We'll Learn Much About Pack in Sunday's OpenerPosted:Sep 6th, 2013 2:25 pm
It's always fun when the toughest game on your schedule is opening week. That's what greets the Pack as they open the '13 campaign in San Francisco against the team many believe will win the Super Bowl (until, that is, they watched Peyton do his thing on Thursday night).
This will be the third meeting between these teams in the last calendar year and the Niners are going for the three-peat. The top subplot leading up to this one is how the Pack will contain Colin Kaepernick and the read option after that historic playoff performance. Clay Matthews made headlines this week when he said that he and his teammates plan on hitting the QB on option plays. That got notorious crybaby Jim Harbaugh upset enough to call the league office to complain. The NFL has backed up Matthews on this one. QBs running the option are fair game, until they are clearly no longer a ballcarrier or pretending to be a ballcarrier.
You get the feeling the Niners will shelve the read option for most of the game: it was a weapon they rarely used last year in the regular season. With the danger it presents to QBs, it doesn't seem like the kind of offense you'd want to use liberally, especially early in the season. They'll pick their spots to unveil it--we'll see if Dom and his boys are ready for it this year.
So let's look at the matchup: there is plenty to be worried about from the Pack's perspective. Let's start on offense, where Rodgers has yet to play with Cobb and Nelson in game action. It's one reason the first team offense accomplished little in the preseason. The depth behind the big three is suspect this year, so you have to hope those two guys are 100% and ready to pick up where they left off.
The 49ers have the best front seven in football and will present a huge challenge to the Pack's offensive line. Davif Bakhtiari gets thrown to the wolves, trying to deal with all pros Justin and Aldon Smith. Expect Rodgers to move to his right a lot to protect the rookie a bit. Whether Green Bay can establish a ground game with Eddie Lacy will be absolutely huge. If the offense is one-dimensional, it will be a long afternoon.
On the other side of the ball, the Niners offense has changed a bit. Yes, Kaepernick should be better, more comfortable in the offense. But he's without his best receiver, Michael Crabtree and his #3 guy, Mario Manningham, is out too. They brought in Anquan Boldin to be their third down and red zone rock, but he's slower than I am. Their outside threats are unproven youngsters. They're very high on fourth round pick Quentin Patton, who will step in as an immediate starter. The Pack will have to try to take tight end Vernon Davis away and see if anyone else can hurt them. And they'll have to do it without corner Casey Hayward, who's out with the hammy. Micah Hyde: get ready for your close-up.
It would also have been nice if promising first rounder Datone Jones had been healthier during the preseason, to be ready to make his presence felt on the defense.
On special teams, Jeremy Ross returns to the scene where his muffed punt altered the momentum in the playoff game. He survived some weak competition in cam and will get a chance to re-establish himself as the team's return guy. Giving his team a short field to work with against that stout defense would go a long way toward giving his team a shot on Sunday. Conversely, the Pack needs to pin the Niners back as much as they can, to make Kaepernick engineer long drives.
We'll see how much McCarthy, Rodgers and the Pack run the no huddle in this game. I get the feeling we'll see a lot of it, to try to wear down the defense and spring a couple of big plays.
The 49ers are four point favorites for a reason. They've shellacked the Packers the last two times they played and they'll take the field still stinging from their Super Bowl defeat. But we've seen good teams fall in home openers, unable to handle the hype and pressure that surrounds you when you've been stamped Super Bowl favorites.
I could see the Pack springing the upset here, especially if Eddie Lacy has a strong debut. But my head tells me I'll have to see it to believe it.
Reminder: my 18th season of "Packer Preview" returns this Sunday on KFAN in Minneapolis. This year we're on from 7:30-8. I know, don't tell me. Feel free to sleep in and pick it up on iTunes when it suits you on Sunday. I'll try to make it worth your while.