The storylines and matchups in this highly anticipated game will be followed closely. Jim Harbaugh vs. Mike McCarthy. Clay Matthews vs. Joe Staley. Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers?
The first two matchups may have merit, but readers are likely balking at the idea of Alex Smith actually matching up with golden arm quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
While even I balked at the idea of writing that statement, you can’t ignore how enticing this storyline could potentially become.
Forget who is the better quarterback overall––as the obvious answer is Aaron Rodgers, and focus on who will be the better quarterback in the coming Sunday matchup.
While Alex Smith will face a pudgy Packers defense, who statistically ranked in the bottom half of most team defensive categories, Aaron Rodgers cannot say the same in his matchup with the vaunted 49ers defense.
The 49ers defense prides itself in disrupting quarterbacks and basically everything near the line of scrimmage. While their pass defense proved to be suspect at times last season, the unit overall improved as the 2011 campaign progressed.
In addition, the 49ers brought back all 11 starters on defense for the 2012 season. Can we say the same for the Packers, who not only struggled on defense last season, but will also enter the 2012 season with a few injuries to key starters?
Aaron Rodgers should still have success, but if the Packers playoff matchup against the New York Giants is taken into consideration, the golden arm quarterback will have some trying times against teams with excellent front sevens.
The Giants boast an impressive front seven, but this is a one-dimensional unit. They can get after the quarterback, but as a unit, the Giants have a below average run defense.
The same can’t be said for the 49ers front seven, which ranked as the best rushing defense in 2011.
Teams such as the Giants and Houston Texans have great front sevens, but the 49ers are likely the only squad that can rush and stop the run at equal levels.
How does this tidbit relate to the Alex Smith and his matchup with the aerial Packers offense? It’s simple, really.
While the Packers have shown their unwillingness to run the ball, the 49ers are the complete opposite. They want to pound the ball and ram it down your throat.
With the 49ers, it’s all about game management. If the 49ers able to successfully run the ball, as they should against the Packers this Sunday, they control the tempo of the game.
It’s the reason why the 49ers are considered perfect playoff material. Alex Smith was successful last season because defenses swarmed Frank Gore and the 49ers running game.
Whether this Packers defense improves or not, the 49ers should have success in the ground game. In extension, I expect Alex Smith to play off the run, with a mixture of play-action passes and short-to-intermediate throws.
What will Aaron Rodgers rely on if the passing attack is stalled by the 49ers or if Jim Harbaugh and co. successfully implement a slower pace game? Cedric Benson? James Stark?
While Aaron Rodgers has proven to be the better quarterback, Alex Smith may best his former draft peer in this glorious upcoming matchup.