Packers vs. 49ers: Saturday Scoop

The 3-0 Green Bay Packers arrived in San Francisco yesterday, a day early, to prepare for their matchup against the 49ers on Sunday.  San Francisco has owned this series over the last four games, including two playoff games, but this one will be different.  

The Packers have dispatched the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs so far.  In beating Seattle, the Packers got a bit of that monkey off their back, after losing three straight.  It was in Green Bay, but a win is still a win.  In beating Kansas City, the Packers got their first franchise win at home against the Chiefs, the team they beat in Super Bowl I.  This season will culminate with the 50th Super Bowl in NFL history so there's a bit of a connection there, if you stretch far enough.  Now for the 49ers.

The Packers had enjoyed the bulk of the success in this matchup, dating back to the late 1980's.  Until the season opener in 2012, the Packers had only lost to the 49ers twice in the last 25 years and one of those losses should have never happened.  The 1998 Wild Card playoff game between these two teams ended in the famous Terrell Owens touchdown catch to give the '9ers the win.  Shortly before, 49ers receiver Jerry Rice clearly fumbled a ball that was recovered by the Packers, but Rice was ruled down by contact and there was no instant replay at that time.  Needless to say, the Packers owned San Francisco for quite some time until recently.  

Over the last three games in this series, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has feasted on the Packers defense, both with his feet and his arm.  Kaepernick isn't a great quarterback.  There's still some questions about whether he's even in the "good" category.  But against the Packers, he has had some of his best games.  Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has now seen Kaepernick three times.  After getting absolutely destroyed on the ground in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs, the Packers came out with a better showing in week one of the 2013 season.  Linebacker Clay Matthews came in with one goal and one job:  hit Kaepernick.  And hit him again, and again, and again.  The 49ers eventually came back to win that game in the fourth quarter, but the Packers took a step forward.  Later that season, the two teams met in the Wild Card playoffs in a frigid Lambeau Field and again, the Packers nearly got the win.  Kaepernick had 98 yards rushing in that one and picked up a dagger first down with his feet, but it was a game the Packers could have won, had Micah Hyde been able to haul in an interception that would have helped the Packers run out the clock.  Like our founder Aaron Nagler has been saying all week, if Capers and the defense can't stop Kaepernick this week, they probably never will.

All of the past demons of Kaepernick should be exorcized in this week's game.  He's still mobile and can move around, but this isn't the Packers defense that features an aging Charles Woodson, Brad Jones and Erik Walden.  In week two, the Packers showed a commitment to stopping the run and kept the mobile Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch in check.  The Packers are younger and faster on the defensive side of the ball and with Matthews roaming the middle of the defense against a less-dominant 49ers offensive line, Kaepernick won't likely be running to daylight.  That likely puts the ball in his hands and relying on Kaep's arm to win this game.  That hasn't proven to be the best strategy over the past two games.  Last week against the Arizona Cardinals, Kaepernick completed just nine passes and had zero touchdowns along with four interceptions.  The Cardinals were in Kaepernick's face all day and forced some really bad decisions and throws.  

The Packers took some chances on defense early against the Chiefs and it paid off.  Quarterback Alex Smith had little time to throw and there wasn't much real estate for him to run to either.  Smith isn't Kaepernick (and that's why he's in Kansas City, incidentally) but the Packers seem more disciplined in closing off running lanes and now allowing long runs.  Green Bay needs to set the tone early that they're bringing it all day and until the 49ers can do anything about it.  

San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis is listed as questionable for this game and that's a big loss for the '9ers.  Davis has been a thorn in the Packers' side and his absence allows the Green Bay defense to focus more on receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.  Boldin is no spring chicken anymore, although he's had his way against the Packers the past few games.  He's savvy and will get open, but will Kaepernick have the time to find him?  Green Bay can easily blanket the 'Quan and should keep him in check in this game.  Smith is still a deep threat and the Packers have to guard against the big play.  That's been their strategy so far this season, to keep plays in front of them.  The Chiefs got a few long catch and runs later in last week's game as the Packers went into their "bend but don't break" defensive scheme, but the game was in hand by that time.  

Still, Kaepernick should be the defense's key.  Cut off the head of the snake and the snake is finished.  

Gut Feeling of the Week

I'm installing this new segment to the Scoop, where I'll talk about an area or the areas of the upcoming game that are likely to contribute to the outcome.  This week, it's not a player, scheme or matchup.  It's an attitude.  This year's Packers team seems very focused and they're playing like it.  With quarterback Aaron Rodgers as ring leader and under the guidance of head coach Mike McCarthy, Green Bay has a strong sense of purpose this year.  It's a "championship or bust" mentality.  After beating the Seahawks the week prior, some were talking about last week's game against the Chiefs as a trap game.  That wasn't the case.  

Rodgers still plays with that chip on his shoulder.  Last week, he shared the field with Smith, who was drafted first-overall by the '9ers in the 2005 draft and added yet another reminder of who the better quarterback is.  This week, Rodgers goes up against the team that drafted Smith ahead of him and not to mention, Rodgers' hometown team growing up.  Throw in that this game in in San Francisco, near where Rodgers grew up and also the site of Super Bowl 50, and it's a recipe for a big day from #12.  

Receiver Davante Adams will likely miss this game but it doesn't seem to matter who's catching passes as long as Rodgers is running the offense.  Jeff Janis may even haul in a ball or two this week.  Crazier things have happened.  Rookie Ty Montgomery scored his first NFL touchdown last week and looks to be getting more comfortable with the offense and with Rodgers.  When Adams returns, the Packers offense is going to be a bigger problem for opposing defenses.  And let's not forget that touchdown machine in James Jones.  Will he make it four games in a row with a scoring catch?

McCarthy has talked about seasons in terms of quarters.  This game marks the end of this season's first quarter and it's a chance for the Packers to emerge 4-0.  And they will.  The short-lived reign of the 49ers over the Packers ends tomorrow.

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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