Both teams had phenomenal years last season that ended in disappointment in the playoffs. Green Bay, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, lost to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional game. San Francisco, the No. 2 seed in the conference, lost a heartbreaker to the Giants in the NFC Championship game, a contest they could have very well won. There is no question the Packers and 49ers have high hopes once again this season, as this contest could very well be a preview of this year’s NFC Championship game.
The following are five things Green Bay must do to defeat San Francisco:
Establish running game
The Packers were among the league’s worst in rushing last season, as no player on the team ran for more than 600 yards. Hopefully, the addition of Cedric Benson will improve this statistic but he can only run through gaps that the offensive line provides for him. If the five men up front cannot figure out a way to move defenses backwards then Benson will have no chance of rushing for a fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
If Green Bay can find a way to run against San Francisco, who ranked No. 1 in run defense last season holding teams to an astounding 77.2 yards per game, then the Packers should have the confidence to run on anybody. Green Bay has to have some sort of ground game working otherwise Aaron Rodgers will be swarmed by defenders.
Make 49ers offense one-dimensional
San Francisco is more of a running team than a passing one, which means making them one-dimensional is an easy recipe for success. Ideally, Green Bay’s goal should be to shut down Frank Gore and the running game in order to tee off on Alex Smith. By stopping the run, the 49ers will be forced to pass which is something the team is not exactly comfortable doing. Smith attempted 445 passes last season, which was the lowest among all quarterbacks in the league who played 16 games. San Francisco relies heavily on the run because they are good at it and it does not give Smith chances to throw interceptions.
One of the main reasons the Packers gave up so many passing yards last season was because opposing quarterbacks had all day to survey the field and throw to the open receiver. Green Bay went from one of the top sack teams in the league in 2010 to one of the worst in 2011. Without an interior pass rush, outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry will be hung out to dry. The 49ers are not known as a passing team but any quarterback will look good in the pocket when there is no pressure. San Francisco gave up their fair share of sacks a year ago so this should be a good way to see if Green Bay has what it takes to get the job done this season.
Get in the end zone early
The Packers were the top scoring team last season and they accomplished this by scoring touchdowns early and often. The 49ers will be a very difficult team to beat but one way to win is to jump on them early. Get in the end zone on the first two drives should establish a solid lead and will give the defense a bit of breathing room. The last thing Green Bay wants to do is settle for field goals and fall behind, considering the 49ers are exceptional at running the football and running down the clock. With an offense as talented as the Packers, touchdowns must be the No. 1 thing on their mind.
Get off the field
This is a no-brainer against any opponent but it is especially true against the 49ers. It is important to get off the field on third downs so Green Bay’s defense does not get winded. With this being the first game of the season, it is no secret players are going to get tired due to not playing a full football game since last year. The 49ers will plan on running the ball as much as they can to tire out the defensive front seven and then gain large amounts of yardage through the air. By stopping the run and preventing completions, the defense will give Rodgers and Co. the ball more, which should equal more points.
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