Packers at 49ers: Keys to the Game All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Colin Kaepernick ran for a quarterback-record 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs.
Colin Kaepernick ran for a quarterback-record 181 yards against the Packers in the playoffs.

Well, Green Bay Packers fans, game day is almost here!  The last time the Packers played in a meaningful game, it was in San Francisco and against the 49ers.  It’s only fitting that Green Bay returns to the scene and really test how much this year’s team has improved.

Both teams have undergone changes since that last matchup.  The Packers have gotten a bit younger and added more to their defensive front in that of first round pick Datone Jones and with the return of veteran Johnny Jolly.  They also added another potential diamond in the rough at cornerback in that of fifth-rounder Micah Hyde.  With Casey Hayward ruled out for this week’s game, Hyde could see some spot duty at defensive back.

The 49ers are without stud receiver Michael Crabtree (torn Achilles) and will rely on newly-acquired veteran Anquan Boldin, to fill in.  San Francisco also lost a key piece of their secondary with hard-hitting safety Dashon Goldson moving on to Tampa Bay in free agency.  They looked to veteran cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and rookie Eric Reid to fill that void.

With all of those changes, let’s look at some of the key factors that will play a role in the outcome of Sunday’s game.

Defend the Read Option/Dom Capers

If you’re getting tired of reading about this, also know that I’m getting tired of writing about it.  But still, it’s important and warrants attention.  The Packers were shredded by 9ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the divisional playoff game.  They were flat-out unprepared and that responsibility falls, first and foremost, on defensive coordinator Dom Capers and head coach Mike McCarthy.

Before we harp on defending the read option as the bible to the Packers’ success this weekend, let’s not forget that Jim Harbaugh is San Francisco’s head coach.  He thrives on outsmarting his opponent and keeping them off balance.  While I expect to see read option and Kaepernick trying to take advantage of anything the Packers defense gives him, the 9ers aren’t going to line up and run this scheme all day long.

The Packers spent time, during the off season, learning more about defending the read option and they will need to be assignment-sure in this game.  Our own Marques Eversoll noted that most of Kaepernick’s rushing yards in the playoff game came off of scrambles and were not necessarily from designed runs.  Kaepernick needs to be accounted for and Green Bay can’t let their guard down or he will be scampering down the sideline to pay dirt.

Avoid Tunnel Vision

The Packers must also keep track of San Francisco’s offensive weapons not named Colin Kaepernick.  This is where Capers becomes a big key.  His game plan is going to have to be as comprehensive as it can possibly be.  Green Bay struggled to defend 9ers running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis in both matchups last season.  Both will get the ball on Sunday.  Tackling is going to be key.  The Packers have struggled in this area, in general.  Against bigger ball carriers like Gore and Davis, this could continue to be a concern.

A few other keys here are 9ers receiver Anquan Boldin and rookie tight end Vance McDonald.  Boldin isn’s as speedy, but he finds ways to get open.  He gets after the ball and is strong.  He’s a big receiver, something the Packers defensive backs have had issues with.  McDonald has quietly had a good preseason and some are saying he could become an unexpected factor this week with all of the attention that Green Bay is expected to give to the usuals in Kaepernick, Gore and David.  An effective second tight end could prove very problematic for Green Bay’s smaller defenders and inside linebackers who are not adept at pass coverage.

Battle in the Trenches

The 49ers still have one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the league.  Games are often won and lost up front.  The Packers can’t expect to come in and dominate in these areas, but they must be ready for a physical matchup from the opening kickoff until the final gun sounds.

Green Bay is starting two offensive tackles who have a combined one half season of NFL experience.  Talk about a true test right out of the gate.  Right tackle Don Barclay and left tackle David Bakhtiari will be tasked with keeping the likes of Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks away from Aaron Rodgers.  Sure they will have help, but expect 9ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to scheme to get favorable matchups against the young tackles.  Watch Justin Smith in this one.  He’s a savvy veteran who knows how to occupy multiple blockers and open things up for the other Smith.

