Start 'Em Up: Keys to 49ers and Packers

The 49ers kick off their defense of the NFC Championship Sunday with a tough test against the explosive Green Bay Packers. Inside we break down key matchups to watch aside from Colin Kaepernick and the read-option against Green Bay's defense.

2012 Ranks

San Francisco 49ers

Offense: Overall (11), Rush (4), Pass (23)

Defense: Overall (3), Rush (4), Pass (4)

Green Bay Packers

Offense: Overall (13), Rush (20), Pass (9)

Defense: Overall (11), Rush (17), Pass (23)

49ers Defensive Ends vs. Packers Tackles

The most effective way to stop an explosive quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is pressuring him up front. With left tackle Bryan Bulaga shelved for the season with a knee injury, San Francisco has to take advantage of rookie fourth-rounder David Bakhtiari starting with Don Barclay on the right.

There's no doubt Green Bay will do everything they can to slow down Aldon Smith, which means Ahmad Brooks will have to pick up the slack on the opposite side. Brooks had a very strong training camp and preseason and could make an invaluable contribution to the defense by preventing teams from focusing on the other side of the formation.

Look for the 49ers change their alignments frequently Sunday afternoon. Smith spent the majority of 2012 rushing the passer from the weak side (a right-handed quarterback's blind side) with Brooks playing on the left edge. They will do everything they can to try to confuse a Packers' front five that doesn't have any regular season games under its belt as a collective unit.

Green Bay will combat their troubles on the offensive line by trying to spread the 49ers' defense out and rely on three-step drops to neutralize the pass rush.

Running the ball will also help. The Packers combined to rush for just 149 yards in their two losses to San Francisco in 2012.

49ers Receivers vs. Packers Secondary

With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out, San Francisco will help to get contributions from Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore to keep Green Bay honest. If they can't win one-on-one matchups, Dom Capers will have a much easier time finding ways to shut down Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin.

Starting safety Morgan Burnett is questionable to play with a hamstring injury while talented corner Casey Hayward is out. Heyward was arguably the Packers' second-best player on defense in 2012 and would have played a key role in covering Davis with Charles Woodson's departure.

The 49ers do not have a set No. 2 wideout, meaning they will mix and match according to formations and play types. Moore figures to be a down-field threat, while Williams and Patton will be put in situations to make plays with the ball in their hands. Jon Baldwin could also figure in, although he is still getting accustomed to the offense after coming over in the A.J. Jenkins trade midway through training camp.

Williams did not play a single snap in the preseason. Given his versatility, the 49ers were likely waiting until the regular season to unveil certain packages with him as the feature. Look for Williams to be used in the slot and maybe even have some designed runs akin to the Packers' use of Randall Cobb.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Eric Reid

Congratulations on being drafted, Rookie. Now go make sure you slow down Aaron Rodgers.

It will be a tall task for Reid when he makes his NFL debut Sunday. But he wouldn't be out there if coordinator Vic Fangio didn't think he was up for the job.

Reid had a good training camp and appears to have a grasp of the defense with the help of the veterans around him. But there's nothing he could have done in training camp or the preseason to simulate what Rodgers will do to manipulate him.

With its array of talented receiving options on the outside, in the slot and at tight end, the Packers will do everything they can to confuse San Francisco's 21-year-old safety.

Look for Rodgers to try to move Reid with his eyes while making his reads putting added pressure on Donte Whitner.

But Reid has range, instincts and the willingness to lay the hat that will make him good NFL safety. A strong performance against one of the game's top quarterbacks would do wonders for his confidence to start his career.

Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Green Bay's No. 3 Receiver

Asomugha will be used in ways he's familiar with, unlike his tumultuous tenure with the Eagles. He will be matched up on the outside against either Jordy Nelson or James Jones.

Asomugha will have a very important role on defense as San Francisco looks to replace Chris Culliver, who played 64 percent of the team's snaps last season in the nickel package.

The 11-year veteran is a very different player than Culliver that will have to rely on his technique and fundamentals rather than the athleticism Culliver possessed. Asomugha could be a target for Rodgers who will be trying to hit receivers three and four years his junior.

Frank Gore vs. Packers Front Seven

Gore had big games in both meetings last season, combining to run for 231 yards and averaging 5.92 yards per carry.

Green Bay spent much of its offseason focusing on the read-option, but they also did everything they could to upgrade their run defense after allowing finishing the year ranked 25th by allowing 132.6 yards per contest.

Look for the Packers to combat the 49ers physical running game by loading up the defensive front with Johnny Jolly and others, forcing Colin Kaepernick to beat them through the air.


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