In a bit more than 24 hours we will all be transfixed on Lambeau Field and the opening of the 2012 National Football League game for both the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers.
Many feel this is a preview of the the National Football Conference Championship Game … to me, that’s a bit premature. Both of these teams will look a lot different in December and January than they look now, but as we enter the season, this is as big as it gets. No doubt, this game trumps all others this first week – even the Cowboys vs. Giants and Broncos vs. Steelers, in my opinion, aren’t as sexy as this one.
You’ve got offense versus defense; Aaron Rodgers versus Alex Smith; the Packers offensive line versus the Smith boys on the 49ers defensive line; Randy Moss versus the Packers secondary – and a whole lot more.
And so, with that in mind, we here at Lombardiave.com have caught up with Eric Melendez, the lead editor at our Fansided.com fellow blog site, NinerNoise.com. We asked him a few questions about his outlook for Sunday’s game. In kind, we also answered a few questions he threw our way – we will feature our answers right here on our site tomorrow morning, so be sure to stop back prior to the game to see our exchange.
In the meantime, here’s our questions and Eric’s responses:
Lombardiave: Everyone will be focusing on the Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers showdown Sunday, but which other matchup do you feel will be even more important?
Niner Noise: The other big matchup to look for is the 49ers’ secondary vs. the Packers wide receivers. We all know how good the Packers receivers are and how accurate Rodgers is getting the football to them. The 49ers defense returns all starters in the secondary from last season and they have great backups to come on the field for nickel and dime packages, which will be used often on Sunday. The 49ers’ secondary will be tested often this season with the quality of teams they are playing and with opponents knowing they probably won’t be successful running the football against the defense.What better way to test the secondary than going up against Rodgers and the Packers at the start of the season?
With new addition Perrish Cox and second-year player Chris Culliver at cornerback behind the starters, the secondary appears to be in good hands. Cox showed in the preseason he makes the correct reads of what the quarterback is going to do. Culliver has the size and speed to keep up with the Packers receivers.
Lombardiave: The 49ers defense has been hailed as one of the best to hit the field in many years. The question I have going into Sunday’s game is this: Can they really slow down the Packers’ offense?
Niner Noise: The 49ers’ secondary looked sluggish in the preseason, especially the first-stringers, which was not encouraging. However, the 49ers have Pro Bowlers Carlos Rogers at cornerback and Dashon Goldson at safety leading and directing what the secondary needs to do on Sunday. What is key to the 49ers slowing down the Packers’ offense is applying constant pressure on Rodgers and forcing him to make mistakes, something the defensive line and linebackers did well last season. If the 49ers defense cannot get pressure on Rodgers, there is no way they will slow down the passing game.
Lombardiave: Given that the Packers’ pass defense was pathetic last season and considering that the Packers have had injuries to their defensive line (Pickett and Raji) will the Niners try to exploit the Packers through the air or on the ground?
Niner Noise: Expect the 49ers offense to exploit the Packers through the ground more than the air. The 49ers upgraded their passing game with the new additions at wide receiver, but the running game will still be the focus of the offense. The 49ers offensive line will win the matchup against the Packers defensive line, allowing them to march down the field. The real question is can the 49ers score touchdowns and not field goals after entering the red zone. This is something they struggled with last season which is why kicker David Akers set multiple kicking records. The 49ers need to score a touchdown on every possession if they want to keep up with the Packers prolific passing offense and have a chance to win the game.
Lombardiave: Are the Niners really thinking that Randy Moss will be any different this season than his last season when he floated between New England, Minnesota and Tennessee with very little production?
Niner Noise: One of my predictions for the 49ers offense is Randy Moss will win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. I can see why other fans have skepticism about Moss after he missed all of last season because of retirement and the bridges he burned with the three teams he was with in 2010. Believe me, I was one of them too after the 49ers signed Moss. However, what non-Niner fans may not know is he has been a huge benefit to the other receivers, by setting examples on how to prepare for a game, like by sitting in the front row at team meetings and taking notes. This may sound trivial, but because of Moss’s example, receivers like Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams are sitting in the front row with him, instead of sitting in the back.
Moss is second on the receivers depth chart, so Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff knows he can and will be valuable on the field as well. If Harbaugh did not think Moss could start and would do damage to opposing defenses, he would not be one of the starting receivers. Look for Moss to be a favorite target for Alex Smith in the back of the end zone.
Lombardiave: Your predictions for the game? And don’t forget to give us a final score.
Niner Noise: The 49ers and Packers will get off to a slow start as it is opening week and we will see some turnovers from both teams in the first half. The second half will be faster paced with both teams making plays they should on offense and defense. As much as the offenses will be highlighted, both defenses will be what everyone will be talking about after the game. It will be a close game throughout with 49ers edging out the win, 25-23, in the final minutes with a turnover.