When the 2015 schedule came out, we saw that the Pack had a chance, in the first quarter of the season, to pay off some debts, old and new.
It started with our oldest and most hated rival at their place. Check. On to our newest rival: those birds that vanquished our Super Bowl dreams and tossed the Fail Mary. Check. Bring on the Chiefs, the team that had never lost at Lambeau and snuffed our undefeated dream in 2011. Check. That brings us to the first quarter’s final exam, the Niners. The team that has owned the Pack in recent years, regular and post season.
As you know, these are not your older brother’s 49ers. They look nothing like the Harbaugh teams of recent years–but they still have a QB that Dom Capers has not been able to figure out. Against the Pack, Colin Kaepernick has looked like a cross between Steve Young and Michael Vick. Against the other 31 teams he looks more like Spergon Wynn.
He’s coming off his worst career start, throwing two pick sixes in the opening minutes and finishing with four interceptions and a grand total of 67 yards passing. His passer rating: 16.7. But he’ll come in to Sunday’s confident, because he’s facing a team he’s never lost to and one he set an NFL record against in the playoffs a couple of years ago.
I expect we’ll see the 49ers try to rely on the ground game in this matchup–to take the load off of Kaepernick. In their only home game, the opener against the Vikings, Carlos Hyde ran for 168 yards. They also get Reggie Bush back from injury this week. With Morgan Burnett likely to miss his third game of the season, the defense will once again be tested by a run-heavy offense.
Of course if the Packers jump out to the lead, they’ll need to start airing it out, and San Francisco does have a good pair of veteran receivers in free agent acquisition Torrey Smith and the ancient Anquan Boldin. Packer-killer Vernon Davis is iffy with a knee injury. One reason they’re averaging a league-low 15 points per game: their offensive line is a shell of its former self. They still have solid left tackle Joe Staley, but after that it gets ugly, with three new starters from the center on over to the right and none of them are playing well.
Defensively, it’s an entirely different unit. Gone is coordinator Vic Fangio, whose scheme and studs gave Aaron Rodger and Mike McCarthy fits over the years. Gone are Aldon and Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and most of the secondary. Only four starters remain from the team that beat the Pack at Lambeau in the playoffs in 2014. Eric Mangini is the new coordinator and his unit looks lost. The Niners have been outscored 90-25 the last two weeks, against Big Ben and Carson Palmer and now they get a QB who’s playing the position better than anyone in recent years. And he’s facing the favorite team of his youth–the one that passed him up at the top of the draft. And the one that he hasn’t beaten in five years.
It’s a short week for Rodgers and the Pack and they will likely be without Davante Adams, whose high ankle sprain has him sidelined (I say, rest it until after the bye. The Pack will be favorites in these next three games–they can get by without him for now). Eddie Lacy seems to be over his ankle injury and Randall Cobb is finally practicing fully and seems recovered from his preseason shoulder injury. The Niners have been blitzing a lot to mask their shortcomings in their soft zone coverage. Rodgers eat blitzes for lunch. Look for the Pack to move the ball easily all afternoon.
The defense has gotten better each game. The first half performance on Monday night was tremendous. Mike Daniels and BJ Raji are leading the way up front, and this week they welcome back Letroy Guion, who will be welcomed back as the unit looks to contain Hyde and force Kaepernick to try to beat them.
This is the first of hopefully two visits to Levi’s Stadium. The Pack hopes to return for Super Bowl L in early February against what will be much stiffer competition. They’re nearly ten point favorites in this one and while I expect San Fran to look a lot better than they have the past two weeks, they’re overmatched and the Packers owe them one (or three).
Packers 31 49ers 16