One of the marquee Week 1 matchups pits a rematch of last season’s NFC Divisional Round game when the Green Bay Packers pay another visit to the San Francisco 49ers at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX. The 49ers’ 45-31 victory on Jan. 12 was largely memorable for Colin Kaepernick’s NFL single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 191.
As we enter the 2013 regular season, both teams look like surefire bets to make the playoffs once again. For the Packers, life begins without Greg Jennings and the defense looks to regain a swagger that has been missing since 2010. The 49ers are an early Super Bowl favorite with perhaps the most talented roster in the NFL. Despite this, San Francisco does have some holes due to a few offseason injuries. With both teams in competitive divisions, a 1-0 start would go a long way towards building season-long momentum.
Four Things to Watch
Replacing Michael Crabtree
After an Achilles injury this offseason derailed Michael Crabtree’s season, it became readily apparent that the depth behind new No.1 receiver Anquan Boldin was worrisome. While the now-departed Alex Smith favored Vernon Davis, Crabtree was clearly Colin Kaepernick’s preferred target. In fact, in the 10 games (including playoffs) that Kaepernick started last year, Crabtree caught 61 passes for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. This was, by far, the best such stretch of the Texas Tech product’s career. Now, Kaepernick will be throwing to the likes Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton, Marlon Moore and Jon Baldwin; a group that has combined for just 88 catches and eight touchdowns over their combined eight seasons in the NFL. Williams is coming off of a torn ACL, Moore was a castoff from the Miami Dolphins and Baldwin was all but given up on by the Chiefs just two years into his career. Patton, the49ers’ 2013 fourth-round pick in April, may be the team’s best hope as he looked impressive in preseason action, catching two touchdown passes.
Packers’ rushing game
With the selection of Eddie Lacy in the second round of the 2013 draft it appears the Packers are more committed to a run game now than ever before in Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay. In fact, Lacy is the most talented running back the Packers have had since Ahman Green, but the coaching staff would probably be have 2008-09 Ryan Grant-type production. The addition of a running game would make the Packers offense that much more dangerous and could go a long way to keeping Rodgers healthy and off his back this season.
49ers’ pass rush
After Justin Smith went down with an arm injury in Week 15 of last season, the 49ers accumulated just six sacks in five games without him. Pass-rusher extraordinaire Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks in the season’s first 13 weeks, failed to register a quarterback takedown in his final three regular season games and all three postseason games. Facing an offensive line that game up the second-most sacks in the NFL (51) and a rookie left tackle in David Bakhtiari, this appears to be the perfect time to find out if the 49ers’ pass rush, with a healthy Justin Smith, is ready to reclaim its spot as the nastiest in all of football.
Can the Packers D stop Colin Kaepernick?
Kaepernick’s performance in the playoff win against the Packers last year may have been his official coming out party. The second-year pro was unstoppable, throwing for 263 yards and rushing for 181yards, while leading San Francisco to a 45-31 Divisional Round victory over Aaron Rodgers and company. Kaepernick may not repeat his superb performance but he’s a major threat that coordinator Dom Capers and the Packers defense have yet to figure out how to stop.
San Francisco Key Player: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB
Although he’s slotted as the No. 3 corner on the depth chart, you better believe Asomugha will be on the field for a majority of the snaps. With James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, the Packers will spread San Francisco out with lots of four- and five-wide receiver sets. Will we see the same Asomugha that was a major bust in Philadelphia or will a return to the Bay Area result in him recapturing his old Oakland-era form?
Green Bay Key Player: Clay Matthews, LB
Matthews is key for several reasons. He has major passing rushing responsibilities, yet he must also make sure to keep his contain against the athletic Kaepernick. Matthews and the Green Bay defense should see plenty of read option and the effectiveness of that play will likely be the result of how well Matthews plays. Simply put, Matthews didn’t do a very good job of this in the Packers’ playoff loss to the 49ers last season. If the linebacker can put pressure on Kaepernick in the pocket and keep his ground game contained, the 49er quarterback will feel like he’s facing a completely different defense than last January.
Will Colin Kaepernick rush for 181 yards again? No, but I still don’t think the Packers will be able to stop him. Expect the young signal-caller to break off a big run or two at some point in this game. The Packers offense, replete with playmakers, will keep them in this game for the first three quarters; however, I think the 49ers will take over in the fourth quarter as their lines on both sides of the ball, will begin to wear down the weaker Green Bay units. Aaron Rodgers will have to make quick decisions or he’ll be running for his life all day, while Frank Gore should eclipse the 100-yard mark for the 35th time in his career.
San Francisco 34, Green Bay 24