It’s here. Finally, it’s here.
The draft? Done. Training camp? Finished. Preseason? Completed.
The dress rehearsals are done and the games that count are upon us. The curtain on the 2012 NFL season has been raised and the march to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans begins in earnest this weekend.
The Green Bay Packers kick off their 2012 campaign Sunday at Lambeau Field against the San Francisco 49ers. Many thought when last season’s playoffs began that this would be the NFC Championship Game, but thanks to the New York Giants the Packers’ season ended prematurely.
The regular season opener is the first big test to see if the Packers have fixed their defense, the Achilles heel that doomed their run at a second straight Super Bowl title a year ago. It’s also a chance for reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to begin to make his case for a second straight award and that the Packers offense is still as lethal as ever.
How do the Packers stack up against 49ers? Let’s first take a look at their opponent
Scouting the 49ers
Last year, the Packers faced one of the top offenses in the league during their season opener in the New Orleans Saints. This year, they face one of the best defenses in the 49ers.
When you talk about the 49ers’ defense, you start with linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis anchors a linebacker group that is one of the best in the NFL against the run. He was an All-Pro selection along with NaVorrow Bowman and helped the 49ers allow only 77.3 rushing yards per gain. With defensive end Justin Smith leading the group up front, the 49ers figure to again have a very stout rush defense.
A strong defense allows the 49ers to make their opponents one dimensional which in turn allows their secondary to go on the hunt for interceptions. San Francisco finished 16th in pass defense last season despite decent years by safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Carlos Rogers whom both were selected to the Pro Bowl.
Despite coach Jim Harbaugh’s background, the offense remains the weak link for the 49ers. Alex Smith was re-signed by the team only after a secret attempt to sign Peyton Manning became public. The 49ers still don’t quite know what they have in Smith despite having a career season in 2011 and nearly leading the team to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers brought in Randy Moss in attempt to surround Smith with more weapons. With Vernon Davis already one of the best tight ends in the game and Mario Manningham coming over from the Giants to provide some relief to Michael Crabtree, the stage is set for Smith to continue to climb the ranks of NFL quarterbacks.
With Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James, the San Francisco rushing attack is nothing to sneeze at either. Gore returned to form last season rushing for over 1,100 yards and when you add the veteran Jacobs and the rookie James from Oregon, 49ers have a multi-headed rushing attack to go along with an emerging passing attack.
Ted Ginn Jr. is a threat in the return game, but with him potentially missing the game thanks to an ankle injury, Kyle Williams could handle return duties against the Packers. Williams was the scapegoat of the NFC Championship after a late fumble cost the 49ers the game.
So what do the Packers have to do to stop the 49ers?
Keys to a Packers victory
1. Get to Alex Smith
The 49ers passed over Aaron Rodgers in favor of Smith in the 2005 draft, but it wasn’t until Rodgers took over as starter when the truth became rather obvious.
Smith is no Rodgers.
He’s had to endure a lot as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, but when he is put under pressure during the game Smith becomes an ordinary quarterback. Don’t let that 28 yard touchdown run against the Saints in the playoffs fool you. Smith is nowhere near as good of a scrambling passer as Rodgers is.
If the Packers, with their revamped defense, can get to Smith, they can neutralize that offense. It may not even take a sack; just forcing Smith into some bad throws allows the Packers secondary to do what they do best—force turnovers.
This will be a golden opportunity to see what Nick Perry can do. If he can be a disruptive presence, this should ease some pressure off of Clay Matthews and allow #52 to begin his re-emergence as one of the NFL’s best pass rushers.
2. Get the running game going
As mentioned earlier, running against the 49ers is a tall task and last year the Packers had one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL.
Enter Cedric Benson.
Benson may not have been with the team long, but he showed enough in limited preseason action to warrant giving him the start over incumbent James Starks. Going up against Justin Smith and Patrick Willis is a challenge in and of itself but if he can help even bring some balance to the Packers offense, which could take just enough pressure off of Rodgers and the passing game.
3. Win the turnover battle
Despite marked improvement over the final two preseason games, the Packers’ offense began to develop a nasty habit of turning the ball over this preseason.
The Packers were one of the best teams in the league last year in turnover ratio, which made the way they started the preseason all the more surprising. Rodgers will be smart with the ball as always but with the Packers facing such an aggressive defense, his receivers (I’m looking at you, Randall Cobb) will need to be extra careful to not place the ball on the ground.
Same goes for Benson. The big knock on him when the Packers signed him was that he had a bit of a fumbling problem. Now that he’s going up against one of the league’s best rushing defenses, here’s his chance to dispel that notion.
Packers 27, 49ers 20
Once again, the Packers face a stiff test right out of the gate. The 49ers are going to be out to prove their surprising 2011 season was no fluke.
The Packers likely will jump out to an early lead but the 49ers will be able to make a game out of it thanks to an improved but still leaky Packers defense. Rodgers plays brilliantly as always and Smith has a slow start before moving into a rhythm later in the game.
As for Benson, anything above 75 yards would be a victory against the 49ers defense. The defense, as mentioned above, shows some signs of life in the pass rush but also flashes the familiar signs of bending but not breaking that ultimately proved to be the team’s fatal flaw last season.
All in all, a good start for the Packers but they won’t have time to rest on their laurels as they face the Chicago Bears at Lambeau only four days after playing the 49ers.
Football is back. Enjoy.——————
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
20 thoughts on “2012 NFL Regular Season Week 1: Packers – 49ers Preview”
I don’t see GB winning the turnover battle with the young players in the secondary. It’s possible Smith forces a ball if put under pressure. But he never did that last year… he’s been a ‘safe’ QB.
I also don’t see GB being able to run against that brutal front 7.
