The Green By Packers and the San Francisco 49ers meet today in a matchup of powerhouse teams with Super Bowl aspirations.
In 2011, the 49ers defense was ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and fourth overall, while the Packers offense was ranked third in passing offense and third overall.
There are plenty of fairly obvious things to look for in this game, but that not what this post is for.
We’re going to bring to your attention some less than obvious things that could end up being keys to the game. Without further ado:
Jeff Saturday: Being the veteran that he is, Saturday got minimal snaps during the preseason with his new team. While physically he will be an adequate replacement for the departed Scott Wells, the question in my mind is if he’s been prepared enough to manage the protection calls in this new offense he’s had to learn.
If Saturday is not up to the level of Wells in this department, it could be fatal to the Packers offensive line, who are facing one of the best front sevens in the league and a front four second only to the New York Giants, who the Packers had just a few little problems with last January.
If the 49ers are able to get consistent pressure on Rodgers rushing four and keeping seven in coverage, they’ll be able to mimic the Giants’ game plan to a T, while doing it with better personnel at linebacker and in the secondary. (The 49ers return all eleven starters from 2011, when they had four players named to the Pro Bowl and four others as alternates. Throw in Aldon Smith, the dynamic rookie that should have made it but didn’t and that’s nine Pro Bowl caliber players on that defense).
Jeff, I hope you are ready…
49ers Red Zone Offense: The 49ers were 30th in the league last year in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They’ve attempted to address that deficiency by bringing in Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs to provide much needed depth.
With the 49ers power running game and new targets for Alex Smith to throw to, I expect them to chew up yards and visit the red zone area several few times this game. Whether it turns into three points or seven will go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
Packers Secret Weapon: James Jones The last time these teams met, the Packers, decked out in their throwback uniforms, used big plays to handily defeat the 49ers. There was a long TD to Jennings, Driver’s now famous catch and run where he broke 5 tackles to score and another 47 yard completion to Jennings to the SF 3 yard line.
My feeling for this game is that the 49ers will be focused on taking away the deep pass. Pressuring Rodgers and forcing him to unload the ball quickly will be a big part of that plan. This could play right into the Packers hands, as they spent the preseason practicing with a 2.5 second clock, with the goal being Rodgers getting a pass off in that amount of time.
With the 49ers focusing on the big play abilities of Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the secret weapon today could be an under-the-radar guy like James Jones. (It could also be Jermichael Finley, but he’s not exactly under-the-radar, is he?).
In most situations when he is in the game, Jones will be going up against a dime corner or 3rd safety. That’s not a favorable matchup for the 49ers – on many teams, Jones could be a number 2 receiver.
Jones has a knack for finding the middle-depth openings in a secondary when the safeties have been taken deep by Jennings or Nelson. That’s one reason why he’s always had a very productive yards per catch average (Jones is currently tied for 23rd in the league in career average yards per reception among active players, while Jennings is #9 and Nelson is #16.
I also expect the Packers to use bubble screens to Randall Cobb to spread them out and help keep the safeties honest, but Jones could very well be the guy to find the open spaces in the 49ers secondary (and they will be there).