The season-opener in San Francisco could be called many things, but it will be a preview of things to come, win or lose for the Packers.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph
When the Green Bay Packers open their 2013 NFL season Sept. 8 against the 49ers in San Francisco, it won’t surprise me if the mainstream media dubs it “The Rematch.” Or “579 II.” Heck, they should probably call it “The Overhype Bowl.”
Because it’s one game, and it won’t make or break either team’s season. Obviously, the Packers will have some measure of revenge on their minds after being unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs last winter by the Niners and the ridiculous performance by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But the more important “rematch” may well come during this coming season’s playoffs. That’s when it really matters.
And that’s why I believe there will be several things to watch for in the first game of the season that will at least give us hints at what kind of Packers team we might expect to see following Week 17, even if we shouldn’t panic – or get too excited – based on the outcome.
Here are three:
Is Nick Perry the answer opposite Clay Matthews?
Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry.
We only saw six games worth of play from Perry last season before injuries forced him to injury reserve. He showed flashes, tallying two sacks (and being robbed of a third by a questionable roughing the passer penalty against Indianapolis) and seeming to be growing into his new position before the injuries derailed his rookie campaign.
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said Perry looked like a different player in minicamp this year.
“He looks different,” Greene said. “He moves different to me. He moves with more sense of urgency and purpose. His eyes are different. His gaze is different. I can just look at his face and look in his eyes and know he’s not happy with what transpired last year and he’s determined not to let that happen again this year.”
Let’s hope so. Because Kaepernick made since-departed outside linebacker Erik Walden look like a fool at times during last year’s playoff blowout.
Will the offensive line flip protect Aaron Rodgers?
Including playoffs, the Packers’ offense allowed 55 sacks on quarterback Aaron Rodgers last season. I say “offense” and not “offensive line” because when it’s all said and done, the team assigns sacks not just to linemen, but anyone they feel is responsible for a sack on any given play.
Rodgers himself was charged with 14 sacks, worst on the team. Tackle Marshall Newhouse was charged with 11. This year, Newhouse moves from left tackle to right tackle in the much-publicized line flip coach Mike McCarthy announced this spring.
Bryan Bulaga flips from right to left tackle this season. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph
Bryan Bulaga (six sacks allowed) and Josh Sitton (3.5) move from the right side to the left to hopefully better protect Rodgers’ blind side. The question is, will this prevent Rodgers from holding the ball too long, which helps create sacks nearly as often as missed blocks?
I think so. Here’s why: When the pocket breaks down, Rodgers instinctively moves, and all too often goes into make-something-happen mode. That’s when he seems most likely to hold the ball for lengths of time while receivers adjust their routes and try to get open. When he’s getting the ball out quickly from a clean pocket, he doesn’t have to improvise.
My feeling is there will be breakdowns in the early going. Don’t be surprised if the 49ers sack Rodgers multiple times in Week 1. Again, the real test will be what the sack totals look like near the end of the season, and in the playoffs. By then, the line will have had time to gel, and Rodgers should be feeling more comfortable in the pocket. Let’s hope the seat of his pants remains relatively clean should the Packers make the playoffs.
Will the Packers finally have a running game?
The offense has two new toys to play with in rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. My fear is that Packers fans may be expecting too much too soon from these guys. They’re rookies, and there will be a learning curve. Heck, these guys have only been shaving for five or six years – I don’t think it’s fair to expect a lot in their NFL debut.
Green Bay Packers running back Johnathan Franklin works out during organized team activities at Clarke Hinkle Field in Green Bay. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph
In fact, it won’t surprise me if the stingy San Francisco defense bottles up Green Bay’s rookie runners on Sept. 8 – if they get their hands on the ball much at all.
Granted, there are rumors swirling that Alex Green will be dangled as trade bait, but I still expect Green to be on the team when Week 1 arrives. If he is, I think we’ll see a running back rotation that features Green and may well include DuJuan Harris (I really don’t believe James Starks is going to make the team).
With the line flip, the inexperience of the rookies and the tough San Fran run defense, I’ll be thrilled if the Packers total 100 yards rushing in the game. But I don’t see Eddie Lacy running roughshod over that defense the way he did against Notre Dame back in January.
However, by the end of the season, I expect the Packers’ running attack to have established a pecking order and a rhythm. And that’s when it will matter most – if (when?) Green Bay has to take on San Francisco again en route to an NFC title and a Super Bowl run.
In short, if the Packers lose to San Francisco in Week 1, it won’t be the end of the world nor even the season.
Think of it as a preview – a team under construction, as it were (but I sure do hope Matthews gets at least one good shot at Kaepernick).