If the Packers truly want to run the football, they will have to find some mojo from somewhere to get a push up front and open up lanes for Eddie Lacy and James Starks.  Starks lacks any type of move to free himself up and Lacy’s spin move will run out of gas pretty quickly against a sound defense like San Francisco’s.  McCarthy has had a tendency to abandon the run when it hasn’t been working in the past, but he has to keep at it this week.  Hopefully he can afford that patience and isn’t facing an early deficit.  Quick three and out’s are going to lead to a very tired defense late in this contest.

On the defensive side of the ball, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have to find a way to put pressure on Kaepernick.  The Green Bay defensive line has never been about getting pressure on the quarterback as much as they try to occupy space and allow other play makers to do what they do best.  In order to occupy that space, they can’t allow themselves to be bullied off the snap.  Going toe to toe with San Francisco’s offensive line is easier said than done, but doing some of the little things like getting a hand up on pass attempts and relentless pursuit of the ball carrier will help alleviate some of those extra yards that tend to kill the Packers.

Aaron Rodgers vs. 9ers Secondary

If there is an area where the 9ers are not as strong, it’s in their secondary.  That is not to say that they’re not good, but in comparison to the other areas of their team, this one is not as strong.  Green Bay’s passing game has found much of its success with a fast vertical scheme.  Receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are back in this one and both will need to hit the ground running.  A quick strike early on could help in backing off some of the defensive pressure up front.  Rodgers places his passes extremely well and his accuracy is going to be very important in this game.  Opportunities to strike won’t come often so they have to hit while the iron is hot, as they say.

I wrote earlier this week about how tight end Jermichael Finley is going to be an X-factor this week.  He has to get involved early on in this game.  Rodgers fares very well against additional pressure although San Francisco was successful in disguising their pressure and coverage last season.  Finley will need to win when matched up with one of the 9ers linebackers.  His big frame is an advantage and hopefully his solid play from preseason continues when he was catching everything thrown his way.

The bottom line here is that with Nelson, Cobb, James Jones and Finley against four defensive backs, Rodgers should be able to find a “win” in that matchup more often than not.  That is what will sustain drives and allow for more options in short-yardage whether it’s Eddie Lacy or a short pass to punch it in.


As of Friday morning, it was learned that both safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Brad Jones are listed as questionable with hamstring injuries.  Once again, the injury bug hits the Packers and at two key positions.  All are key, really, but not having Burnett in the defensive backfield would be a huge blow.  Neither safeties in Jerron McMillian nor M.D. Jennings are known for being stellar in their pass coverage.  Hopefully Burnett is a fast healer and can still be effective on Sunday despite an injury that is likely to hamper his speed and range.


No small task, do the Packers have, in week one.  This challenge will be just as difficult as it was last season.  It comes down to personnel and in that area, the 49ers simply have more than the Packers do at this very early stage in 2013.  This game will be a good barometer of where the Packers stand in terms of their improvement from last season and their readiness to be a top contender in the NFC this year.


Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on

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9 thoughts on “Packers at 49ers: Keys to the Game

  1. Burnett and Jones not playing are huge concerns. Especially with Hayward already out. Hayward always seems to be in the right place at the right time. When you look at the QB rating teams had when they threw at him last year, (low 30’s) he’ll be missed. I think with the addition of Jones and Jolly and a healthy Perry, this run defense will be tough. If in fact Jones is as good as advertised, I can’t help but think Raji will play closer to his 2010 level. Raji hasn’t been the same since Jenkins left and if you think Jenkins had nothing to do with it, I think you’re sorely mistaken. Perhaps my homer hat is on to tight but I just think the Packers win this game with Rodgers arm. I think with the loss of Gohlston at safety and Culliver as their nickel back is bigger than people think. I would think that Cobb, Jones, Nelson, and Finley will find some room to operate in that defensive backfield. McCarthy has got to stay committed to the run but not overly committed. Rodgers chip on the shoulder is as big as it’s been in a long time. He doesn’t want to lose at his home away from home twice in a row, and what better way to show that idiot wearing purple now, what a great leader he is than to throttle the 49ers.
    My feeling is this. If Joe Flacco, Anquan Bolden, Jacoby Jones, and Dennis Pita can gain over 300 yards passing the ball in the SB, the Packers with Rodgers, Cobb, Nelson, Jones, and Finley should be able to also.

