Week 1 Must See Game: Niners at Packers

Week One gives us this gem of a game: a preview of the probable 2012 NFC Championship Game.

But oh, how the roles have changed since each franchise’s golden years.

Those Packer teams of the 1960s…the power sweep and semi-famous video of Vince Lombardi drawing lines on a chalkboard and screaming something about alleys and seals.

He was dressed like it was cold out so maybe they were trying to trap seals in an alley? I think Lombardi did say something a different time about “clubbing those guys” so I’m not quite sure what they were up to.

Anyway, they used to win games by grinding it out and with Bart Starr’s accurate throws and taking care of the football while playing very solid defense. They would just flat wear you out by the end of the game.

Those Niner teams of the 1980′s…and Bill Walsh’s invention of the West Coast Offense to horizontally spread the field with crossing patterns, screens, flares, and slants to open up the running game for draw plays. As the talent at WR grew, so did the explosiveness of the offense under a mobile quarterback.

Nowadays, the roles have completely reversed. It’s glitz versus grind as the high-octane Green Bay Packers hosts the lunchpail-toting San Francisco 49ers. Aaron Rodgers has that high-end arm strength that Montana never had and stretch it further downfield, but the idea is the same. Meanwhile, steady QB play, a strong running game, a tough defense, and taking care of the ball all are things today’s Niners and the old Packers share.

When Green Bay has the ball

The Green Bay offense is very much like Air Coryell with Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers if I had to pin a team of the past on them precisely. Pass, pass, pass some more. Run as an afterthought or on 3rd and an inch. And do a bootleg pass on half of those downs, too. They have weapons in places most teams don’t even have places it almost seems. TE Jermichael Finley is a top-3 TE in the NFL. WR Greg Jennings is a deep threat and top-ten WR. Donald Driver is declining, but can still contribute. Oh – Jordy Nelson too by the way in case you’re interested.

The guy I see starting to come into his own, however, is WR Randall “Tex” Cobb. No, not THAT “Tex” Cobb. Same name, my nickname for him. My column, my rules. GOT IT?!?

Now that we have that straight, the Packers’ Te…er Randall Cobb is explosive in his own right on the gridiron. In his first game and opening kickoff of their first game last season, if memory serves as it was, he returned a kickoff 107 yards for a TD and I think also had a TD reception that game as well. The kid has the ability to make big things happen and with Finley and Jennings already prowling the field and without a weakness at receiver anywhere, a QB like AR-12 is going to pick you apart, period. Unless….

…unless a guy like Aldon Smith can consistently put some heat on him. Or Ahmad Brooks. Or Ray McDonald. Or Justin Smith. Actually, it’s probably going to take a good game from all of the above to get Rodgers off his game to limit the damage he’ll do. Maybe Patrick Willis & Co. can pop out a fumble, or the pressure can force an errant throw or even strip him of the ball. It’s happened before and could happen again.

That’s the only way to beat a team like the Packers on offense. Disrupt, disrupt, disrupt. Never let AR-12 feel comfortable. Don’t let him get settled into his rhythm. The Niners have a decent secondary but not even the Jets corners can cover all day. You HAVE to get pressure, or you lose. It’s why pass-rushers are so coveted at the top of the draft these days. Remember Seattle and the Bruce Irvin pick? It’s that big of a deal, and it’s how teams win championships these days – pass, and stop the pass.

When San Francisco has the ball

Part of only about a handful of teams that rely heavily upon the run these days, the Niners have several weapons out of the backfield to choose from. Frank Gore will still see more carries than anyone else, I think they’re going to start sliding a few more carries Kendall Hunter’s way this year. Gore’s aging and has been a workhorse for years now. Oregon rookie LaMichael James might be used to take advantage of a defense that’s lost a step from fatigue, making him play even faster than he is but is elusive in any case and offers a home-run threat that Gore doesn’t have. Former Giant Brandon Jacobs makes for another big back in reserve.

They also went looking for lots of help at WR and found an aging Randy Moss. He’s not the guy that demands bracket coverage like he did 5 or 10 years ago, but he has a way of making deep TD receptions look easy. Michael Crabtree has yet to approach his full potential and if he can’t break out this year I don’t think he ever will. I think Mario Manningham could really blossom as a Niner. TE and freakish physical specimen Vernon Davis provides the deep threat from an unlikely place with sub-4.4 speed.

Defensively, future Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson may extend his career at safety but could still draw coverage duty. The Packers lean on B.J. Raji to clog the middle while LB A.J. Hawk makes tackles in the running game. Clay Matthews is the only established and legitimate pass-rusher on the defense, so the Packers invested heavily on defense in the draft. DE Jerel Worthy and LB Nick Perry need to be disruptive for the Packers to shake up the Niners’ passing attack, but they certainly can’t hang their hat on doing so.

Both teams are equal in the special teams, with Cobb of the Packers and Ted Ginn, Jr. of the 49ers both being guys who have demonstrated the ability to be a threat in the return game.

Outcome? The smart money is on the Packers at home but conditions favor the 49ers. The Packers have some rookie pieces on defense where the Niners have the deepest team overall in the NFL I think. If the Packers can ride the emotion of their home opener to an early double-digit lead, it could derail the running game in the second half and force a shootout with Smith – something he doesn’t do well and the defense doesn’t allow to happen. The longer San Fran hangs around, the better the chance they have of controlling the pace of the game and being on the right end of the final score.

SF 27, GB 24

Topics: Green Bay Packers, NFL Game Of The Week, NFL Week One, San Francisco 49ers

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