Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Preview: Starting Off On The Right Foot


On Sunday afternoon the Green Bay Packers will visit Candlestick Park to play the San Francisco 49ers in the first game of the 2013 NFL season.

579. Kapernick. Read option. Muffed punt. LBs looking like deer in the headlights. Arguments in the Packers defense. 2012 Packers Playoffs fail. Super Bowl loss. Packers defensive coaches trips to Texas A&M to learn how to stop the read option. 579 emphasis in OTAs. 579 emphasis in training camp. Hit the quarterback. Don’t hit the quarterback. Use the media to make the officials look harder at the hits on the quarterback. Hit the quarterback!

This game starts a new season. The Packers have changed much more than the 49ers, and a large part of the impetus for that change comes from the loss to the 49ers in the playoffs last year. This is a simple game. The Packers defense needs to have a better game against the 49ers offense. The Packers offense needs to play well and score points via TDs and not FGs.

Here are some things I’ll be looking for while I watch the game:

Packers offensive line. The first thing to consider about the O line is that the player with the most experience in his current position is C Evan Dietrich-Smith. The Packers will start rookie Bakhtiari at the critically important LT spot, Josh Sitton at LG, EDS at C, T.J. Lang at RG, and Don Barclay at RT. Few among us would have predicted this O line lineup, but it’s what’s left after LT Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending injury and Marshall Newhouse’s failure to step up and take over at RT.

We know what we have in all of these guys except Bakhtiari, and he played well enough in the preseason to make the starting O line group. Pundits are saying he was a steal where the Packers drafted him. OK…if so then we’ll know fairly definitively one way or the other after this first game. *Understatement alert. I’ll be watching Bakhtiari, along with the rest of the O line, very closely.

Packers run game. The run game starts up front. Before we get into how well the RBs will run the ball we have to recognize that if the O line isn’t opening holes, even if they’re small holes that exist for a short time, the Packers run game will not exist. The preseason demonstrated that effectively enough. When RBs Lacy, Franklin, Starks, and Kugn had even small holes to run through they looked strong. But we saw enough tackles for loss and dog piles at the line of scrimmage to know that no hole = no yards.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I expect and fervently hope that Eddie Lacy is The Answer at RB. He is a beast, and opening holes for him is a necessity. The Packers must realize that. I’ll be watching to see how the O line opens up those holes and how well the RBs utilize them. But please M.M.- no Cobb in the backfield this time!

What happens if Aaron Rodgers goes down with an injury? Nobody’s really quite sure. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Packers passing game. The Packers still, even after the departure of Jennings and the retirement of Driver, have the best top-to-bottom receiving corps in the NFL. They will need to create separation, catch, not drop, balls and gain YAC in order to make a difference in this game though. Everybody’s more or less healthy at this point. They know every dropped pass will sting and every bad route will be obvious. They’ll have to play their best in order to be open when called upon to make a play and catch everything that comes close to them. I’ll be watching to see how Finley and the other TEs do in the potentially soft middle of the 49ers defense and how well the WRs block on the outside- for run plays and for each other.

Aaron Rodgers comes back “home” to play the team for which he rooted as a youngster and wanted to play in the NFL. But he’s in the best situation he could be in, in an unparalleled NFL town with a unique NFL fan base. His legacy building took a bit of a hit last season and some potshots were taken from afar by former teammates. Hey 12…that’s life. I expect Aaron to deal the ball with accuracy and efficiency in this game. Nothing new there but the most consistent play this team has had has been from the QB. I think it will continue Sunday.

Packers defensive line / LBs. The big guys up front and their LBs will be hard pressed to ensure that neither the Niners RBs nor Kaepernick have room to get past them and make explosive gains on the ground. Kaepernick is always a risk to take off with the ball. If you buy into the idea that all the emphasis on defending the read option offense this past off season was time well spent, the Packers D should be fine. I’ll be watching to see just how many times Kaepernick gets hit, how he reacts, and how many times it’s Johnny Jolly who hits him. Watch for Jolly to bat some passes too.

Micah Hyde. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Packers DBs. Missing both CB Hayward and potentially S Burnett for this game, the Packers DBs will be hard pressed to get what needs doing done against the 49ers. The remaining Packers DBs, especially S Banjo and CB Hyde, will have to ensure their coverage is tight and their coordination is solid. I’ll be watching for the DBs to step up and tackle when called upon to do so and come up with a big play in this game. Unfortunately due to injury and inexperience I think the DBs may be the weak link on D this week.

