Opposition Research: San Francisco 49ers (W13)

The Packers need to win on Sunday, if only to save us from having to watch the 4-7 49ers make the playoffs.

Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the San Francisco 49ers (4-7).  After being woefully negligent in my planning of this week’s offering, I must apologize for the lack of polish to this week’s post.  However, I do have some thoughts about this matchup that you might find interesting

Coming into this game, the 49ers are… as close to the playoffs as the Packers are.  One game back in the miserable NFC West, the 4-7 squad has yet to be eliminated.  Their 27-6 victory over Arizona on Monday Night Football was pretty darn near complete, with the team that bounced the Packers from the playoffs a year ago looking like they hadn’t prepared for the game.

Will the 49ers’ complete dominance over the Cardinals have any impact on tomorrow’s matchup? I’m not convinced.

The fans at home are… not quite sure what to do with the knowledge that their coach cries sometimes.  What they are quite sure about is that their team lacks the long-term vision to take advantage of its talent and succeed beyond its division:

We are mere relics of what we were back then under Steve Mariucci, George Seifert and the creator of it all Bill Walsh. The West Coast Offense was our trademark we created it and super-sized it into excellence to the point that everyone wanted to copy it or make hybrids out of it. Mike Nolan destroyed it and now Mike Singeltary continues that tradition by not embracing what made us become great from the very beginning. Alex Smith is not and will never be the quarterback we should've drafted in 2005 and that is the very quarterback we will face this up and coming Sunday in Aaron Rodgers.

Something to chew on… despite the 49ers not winning in Green Bay since 1990, this game represents the renewal of a storied rivalry between these teams.  Take a moment to look through the photo album put together by the Press Gazette on some of the more memorable moments between these two teams.

When looking at the Packers on film… DC Greg Manusky has a lot of good things to say about the Packers passing game, but one thing really stood out to me:

Q: On whether Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is playing at a higher level than last year:

A: I think so. I think just watching him over the games he's played so far, he's doing a good job. Mike's (McCarthy) an ex-quarterbacks coach, understands systems. Aaron Rodgers has the arm, he has the speed, he has everything you're looking for in a quarterback and it's finally showing after a couple years. I don't know how many years he's been there, but he's actually progressing pretty nicely. He's a talented football player.

Really, 49ers coach? You have no idea how many years Aaron Rodgers has been in the league? The guy your team could have had with the #1 pick in 2005? The guy you passed over instead of the guy that’s currently sitting on your bench even though he’s perfectly healthy?


The team’s website acknowledges that it’ll take a big game from all 45 active players for the 49ers to win on Sunday:

Without the services of Frank Gore, a player who amassed 1,305 yards from scrimmage in a little over 10 games, the 49ers will need a sound performance against a talented Green Bay defense which thrives when play

In order for the 49ers to snap their struggles in Lambeau, an entire team effort, much like the one demonstrated in the desert will be needed.

What We’re Up Against:

If I were in the 49ers’ gameplanning meetings this past week, I might suggest something drastic – with Frank Gore out, they should shape the offense around Brian Westbrook.

I know it was only one game, against one of the league’s worst defenses, but Westbrook looked darn good on Sunday.  A completely different kind of runner, it makes no sense for the 49ers to plug him in to do the work that Gore did so effectively until last week (203-853-3).  I recognize that the 49ers want to be a power running team, first and foremost.  Westbrook, at 31, simply won’t last if he’s rushing up the middle 25 times a game (not to mention that Atlanta’s Michael Turner revealed the Packers’ defense to be flimsy on the edges).  Instead, he’s the ideal tailback for the breed of West Coast offense played in Philly – soft hands as a receiver and deceptively hard to tackle.

Tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker (who gets even more targets than Davis) are both excellent receivers, both over the middle and along the sidelines.  If newish starting QB Troy Smith has trouble seeing the whole field, perhaps it would be beneficial to focus on the short passing game with Davis and Walker until he find the matchup that will let him throw to Michael Crabtree down the field.  Let the physical Davis fight for YAC and keep moving the chains.  If rookie RT Anthony Davis is so concerned about his matchup with Clay Matthews that he won’t talk about it, alternating screens to Westbrook with delayed handoffs to rookie Anthony Dixon can slow the rush.

