Are Packers better equipped for 49ers?
Aaron Rodgers.Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A season ago, the San Francisco 49ers furnished the opposition in Green Bay’s first and last games.
In those two games, the Niners beat the Packers both in Green Bay and San Francisco, outscoring them 75 to 53 in the two contests.
In the opener, the San Francisco defense rendered the Packers offense one dimensional, as Green Bay rushed for just 45 yards while passing the football to the tunes of 324 yards.
Defensively, San Francisco’s 377 yards were balanced - 186 rushing and 191 passing, with no turnovers.
The numbers in the divisional playoff game got downright ugly on the defensive side for Green Bay.
The Niners put 597 yards on the Green Bay defense, 323 yards rushing and 256 passing.
The Packers offense did move the ball and scored it against the vaunted San Francisco defense in the post season, as Aaron Rodgers passed for 248 yards and they got 104 yards rushing thanks in large measure to DuJuan Harris.
One season later, we are about to find out if the Packers have closed the gap.
On paper, it would appear the Packers are better equipped to deal with San Francisco up front.
The addition of Datone Jones through the draft, the reinstatement of Johnny Jolly and the defined role of Mike Neal give the Packers options up front they did not have a season ago.
Furthermore, Nick Perry is healthy at outside linebacker and the Packers have dedicated a significant portion of their off season preparation to “read option” offenses.
On the other side of the ball, as good as San Francisco is and has been defensively, the Packers under Rodgers' leadership have found ways to move the ball against one of the top defenses in the game today.
Most of the time it was through the air, and that is where the Packers have some advantages.
San Francisco is without two key members of their secondary from a season ago.
Starting All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson has moved on to Tampa Bay via free agency and their third cornerback Chris Culliver - one of the better nickel backs in the game - is on the injured reserve.
In their place is a rookie first round safety in Eric Reid a player the 49ers traded up to get, and Nnamdi Asomugha, the once decorated Raiders corner who fell on hard times in Philadelphia after signing a $25 million dollar free agent deal with the Eagles two seasons ago.
Reid is not yet at the level Goldson was, and Asomugha is not the player he once was in Oakland.
The advantages for the Packers in this game are on the perimeter with wide receivers James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson plus tight end Jermichael Finley, but two things have to happen for Rodgers to deploy these advantages.
He needs time and a semblance of a running game.
With Eddie Lacy and a healthy James Starks, the Packers have more capability at running back this season than they did a year ago — hoping Cedric Benson could give them a ground threat.
The question is, do they have an offensive line that can effectively run-block for those backs?
They have a rookie starting at left tackle in David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay who was considered to be a guard candidate at right tackle.
They will be challenged by one of the best defensive front sevens in the game today.
I look for the Packers to play a lot of spread three and four receiver sets offensively but I also believe running Eddie Lacy out of the shotgun against a spread out Niners defense will be a focus.
How effective they are able to run in those situations will go a long way to determining how well the Packers are able to balance their offense.
Just as important is pass protection. Last year in the opener, Rodgers was sacked three times.
The mantra for the Packers defense this off-season was “579,” the number of yards they gave up in the Divisional Playoff game to the Niners last January.
Defensively, has an off season of preparation, drafting and planning given the Packers defense what it needs to contain Colin Kaepernick and his read option?
We are about to find out Sunday at Candlestick.