Sunday, September 08, 2013

Week 1: Packers vs. 49ers Preview

Today is the day fans of the Green Bay Packers have been waiting all the offseason for: a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in the season opener last year, which was bad enough. But then, there was the road-to-the-Super-Bowl loss to the Niners in the playoffs when QB Colin Kaepernick embarrassed the Packers defense on the ground and in the air. The horror...the horror...

So, what's the outlook for today's match up? The oddsmakers generally have the Packers set at 4.5 to 5-point underdogs in this game, which really doesn't seem all that unreasonable if you think about it objectively. After all, until the Packers can prove they have a running game to complement the air game and that the defense can shut down a read-option quarterback, the Packers will probably be the underdog against such teams...or, at least, the Niners.

Here's what I wrote yesterday about this game in my season preview: "Everyone is figuring that the Niners have the stronger roster across the board and that QB Colin Kaepernick will do the same thing to the Pack he did last season in the playoff game. The Packers are tired of hearing about that, as much as they may claim that that was all last season and this is a new season blah blah blah. The Packers defense has had all off season and training camp to prepare for Kaepernick. If they can generally make him work more out of the pocket than scamper they will be in the game...if the Pack's reconfigured offensive line can open a few holes for Eddie Lacy and also protect Aaron Rodgers, that is. In some ways, while there are many unknowns on both sides of the ball at this stage of things, this might be the best opportunity for the Packers to beat the Niners. If. Lots of ifs in this first game."

That's it in a nutshell, Packer fans. The Packers need to establish a running game, the offensive line -- including two new and unproven tackles -- needs to protect Aaron Rodgers, the defense needs to keep Kaepernick in the pocket and prevent him from breaking off huge runs via the read-option. On both sides of the ball, the Packers need to play with a physicality that has not always been there in recent years; they need to play with an intensity that gets the other team's respect and also gets in their heads. Clay Matthews has apparently already done a bit of that with 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who was whining over the last few days worrying that the Packers might actually hit his quarterback, especially if he runs. Guess what? The league said if the QB runs, he's a runner. All regular rules apply once he's out of the pocket. Boo-hoo, Coach Harbaugh. Your quarterback runs and whatever happens happens. You don't want him to get hurt? Keep him in the pocket. Simple. Your choice.

Speaking of the San Francisco running game, the Pack will also have to handle Frank Gore. There's a handful, too. If the Packers focus too much on containing Kaepernick they could allow Gore to run over them.

We could break down each unit and indicate what must be done. But without much of a record to analyze, it's a crapshoot at best, isn't it? In every game of the season, but especially the first game, every player has to do their job better than the opponent. If that happens, you win. If it doesn't, you lose.

The Packers have a lot of young players who can and will make mistakes. The hope is that the veterans among them can help cover for them or mitigate any damage that might be caused by inexperience. On paper, right now, the edge in talent does go to the Niners overall.

But the games aren't played on paper. They are played on the field. I think the Packers will have set their sights on this game and prepared for it for quite a while. It will be a dogfight, for sure. My head tells me that the Niners will likely win this game. But my heart...well, it wears green 'n' gold colored glasses (now there's an image for you!).

I'm calling this game 31-30, Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

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