NFL Preview - Green Bay (0-0) at San Francisco (0-0)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Two different quarterbacks, same results for the San
Francisco 49ers last season against the Green Bay Packers.
The two clubs meet for the third time in less than 12 months on Sunday at
Candlestick Park, where the 49ers and starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick
begin defense of their NFC championship against the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers.
These two NFC heavyweights meet on Kickoff Weekend for a second straight year
as the 49ers began their march towards a Super Bowl berth with a 30-22 victory
in Green Bay.
San Francisco got over 100 yards rushing and a touchdown from running back
Frank Gore, while Alex Smith completed a pair of touchdown throws.
Smith, though, would not be under center when the clubs rematched on Jan. 12
in San Francisco in the divisional playoff round. By then, Kaepernick fever
had gripped the Bay area after the second-year quarterback had taken over for
a concussed Smith on Nov. 11 versus St. Louis. He went on to win five of seven
starts down the stretch and played well enough to keep the job even when Smith
-- who was traded to Kansas City in the offseason -- got healthy.
Any ideas that may have been a bad decision were erased in Kaepernick's
postseason debut, when he guided the Niners to a 45-31 win over Green Bay. He
threw a pair of touchdown passes and also ran for 181 yards, setting an NFL
single-season rushing record by a quarterback, while scoring twice with his
Green Bay will try to do a better job of containing Kaepernick on Sunday as it
begins its quest for a third straight NFC North title. Niners head coach Jim
Harbaugh thinks both clubs are similar to those that faced off in January.
"Definitely tweaks are made, changes are made and anytime you go into a first
ballgame I think you have those kinds of questions and lack of full
understanding," said Harbaugh of how hard it is to project the changes each
club made. "So, a bit of uncharted waters so I think both sides, and any side,
going into a first game."
While the 49ers open the season without wide receiver Michael Crabtree due to
an Achilles injury, Anquan Boldin will make his regular season debut with the
club. He was acquired in a trade over the offseason after helping the
Baltimore Ravens beat San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII.
San Francisco is 13-2-1 at home under Harbaugh, who is looking to become the
first coach in franchise history to win on opening day in each of his first
The 49ers have won three of their last four openers overall and snapped a
nine-game losing streak to the Packers in the regular season with last year's
Week 1 win.
That loss also halted head coach Mike McCarthy's five-game winning streak on
opening day for Green Bay and the franchise will try to add to its 52
victories in Week 1. That is second all-time behind only Chicago's 53.
"I'm looking to make a jump in the win column," said McCarthy of this
weekend's matchup. "That's really what the goal is, to win the football game."
The Packers, coming off their fourth straight season of at least 10 wins,
tying a club record, are 9-4 in September over the last four seasons.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Kaepernick begins his first full season as a starter and will have to make due
without Crabtree, who had 85 receptions and nine touchdowns last year, and
Mario Manningham, who joined Crabtree on the reserve/physically unable to
perform list due to a knee injury.
The quarterback gave a short answer when asked how he feels going into the
season as the starter.
"You have to win," Kaepernick noted.
The offense still has playmakers in Boldin, Gore and tight end Vernon Davis,
who could line up on the outside at times to make up for the lack of depth at
the receiving position.
Gore, meanwhile, is coming off another 1,000-yard rushing season and his
fourth Pro Bowl appearance, but will need to continue to adjust to the read
option under Kaepernick.
One of the 49ers' biggest strength is their offensive line, which was one of
three units last year to have the same starting five in every game. It is
anchored by star left tackle Joe Staley.
The Packers finished last season top five in the league with 47 sacks, but
linebacker Clay Matthews and company struggled to contain Kaepernick's read
option. They'll look for better luck this weekend.
"We had the entire offseason to focus on it," said Matthews of Kaepernick's
playmaking ability. "If you look a the progression of the league ... there's
quarterbacks around the league that present problems not only with their arms,
but their legs too."
Matthews ranked fifth in the league with 13 sacks despite missing four games
due to a hamstring injury, while cornerback Casey Hayward led all rookies with
Tramon Williams could give the Packers some playmakers at corner if he can
find his form from 2010, when he had a career-high six interceptions.
Rodgers is perhaps the best quarterback in the league, at least statistically
speaking as he led the NFL last year with a 108.0 passer rating and 4.88
TD/INT ratio. He was also second in the league with 39 passing touchdowns and
has not thrown a pick in 144 straight pass attempts in the regular season.
Rodgers threw for 303 yards with a pair of touchdown passes in Week 1 last
year versus the Niners and completed another two TD throws in the postseason
"I expect us to play well. That's what we're paid to do," said Rodgers. "We've
taken a lot of practice reps, played a lot of football together. There's going
to be some guys in stress positions based on matchups, but we expect to come
out and put up some points."
Wide receiver Randall Cobb scored on a 75-yard punt return in last season's
opener and set a single-season club record with 2,342 combined net yards last
Cobb, though, won't handle return duties this year as he moved up the wide
receiver depth chart following the offseason departure of Greg Jennings.
Rodgers still has plenty of targets in Jordy Nelson, James Jones and
Jones led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches in 2012, while Finley set a club
record for tight ends with 61 receptions.
Green Bay's offense will also feature two rookie starters in running back
Eddie Lacy and left tackle David Bakhtiari.
Lacy, a second-round selection, is looking to balance out the offense and ran
for 1,322 yards with 17 touchdowns last year with Alabama.
Lacy will hit the fire early as he tries to find running room against San
Francisco's linebackers, perhaps the best unit in all of football.
Led by Pro Bowl regular Patrick Willis and leading tackler NaVorro Bowman, the
Niners also have one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in Aldon Smith.
Willis is likely to play despite undergoing surgery on a fractured right hand
five weeks ago. It is unknown if he will wear a cast.
"Honestly, I really feel like if I going to be out there on the field, I can't
let it affect my play. I don't want to cheat my teammates of anything but
everything I have," said Willis. "If I'm out there on the field, I've got to
be ready to go. No excuses. If I got to make a tackle, I'll make a tackle. If
I got to cover, I'll cover. Whatever needs to be done."
Smith's 33 1/2 sacks are the most by a player in league history over his first
two NFL seasons and he had a club-record 19 1/2 sacks a season ago.
San Francisco's secondary does have its concerns, especially when corner Chris
Culliver was lost for the season due to a knee injury in camp. They still have
a Pro Bowl at strong safety in Donte Whitner, while 2013 first-round draft
pick Eric Reid will start alongside him in place of free agent departee Dashon
Goldson, who was also a 2012 Pro Bowler.
San Francisco and Green Bay again enter this season as favorites to come out
of the NFC and have made winning a recent habit.
The Packers lead the NFL with a 26-6 mark since 2011, while the Niners are
third at 24-7-1.
The 49ers grabbed the recent edge in this series with two wins last year and
the Packers looked lost trying to defend Kaepernick. They've had a whole
offseason to prepare for the young signal-caller this time around, but still
might not have the talent to do so.
San Francisco is likely to still give up big numbers to Rodgers, but has the
ability to outgun the reigning NFC North champs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 31, Packers 24
09/05 14:24:57 ET