Welcome to the 2013 NFL season.
The Green Bay Packers open their schedule the same way they closed out last season—with a trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers. While it is only Week 1, Packers fans should get a pretty good handle on what the 2013 version of their team looks like as they face off against the defending NFC champions and a team many predict will return to and perhaps even win the Super Bowl.
When we last met….
Both the Packers and their fans need little reminding of their last encounter with the 49ers.
Last January, Green Bay traveled to San Francisco to face the 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoffs and ended up being sent home in one of the most embarrassing playoff defeats in franchise history. 49ers Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns in addition to two touchdown passes and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense just couldn’t keep up.
San Francisco brilliantly executed the read option against a Green Bay defense that was woefully unprepared for it. Charles Woodson said after the game he didn’t realize how fast Kaepernick was. If that doesn’t show lack of preparation, who knows what does?
The defeat shell shocked the Packers so bad that Mike McCarthy sent his entire defensive coaching staff to Texas A&M to study the read option and how to stop it. The Packers’ two backup quarterbacks also happen to have been on the 49ers’ roster at some point this year.
Sounds like Green Bay wants this one pretty badly.
What they’re good at
As you can tell above, the read option offense but there is more to the 49ers attack than just that.
Kaepernick has both quick feet and a strong arm. Everyone focuses on what he can do outside the pocket but he is also underrated in what he can do in the pocket. He is lethal as a runner but his arm is still very strong and can make his throws from inside the pocket as well. With as much emphasis the Packers have made on stopping the read option, the 49ers could use a more traditional attack and still get results.
Until proven otherwise, Kaepernick is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a long time. His goal this year is to prove last year was not a fluke now that teams have a much bigger sample of videotape on him.
Don’t forget their stout running game outside of their quarterback either. Frank Gore had yet another 1,000 yard season last year but has been lost in all the hoopla over Kaepernick. He is still a very stout running back and can’t be ignored either.
They also have a dominant tight end in Vernon Davis. Davis has finally realized his enormous potential under coach Jim Harbaugh and makes a great option for Kaepernick in the passing game thanks to the lack of a deep receiving corps.
Defensively, the 49ers run a similar 3-4 scheme to the Packers. Justin Smith anchors a strong defensive line that will give Packers rookie Eddie Lacy all he can handle. Smith didn’t do much against Green Bay in the playoffs against T.J. Lang, but Smith had a big brace on thanks to a biceps injury. Thanks to the reshuffled Green Bay line, Smith this time will face rookie David Bakhtiari.
Good luck, rook.
The 49ers also have three Pro Bowl linebackers in Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Willis is still one of the best linebackers in the game, and Bowman is the player on the rise. Bowman even supplanted Willis in the 49ers’ dime defense last year. This is a fast and aggressive bunch that has every intent on owning the middle of the field.
What they’re not good at
The 49ers came within a whisker of winning Super Bowl XLVII so they’re one of the most talented teams in the league, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws.
They may have a fast quarterback, but their receivers are lacking a bit in the pure speed department. With the loss of Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles as well as Mario Manningham, the big target of the 49ers passing attack is Anquan Boldin. He played well in the playoffs last year for the Ravens and is a red zone nightmare, but he won’t create separation down the field. The Packers have a young and fast secondary, so this could be a favorable matchup for Green Bay.
Aside from Boldin, there isn’t much there for the 49ers at receiver. Rookie Quinton Patton could be a solid target, but he’s still a rookie.
The 49ers also lost some talent in the secondary. Rookie Eric Reid replaces the departed Dashon Goldson. Reid ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and is a speedier player than Goldson, but he’s still inexperienced and who knows if the pro game has slowed down enough for him.
Nnmadi Asomugha also comes over from the Eagles as a cornerback. He was a feared player when he was in Oakland but was a big disappoint in Philadelphia and the jury is out as to whether he can regain his dominant form in San Francisco.
The Packers should see some favorable matchups with this secondary.
Chances of a Packers victory
Any team can win on any given Sunday. That said, the Packers get arguably their toughest came right out of the gate. There is a big revenge factor for Green Bay as the 49ers beat them twice last season, especially in the playoff game where the defense was tossed around like a rag doll.
The Packers were not too long ago held up as the model on how to build a franchise but that title has since been taken by the 49ers. If Green Bay wants to send a message to the rest of the league, this is the game to do it. If they can’t get up for this game, then there should be some concern as to what the rest of 2013 will hold.
If the Packers can get Lacy going against the 49ers defensive line, Rodgers can definitely keep up with Kaepernick. Rodgers has almost been forgotten with all the hype surrounding the 49ers quarterback and everyone knows how he plays with a chip on his shoulder.
The defense should be much more prepared for the read option, which is why San Francisco might go with a more traditional attack. Can the Packers keep up with Kaepernick’s feet? The answer to that question probably will determine if the Packers open 2013 with a win or with a loss.
Prediction: Packers 27, 49ers 24——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke