Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 5 Key Matchups

tempAF1C2304--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

The last time the Green Bay Packers traveled to Candlestick Park to take on the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick broke the single-game rushing record for a quarterback in his first career playoff game. Green Bay then spent pretty much its entire offseason prepping for Kaepernick and the read option with an understanding that it would be taking on these very same 49ers in Week 1.

If this isn’t a “revenge game,” I am not sure what is.

Both are among the favorites to grab the NFC Championship and Green Bay can make a major statement by defeating the defending conference champions on the road in early September.

Let’s take a look at five key matchups in what promises to be the best game of NFL’s opening weekend.

5. Jordy Nelson vs Nnamdi Asomugha

Courtesy of SF Gate: Nelson could be a key factor for Green Bay.

Courtesy of SF Gate: Nelson could be a key factor for Green Bay.

Both of these players are coming off what have to be considered down 2012 seasons. Dealing with injury issues, Nelson saw his numbers decline dramatically in nearly every single major statistical category. He put up 19 less receptions for 500 fewer yards and nearly half as many touchdowns as the season prior. For his part, Asomugha had a horrible two-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles after signing a lucrative contract prior to the start of the 2011 season.

Nelson and Asomugha appear ready to forget what were major struggles last season.

Green Bay’s starting wide receiver was hampered with a knee injury during the preseason and isn’t at 100 percent right now. While he’s fully prepared to play, Nelson might be slowed down a tad by said knee injury.

Asomugha played extremely well during the exhibition season and earned a roster spot in San Francisco after signing a non-guaranteed deal during the offseason. In fact, he is now the 49ers primary nickel corner. San Francisco utilizes the very same man-coverage scheme that made Asomugha a Pro Bowl cornerback with the Oakland Raiders. While his struggles were magnified a great deal in Philadelphia, there is reason for optimism here.

Expect San Francisco to let Randall Cobb do what he wants all over the field with expectations that it will be able to contain him to an extent. Even if Cobb goes for 100-plus yards, San Francisco can focus on stopping Green Bay’s other weapons in the passing game.

 

4. Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks vs Marshall Newhouse

Courtesy of CBS Sports: Ahmad Brooks will be key here.

Courtesy of CBS Sports: Ahmad Brooks will be key here.

There are a lot of experts out there who believe that Newhouse should be playing left tackle instead of a rookie mid-round pick. As it is, the average pass protector will be lined up along the right side of the line and will have to go up against two extremely underrated San Francisco defenders. McDonald has ranked in the top five of the NFL among 3-4 defensive ends in quarterback pressures over the past two seasons and does a great job filling lanes for the pass rusher, Ahmad Brooks.

With Green Bay likely to push protection to the left side of the line, it appears that the likes of Newhouse and T.J. Lang will have to go it alone against McDonald and Brooks. While Rodgers can possibly sidestep pressure coming from one side of the line, it’s impossible for him to succeed with both edges breaking down. Green Bay needs to contain the matchups where it is not anywhere near as over matched along the offensive line. This is one of them.

 

3. Packers’ Nickel Corners vs Quinton Patton

How much of an impact can Quinton Patton make in his first regular season game?

How much of an impact can Quinton Patton make in his first regular season game?

With Casey Hayward out for this game, the likes of Davon House, Jarrett Bush and rookie Micah Hyde will have to provide some sort of coverage in nickel situations. Despite a less-than-stellar preseason performance, House should be the first Packer off the bench here. He’ll be matched up with rookie receiver Quinton Patton, who was more than impressive during the preseason. The youngster from Louisiana Tech seems to have found a nice rhythm with Kaepernick and could be on the verge of a surprising rookie campaign. His ability to break from the line against press and drop down underneath coverage while making would-be tacklers miss makes him a dangerous matchup with Hayward out.

 

2. Colin Kaepernick vs Aaron Rodgers

Whoever has the better game at QB will come out with the "W."

Whoever has the better game at QB will come out with the “W.”

These two aren’t necessarily matching up against one another. Don’t fool yourself, the quarterback who has the best game will likely walk away with a win tomorrow. San Francisco’s goal will be to put consistent pressure on Rodgers, taking away Green Bay’s timing through the air. If it can make him uncomfortable in the pocket, much like what we saw in the playoffs this past January, San Francisco will be in a good position. Even then, Rodgers is still a force. He has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL over the past season seasons, but is also coming off the best two-year stretch in the history of the league. Think about that for a second, people.

Kaepernick, on the other hand, absolutely dominated the Packers last January and will be looking to build off that tomorrow. He put up over 440 yards and four total scores in what was an awe-inspiring overall performance. Expect the Packers to prep for a strong use of the read option here, but that’s not exactly falling in line with that San Francisco may deploy as a strategy Sunday. San Francisco ran a total of six called runs for Kaepernick in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl. In that, the third-year quarterback proved that he could beat defenses from the pocket with his arm. It’s pretty much a no-win scenario for the Packers’ defense. Utilize man coverage to take away the passing game and get burnt on the ground with their backs turned from the line of scrimmage. Play zone and let Kaepernick eat them apart through the air.

In short, both Rodgers and Kaepernick are primed to have huge games. The one that puts the ball in the end zone from inside the opponents’ 20 will likely come away with the win.

 

1. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith vs David Bakhtiari

Biggest advantage in this game goes to the "Smith Brothers."

Biggest advantage in this game goes to the “Smith Brothers.”

Strength and more strength against inexperience and more inexperience. A rookie left tackle with exactly ZERO regular season games under his belt going up against a “Smith Brothers” tandem that includes a future Hall of Famer (Justin) and an outside linebacker (Aldon) who has racked up 33.5 sacks in his first two years in the NFL.  This likely won’t end will for Rodgers and Co. That being said, Green Bay could send more blockers to the left side of the line in an attempt to at least contains these two. That could be done by playing fullback John Kuhn more than normal and by chipping Aldon with second-string tight end Andrew Quarless. Either way, Green Bay may have to take some of its elite skill-position talent off the field in order to make up for shortcomings at left tackle. Even then, it’s hard to imagine Aldon and Justin Smith being contained in this one.

 

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle every Friday. He’s also a former league-wide featured columnist at Bleacher Report.