Entering the 2012 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers have a challenging schedule and it starts on opening day. The 49ers will go on the road to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 for what should be a dynamite showdown. In 2011, San Francisco showed that they can defeat some of the most explosive offenses in this league, beating the Lions, Giants, Eagles and Saints.
With an elite defense and an improving complementary offense, the 49ers can begin this season 1-0.
The Niners will want to limit what the Packers do on both sides of the football, which is (1) pass the ball exceptionally well on offense and (2) create takeaway opportunities with pressure. In this Week 1 match-up, San Francisco should be looking scheme similarly to the New Orleans game plan.
Green Bay is at home and they will be coming out fast, so San Francisco needs to silence crowd early.
Alex Smith needs to let his playmakers win this one and simply focus on getting the ball out. If Smith tries to do too much, it could be a long day for the 49ers offense. If he plays his brand of football, he can defeat the Packers defense by executing good play-calling and putting his playmakers in a position to achieve yards after catch.
Smith has the playmakers around him where this does not have to be a shootout between him and Rodgers. The front office provided Smith with the weapons to beat high-scoring teams, but not drastically changing the way he plays the game. Randy Moss, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and Frank Gore are all guys that can make plays with the football.
Moving forward, something else that has worked to the Niners' advantage has been their gaudy turnover ratio. In this game, not only Smith, but the wide receivers and running backs need to continue to protect the football. The Packers defensemen will be looking to strip the ball and jump routes, so fundamentals will be key. The Packers will look to capitalize on any dropped balls, tipped passes or unsecured footballs.
San Francisco will also need a big day from both tackles in containing the outside rush. Green Bay likes to send pressure from the outside in order to create chaos and discomfort in the pocket. Joining Clay Matthews as an outside rusher is Packers first round selection, Nick Perry of USC. Anthony Davis and Joey Staley must consistently play fast off the ball and get hands on these linebackers.
But beware, Desmond Bishop or a free roaming safety could always fire up the middle so the interior lineman and backs must be on high alert.
Alex Smith also must be aware during pre-snap by identifying the blitz when defensive coordinator Dom Capers decides to get tricky and send extra pressure. Smith and the offensive line will need to keep tabs on cornerback Charles Woodson. It would also be wise for the 49ers to get a helmet on Matthews on virtually every down, whether it be a running back or full back.
The 49ers also have an opportunity to gouge this defense with their revamped run game, now featuring a collection of explosive players. San Francisco can control the tempo and keep Rodgers off the field but methodically moving the football with a stable of rushers with different styles.
- Win time of possession
- Score touchdowns in the red zone instead of settling for field goals
- Win turnover ratio
- Scheme mismatches, create open field with Randy Moss and Vernon Davis
We know a good amount about the Packers offense as it is one of the most prolific in football, quarterbacked by the best passer in the game today. Green Bay does not run a lot and they like to throw out of multi-WR shotgun formations, pushing the ball downfield.
Rodgers is great in the face of pressure, so like they did against the Saints, the 49ers should primarily only rush four. Another attribute of Rodgers is that he can throw the ball downfield on the run, so just getting him out of the pocket won't be enough. Rodgers is a very athletic and mobile passer, so it would be wise for NaVorro Bowman to stay home and play more underneath coverage, similar to the game against Philadelphia.
And it should go without saying, but the 49ers need to have that same focus of taking the football away and maintaining a strong red zone defense.
Patrick Willis will have an enormous challenge in front of him with tight end Jermichael Finley. Willis often shoulders coverage responsibilities for the primary tight end, and Finley is a good one -- and a preferred target of Rodgers.
It will also be essential -- throughout the game's entirety -- to create opportunities for Aldon Smith to rush the passer. Smith's speed, reach and explosion off the snap will be key because it will truly limit the time Rodgers has in the pocket. By setting up defenders and allowing him to stunt inside, Smith's proved to be very successful at getting to the quarterback.
Additionally, the secondary will need to win their individual battles and challenge the Packers wide receivers at line of scrimmage. By utilizing press man-to-man coverage, occupying receivers within the legal 5-yards will buy time for the defense to attack Rodgers. That coverage technique could result in valuable seconds for the 49ers defensive front.
This is also the first chance to see San Francisco's corner depth, likely coming out of the dime often against Green Bay. The 49ers have four cornerbacks that are each capable starters, which is good because the Packers have a deep receiving corps.
Rodgers is a very cerebral quarterback when he runs the Packers offense, so the 49ers' communication and adjustments must be on par that day. Like they did against Drew Brees in the Divisional Playoffs, San Francisco cannot allow Rodgers to find a rhythm, and they will do that by slowing the tempo of the game.
In 2011, the 49ers defense took away downfield options against great passing teams like Detroit, Philadelphia and New Orleans, forcing their quarterbacks to check it down often. It would be a win for the defense is San Francisco could manage to do that again in Green Bay, because Rodgers is known to kill teams with the big-play.
And finally, San Francisco needs to dominate in the trenches. The 49ers defensive line is arguably the best group in the league, far superior to the Packers offensive line. Justin Smith and Co. should be able to get pressure and control gaps throughout the day, creating opportunities for rushers to trample Rodgers.
- Rattle Aaron Rodgers with consistent hits
- Dominate up front, generate pressure with three and four rushers
- Win individual battles
- Attack the football
Honestly, the San Francisco 49ers are built to beat teams like Green Bay and New Orleans. They're hard-nosed style of defense with an efficient, turnover-free offense to complement is a winning formula in this league. The Packers are a phenomenal football team but the 49ers are a bully, and they play for 60 minutes, while Green Bay is used to winning games in the first half.
The Packers may finish the 2012 season with a better record than the 49ers, but I believe they will start 0-1.