However, QB1 and our stable of WR’s will get theirs periodically. Don’t forget Brees passed for over 400 against this same 9er D.
And if GB’s D can stop the run (which I think it will) then, GB wins.
GB 27 SF 17
Couldn’t agree more. Capers better show he’s corrected the 2011 mess. This game is very important to win. A loss here could have ramifications later. A conference win against one of the likely playoff opponenets is important and the Packers will play accordingly.
I think the key to the game is giving Rodgers time – just like all of last year. If we keep him up right and give him time, he picks apart ANY defense he faces. If it’s a shoot out, I like our chances much better.
One of SF’s LBs will be stuck covering Finley or Williams. If we can establish the pass, we can use the pass to set up the run. I’d rather have Benson beat me than Rodgers.
Since I have little to no reputation, I am not afraid to make myself look like a fool. It’s the opening game of the season, and honestly… Alex Smith is all of a sudden considered a Franchise QB…
Seriously. The guy was considered a bust for the 49’ers, dragged and crushed under the bus. I simply have no care for the 49’ers right now because I have yet to see a consistency from them like the Lions, other than Mike Singeltary’s ability to drop his pants.
Could the Packers lose, yes, however I am interested in the 49’ers mostly. Here is why, the Packers last year got into a Jedi duel with the Saints. One of the best things about keeping a core together is that the first game won’t feel like a first game. It will feel like a game with mid-season form players.
With the entire franchise as one of the most consistent franchises today in the league, it would be a shock to see Aaron not tossing 3 touchdowns. So you know the Packers will run the score at least to 21.
The 49’ers though as beginning to become consistent and to come full circle, am I suppose to believe that the 49’ers have a consistent Alex Smith now? If the 49’ers made the playoffs 2-3 years in a row I would be less bold but I simply feel this game is overrated in terms of hype as I don’t think the 49’ers even make the playoffs because they will have to play all the 1st place teams along with a improved Seahawks and a Jeff Fisher led Rams.
THANK YOU! The 49ers have had one season above 500 since 2002. ONE!!! Last year. Let’s see something more than one season of winning football against a 4th place schedule please!
IMO,this game is about the Packers choosing what will hurt them more and can still overcome for the win.
Stopping the run and creat a passing game and have Rodgers outgun them?
Prevent the pass with coverage and hope the Niners don’t run for 90 yd drives where possession time kills us and doesn’t allow for any non scoring possessions by the Packers?
Don’t get fooled and rest on the Alex Smith sucks thing,he isn’t what he was during the chaos years and he just may show why he was a #1 even if it took 7 years.
This is going to be an ugly,ugly game either way and the winner is the last possession team.
Packers 27-23 on a 2 min score by Rodgers.Yes,we will be biting nails as we look at our possible 1st loss.
the more physical team wins.
49’ers 31 — Pack 17.
Pack has a shaky LT – 9’ers have the smiths.
Pack can’t stop the run – 9’ers have gore and company.
Pack has trouble defending the middle of the field – 9’ers have Davis.
Smith plays poorly when under pressure – Pack has extreme difficulty getting to the qb.
just a bad matchup.
not the end of the world.
In other words Cow, Capers needs to show an aggressive, oportunistic D for 60 minutes. I guess that means they should be shouting insults across the field when AR and the O are out there.
“I fart in your general direction.”
the defense will be bad this year.
take a horrible defense.
throw another year of age on woodson.
give a ton of responsibility to rookies.
i have a feeling that by week 5 we’ll be wishing we had 2011’a defense back.
Hey just remember, if we going to have a bad defense we still have a excellent offense.
That won’t matter anyways, because Matthews and Perry are the Bash Brothers.
Are you from Chicago or something? The Packers will start to gel as a defense by November and in the mean time the offense will win at least 80% of the games till then. Since you’re such a expert Cow, then you’re aware the 2011 49ers are the 1st 49er team to finish with a winning record since 2002! Go play on their website Cow!
sheesh – it’s just my opinion.
didn’t say they were gonna lose all of their games.
just don’t think they match up well with the 9’ers.
as for my opinion on the defense – which of my about statements is not true?
Your pessimism knows no bounds.
call it like i see it.
This game is atonement for Mike McCarthy after the Giants game.
Prove that he can out-coach an opposing team with a strong front 7 and maximize his teams’ strength.
My top 3 keys for a Packer win are:
#1) Pass protection, keep a clean pocket for Arod to work his magic. Newhouse and the boys need to keep the pressure to a min., and if they do, the niners D will be scored on. This puts pressure on the niners O to keep up
#2) play discipline football. win the penalty and turn over battle
#3) Stop the 49ers run game. This will put extra pressure on Smith , which will cause him to press the ball
To handle the SF rush, the Packers will A)roll the pocket away from pressure B)chip and load blocking to the Smiths side or C)go into no-huddle mode when SF goes into a defense they like.
SF had a dream season last year. They’re in the NFC West so half their season was against poor teams; Detroit was the best team they played (reg season). They had one player get put on IR, so they were unusually healthy. They had a fluke year of 38 recovered turnovers (unlike the Packers who have had over 30 turnovers/yr for 3yrs in a row).
GB’s D knows they were the reason for the quick exit. I think the vet’s pride and rookie talent makes them play well. The 9ers haven’t seen an offense like this in years.
Welcome back to reality SF:
Well said Otto. Love your pragmatic optimism.
While I agree those good reasons to see the GB prevail,with due appreciation, I predict on what I last saw last. So GB defense, pride and all…isn’t better yet…until they show it. So, I base this score on what I saw to date:
GB 24 SF 27
Alex Smith 2 INT
AR and CB one fumble each; last of which is on final drive. I could be wrong of course.
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