Packers special teams. Winner of the Packers “Survivor” competition this summer, PK Crosby will have to be flawless in this game. Not just because of the scrutiny and controversy missed FGs and PATs will generate. The Packers will need every point they can get. P Masthay will be called upon to flip the field via effective punting and he’s more than capable of doing exactly that. The Packers coverage teams will have to tackle and block effectively if Ross and Hyde / Franklin will be effective on returns. Nothing to see here Packers fans. I’ll be watching for a big special teams play.

The Bestest With the Mostest:

Best Hair. Packers. Between Matthews and Sitton and all of the guys sporting big heads full of dreads that require larger helmets the Niners have no chance.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Andy Mulumba (46) and Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (97) tackle St. Louis Rams running back Benny Cunningham (45) for a 2 yard loss during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Best Redemption Story. Packers. Johnny Jolly. You all know the story. I couldn’t be happier for Jolly. He needs to make the most of his opportunity. I think he will. If he does Jolly is my pre-season shoe-in winner of the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Most Exasperating Coach. 49ers. Harbaugh. Come on. Seriously? Will he ever realize that most of his posturing, his zany sideline antics, and his shots at his opponents via the media are all signs that he’s the biggest blowhard in the NFL? Probably not. Does he care? Probably not. But he’s a drama queen as opposed to drama killer like Mike McCarthy. I know which I prefer.

Most Overrated QB. 49ers. Kapernick. OK…OK, I’m not saying the Inked One is not good. Obviously he is good. But how about maintaining a high level of play for more than one partial NFL season? Can he get through an entire season while playing consistently good football? And still be able to walk and eat solid food? I guess we’ll see. But until then let’s please ease up a little.     

Fearsome Predictions:

DISCLAIMER: The writer assumes no responsibility and claims no expertise in the area of predicting random occurrences during sporting contests. If something accidentally occurs that the writer predicted, it is entirely coincidental and not the fault of, nor can credit be attributed to, the writer. Blah-blah-legalese-blah.

– Aaron Rodgers will throw for three touchdowns with no picks.

– Eddie Lacy will lead the Packers in rushing yards.

– Jonathan Franklin will be the second leading rusher for the Packers.

– Jordy Nelson will lead the Packers in receiving yards.

– Ross will have over 80 return yards.

– Rodgers will be sacked twice.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

– Finley will drop two balls, one a potential TD catch.

– Finley will make two spectacular catches, one for a TD.

– Mason Crosby will not miss a kick.

– Cobbernicus will catch at least one TD pass.

– Kaepernick will be sacked twice. Matthews will have one of them.

– Kaepernick will be picked once. Shields or Hyde will get it.

– Johnny Jolly will bat at least two passes down and have four tackles.

– The Packers will have fewer penalty yards than the 49ers.

– The Packers will have fewer first downs than the 49ers.

– The national television audience will be treated to multiple replays of Kaepernick’s plays against the Packers in the playoffs last year. Every time he has a good play in this game. For the whole game.

– The national television audience will be mistreated to the usual Aikman quips and complaints. For this game Troy’s big bruised brain will compel him to say at least two “I don’t think that should be a penalty / I don’t see a penalty there / I don’t agree with that call” calls and a couple of “that was a textbook tackle / that was outside the rules / he didn’t lead with his helmet” laments as well.

– The national television audience will be shown Aaron Rodgers’ hometown of Chico, the llama farm he lived on for a while, his family in attendance at the game, and how he looked when he attended both Butte CC and Cal.

Aaron Rodgers at the start of the newest State Farm commercial.

– We’ll see the new Rodgers State Farm commercial. No spoilers, but it’s another good one.

– The national television audience will be treated to mentions and highlights from the classic Packers –Niners playoff games of the 90s. Unfortunately for Packers fans, those highlights will inevitably include “The Catch” but not “The Fumble” that preceded it.

Because the game will be played Sunday afternoon and will be nationally televised, we plan to watch the game from the comfort of our comfortable couch. We’ll be making plenty of noise, wishing we were at the game, and rooting for a Packers victory!

I’ll be tweeting random thoughts on the game and the telecast to all those who dare to follow at @PackersTX.

Watch for the crack Lombardi staff’s post game analysis. And mine too.

Let’s kick this thing off! Football is BACK! Bring it 49ers! Go Pack GO!