobb and Finley crush with the addition of Ed in the backfield who has to be constantly accounted for. Pack by 10.

Cow42's picture

"OL #12". Is gonna have a hell of a time getting anything done while on his back.

hayward4president's picture

Baltimore has an amazing couple of pass rushers and the Broncos have a soso offensive line and Manning had a decent game last nite. Quick passes will be the key.

hayward4president's picture

If we gameplanned and practiced for this read option and Kaep bs as long as we have and come out n get romped I am going to be very disappointed in Dom Capers.

Idiot Fan's picture

I'm sure Harbaugh has some new wrinkles since our playoff game, so I hope that even in preparing for the read option we're still not one step behind.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I think that is the whole reason why they are putting Neal at OLB. It adds more beef to stop the run. Also it moves Mathews around and will allow him to spy/attack more.
I think if they can move Mathews around and allow him to attack from different spots will cause more confusion and will allow other guys to get more pressure.

Idiot Fan's picture

Doesn't it seem like Kaepernick could run by Neal out in the open fairly easily? I'm having a hard time imagining how this works.

Evan's picture

Yeah, it's not about having Neal one-on-one on Kap in the open field. To my limited understanding, the Neal move is about having two stout OLBs on each end (Neal and Perry) who can keep contain while Matthews is freed up to spy Kap and attack from all over the field.

RC Packer Fan's picture

That is my thinking of what they want to do. Have more stout players upfront, basically bottlenecking Kaepernick and allow Mathews to go in for the kill...

Idiot Fan's picture

Hopefully Finley will present as much of a match-up problem for them as Davis is for us.

RC Packer Fan's picture

One of the biggest keys for Finley's success I believe will be the success of the running game. If they get the running game going it will open up the middle of the field more for Finley to work.

C's picture

Biggest change I'm looking for over the prior game is less man coverage and more disciplined quarters/thirds zone coverage with the flexibility to send Hyde in nickel or McMillen in dime. You can't have your back 7 running in man coverage with their backs turned. Disciplined zone coverage, option to zone blitz. 11 sets of eyes on the QB.

Zach Kruse's picture

Really smart comment, C. I agree. Seeing the backs of DB's jerseys is just an open invitation for Kaepernick to take off.

packeraaron's picture

Perfectly stated C.

Cow42's picture

Zone... Great...

We'll get to see d-backs staring at eachother with confused looks on their faces. Always love that.

The TKstinator's picture

Don't play zone.

Don't play man.

Why even show up? Just forfeit.

I bet you're a whole lot of fun to watch a game with.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree C. Only problem is if the QB is on, he will shred the zone D with his arm.
That's where the pass rush will be crucial. Not necessarily sacking him every time, just creating the pressure so he feels uncomfortable where he can sit and find those holes.
And also that is where I think Neal will be key. The OLB's need to keep their spacing so that it doesn't open up running lanes for him to take off.
I think you will see a lot of changes on D this weekend.

Fish . Crane's picture

square up- outside contain - stay in your lanes.-- ain't going to be no 579

Cow42's picture


Bearmeat's picture

Who's Kap gonna throw to outside of Davis Cow? Boldin might convert 3rd downs, but he's no burner.

Basically, we cover 1 guy down the Seam (Davis) and 1 running 10 yards and in routes (Boldin) and we're set.

49er fan's picture

QB was on

al's picture

that's why they play the game we will see sunday for sure !!!!!!!!!!!

Fish . Crane's picture

Lacy is the difference.

themasterfake's picture

I just have one question to Ponder before week one:

How many of Greg Jenning's errors have you taken credit for this preseason?

hayward4president's picture

Perry n JJolly will be the difference.

Bob's picture

GB 27 SF 17 and Kaepernick gets hurt late!! Bengals over Bears!

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