On defense, they’re actually performing well (with the talent they have).  I still believe that Aubrayo Franklin is one of the best nose tackles in the league, and RE Justin Smith is probably even better.  Behind them, ILB Patrick Willis has grown into a monster under coach Mike Singletary’s tutelage (imagine if Singletary was a position coach and got more one-on-one time with the guy…frightening).  One of LeRoy Butler’s keys to the game involves keeping Willis and fellow LB Takeo Spikes away from Aaron Rodgers, and for good reason – with Spikes as the “clear-out” guy, Willis comes up the middle with fire and purpose. He’s tied with Smith for the team lead with 5 sacks, and will be looking for more.

The secondary hasn’t improved significantly since last year.  With only nine interceptions, this isn’t a unit that is as opportunistic as others in the league.  However, they have shown tight coverage at times, as evidenced by 47 passes defensed.  I’m mildly amused that Scout.com’s “experts” give the edge among defensive backs in this game to San Francisco, but who am I?  After all, they are experts.

Maybe it’s because the 49ers know that the pass is coming.  It’s on Aaron Rodgers to make them unable to stop it.

As always, you can’t go wrong with Bob McGinn and Pete Dougherty.

Parting Shots:

  • Wisconsin native Chris Maragos is a 49ers rookie looking to make his NFL debut tomorrow.  He thinks their special teams match up well, and… provided it doesn’t result in a Ted Ginn Jr. touchdown, I wish him well.

Had the Packers beaten the Falcons, I likely would have seen this as a trap game of sorts.  The Packers, on a five-game win streak, fresh off a victory over the conference’s best, might have stumbled against a plucky team with oodles of talent that sometimes (but not often) manages to make the most of its opportunities.  I had images of Charles Woodson hunting for picks instead of tackling, of Frank Gore revisiting that 40-yd gallop he had last year again and again, and of Patrick Willis setting up camp in the Packers’ backfield.

Call me pessimistic, but I’m absolutely boggled over how little the 49ers have done with the talent on their roster.  Maybe, as Tre Faaborg of NinersNation.com said on Thursday’s CheeseheadRadio, it all comes back to coaching.  Maybe, as Bob McGinn’s sources implied, it comes back to one key position (sub req’d):

Aside from the quarterback position, there’s not substantially more talent right now in Green Bay than in San Francisco.

That’s a mess out there…and it all starts because they don’t have a quarterback.

The one (Smith) has already been benched due to poor performance.  The other (Singletary) seems to have a hold on his job only because the team already fired the one guy on the coaching staff (OC Jimmy Raye) who might have taken over as interim coach.  Certainly, the juiciest storyline in the matchup continues to be the dichotomous developments of Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith following the 2005 draft.  It’s also fun to throw around the fact that San Francisco hasn’t won in Green Bay in the regular season in 20 years, despite eight visits.  From the sideline of a team with a relatively strong coaching staff and a franchise quarterback coming into his own, it would have been easy to get complacent about this game.  After all, it’s just another team imploding before our eyes.

But the Packers didn’t win last week.  They aren’t 8-3, with a fast track to a playoff bye and home-field advantage.  Instead, they lost another game by three points in a battle that could have been won, had it not been for one or two poor decisions.  They sit at 7-4, and would be watching the playoffs at home if the season ended today.

Will that make a difference?  I think so.  McCarthy preaches that the toughest thing his players must learn is “how to handle success,” but that won’t be a factor here.  Hopefully, the sting of Sunday’s defeat will sharpen the Packers’ daggers for a December push.

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Comments (5)

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Cuphound's picture

December 05, 2010 at 03:44 pm

> Maybe it’s because the 49ers
> know that the pass is coming.
> It’s on Aaron Rodgers to make
> them unable to stop it.

I think the bit above sums up what is likely to be the essence of this particular game. Brava!

Holly, why are they burying this article? You used to be linked to the front page? This is the most important article of the week. People shouldn't have to hunt for it!

Thanks for the piece, Holly! I will make sure to come searching for it if it isn't all lit up and doesn't have top billing. I have no idea why that's not the case, however.

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Holly's picture

December 06, 2010 at 03:55 am

I appreciate the thought, but I was late, and Corey's uber-busy. I just have to get it done earlier in the week.

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Disgruntaled Niner's picture

December 06, 2010 at 02:24 pm

You were worried in the first half! Don't lie!

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Holly's picture

December 06, 2010 at 08:23 pm

All I'm worried about, sir, is where you're taking me to lunch tomorrow.

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Cuphound's picture

December 06, 2010 at 07:15 am

All of you guys do amazing labor out of pure love. It's inspiring!

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