  2. All good points and all necessary for Pack to emerge victorious.

    Since it’s Sunday and I have some change left from last night’s pub foray, I’ll toss in $.02 worth.

    1> Packers first play series

    Whether the Pack finds themselves on Offense or Defense for the first series, the key will be avoiding or acheiving a 3-and-out, respectively. Much is riding on how the Packers initially set the table.

    2> Vertical Gap Discipline

    The Packers defense will need to maintain the vertical gap discipline they showed against Adrian Peterson in the playoff game against the Vikes by establishing a metaphorical “Maginot Line’ to effectively control Kaepernick. Doing so will enable them to thwart the running attack of both him and Gore.

    3> Caper’s ability to recognize & make adjustments.

    If the Niners throw a new wrinkle at the Packers or stay in a traditional run/pass mode and shelve the pistol, Capers needs to respond real time and not sit and stare at the field like we’ve seen all too often in the past. The time for adjustments is in the moment on the field, not on the plane trip back to Green Bay.

    4> Favorable 3rd down performance.

    The Packers simply need to convert their 3rd downs and the defense needs to prove it can get off the field via stops, not 9’ers scores.

    5> Finish at least +1 in the TO battle

    The numbers bear this out. Win that by 1 or more and the probability of winning skyrocket.

    With apologies to Dennis Miller…

    ‘That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong’.

  3. Keys:

    (1) Defense – if Capers pulls another Capers, mail it in.

    (2) Run game – OL has got to give RBs a chance to get started. Look for Starks to get a fair amount of action.

    (3) Pass game – OL has got to keep Rodgers clean. Give the guy a little bit of time and he will do the rest.

    Bottom-line: I think Pack defense will do a much better job against CK this time around. If they don’t, time to shit-can Capers. I think fate of offense rests on OL. I have a good deal of confidence in our young OTs. Will our interior OL do their job is my question. Nothing left to do now but wait till 4pm to find out.

    Too bad Dujuan Harris won’t be on the field. He’s a real punch in the mouth.

    1. You write comments, you use whatever metaphors you’d like.

      As for me, I’ll stick with the metaphor I used, because while it ultimately failed to stall Hitler’s advance, the premise behind it was that there was no exposed and unguarded flank within France. It was considered a genius strategic fortication at the time. Only by coming through Belgium was Hitler able to invade France. Since a football field has defined boundaries, the metaphor fits perfectly.

      Which was kind of my point.

      But thanks just the same for weighing in with your criticism, albeit uninformed and totally off the mark.

  4. Keys to game:
    1. I agree with Jay, don’t bring up the Maginot Line when discussing defense lines.
    2. Packers O-line. Why? Because the better job they do, the longer the Pack offense stays on the field and keeps Kaepernick off the field.
    3. Pack Front Seven – stop the running game including read option and make Kaepernick pass the ball.
    4. Special teams – for big plays, field position and game winning or tying kicks (fingers crossed for Csosby)
    5. Aaron Rodgers to be Aaron Rodgers – these are the games that he has been paid to win.

    1. ” Aaron Rodgers to be Aaron Rodgers – these are the games that he has been paid to win.”

      I would argue that if the Packers have to put the game on one player, that they’re nowhere near as good as we want them to be.

  5. Besides the obvious stuff, I think it’s going to be imperative for our pass rushers to maintain gap integrity. If we get a good interior push without allowing Kaepernick running lanes,and our pressure off the edge doesn’t allow Kaepernick to escape the pocket, I think his potential becomes severely handicapped. Scrambling QB’s are so frustrating.

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