Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Packers

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and Green Bay Packers at Monster Park in San Francisco, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch and injury impact.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:05 Pacific
RECORDS: 49ers 5-7, second place in NFC West; Packers 4-8, third place in NFC North
SITE: Monster Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Tim Ryan, Laura Okmin
2006 NFL RANKINGS: Packers: offense 12th (20th rush, 9th pass); defense 29th (17th rush, 30th pass). 49ers: offense 26th (9th rush, 27th pass); defense 22nd (21st rush, 22nd pass)

SERIES HISTORY: 59th meeting. The Packers lead the series 31-26-1, which includes a 4-1 record against the 49ers in the playoffs. Green Bay has won the last five meetings, dating to 1999, and 10 of the last 11 encounters, dating to 1995. Thanks in part to five meetings in the postseason, the interdivisional teams met annually from 1995 to 2003. This is their first meeting since a 20-10 Packers win on Nov. 23, 2003, at Green Bay.

KEYS TO THE GAME: For the 49ers' offense to take the next step, QB Alex Smith is going to have to capitalize on the eight- and nine-man fronts defenses are throwing at San Francisco in an effort to contain RB Frank Gore. Smith is struggling to hurt teams vertically, but the Packers' porous secondary presents an excellent opportunity to build some confidence pushing the ball downfield. Then again, Green Bay has been done in by poor run defense and tackling the past two games, so Gore might have success no matter how many men the Packers throw at him. Green Bay's offense needs to lend a hand by sustaining more drives. The Packers haven't moved the ball consistently, converting just 11 of 40 third-down situations during their three-game losing streak. But something has to give with the 49ers allowing opponents to convert 46.5 percent of the time on third down.

FAST FACTS: Packers -- QB Brett Favre has gone three consecutive starts with a passer rating below 60.0. ... RB Ahman Green has 7,893 rushing yards in seven years with the team, 314 yards shy of Jim Taylor's franchise record. 49ers -- Gore leads the NFL with 12 carries of at least 20 yards. ... Are 3-0 this season when Smith has a passer rating of at least 100.

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Number of Alex Smith's 12 interceptions that have been passes intended for Antonio Bryant. 107 -- Points allowed by the Packers in their last three games, all losses. It's the most points Green Bay has given up in a three-game span since it also surrendered 107 early in the 2004 season.

QUOTES TO NOTE
"There's an expectation level that changes when you win, just like when you lose. As a coach coaching professional athletes, I believe it's critical in the leadership role to make sure they believe that they are every bit as good as whoever they are playing and that they should be successful. Our expectations have changed from a year ago, but I would say a year ago there was a little more dreaming involved. This year, there's a little less dreaming." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan, whose team still holds playoff hopes for this season.
"I've learned how much I hate losing. I've learned to appreciate winning and not take it for granted. (For most of his Packers career) it was always playoffs or in the hunt for it. Now, it's, 'Hey, can we win a game?' So, it's kind of a reality check." -- Packers quarterback Brett Favre on what he has learned in the midst of going through a 4-12 season last year and a 4-8 season thus far this year.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a decision to make. The 49ers have been facing eight- and nine-man fronts a lot this season because of the success running back Frank Gore has experienced. With 1,217 yards rushing, Gore ranks third in the NFL. The 49ers have managed success even as teams have stacked the box to defend against Gore. But last week Turner took some risks. He decided to try to capitalize on the Saints' defense to take some shots down the field. That approach provided the 49ers' offense, namely quarterback Alex Smith, with some opportunities, but he failed to capitalize. Smith had several open receivers that he either did not see down the field or misfired on passes to open receivers. Smith completed just one of his seven passing attempts of more than 20 yards. Look for the 49ers to go back to what they do best. Gore will be running behind the blocking of left guard Larry Allen, left tackle Jonas Jennings and pulling right guard Justin Smiley. Occasionally, the 49ers might try some shots down the field, but they need Gore to establish the run before getting tricky. Defensively, the 49ers are still smarting from the final drive against the Rams two weeks ago when they did not dial up any kind of pressure. Look for the defense to come hard after Packers quarterback Brett Favre in an attempt to force him into some mistakes. He has thrown 12 interceptions in 12 games this season.

PACKERS GAME PLAN: The subplot of this matchup between two sub-par teams in a late-season funk is which defense will blink the most. The Packers have the worst scoring defense (average of 27 points allowed per game), followed right behind by the 49ers (26.6). Green Bay's emphasis is on stopping the run, namely the tenacious Frank Gore. The defense, which was run over the last two games, will try to keep Gore under wraps from the outset and dictate that the 49ers will have to beat it with the passing of Alex Smith, who hasn't thrown for 200 yards in each of the last six games. The aim is to hold Gore to fewer than 20 carries because San Francisco is 4-1 when he hits the benchmark. It's incumbent on Green Bay's sputtering offense to give the defense some overdue relief by sustaining some drives. The Packers have converted only 11 of 40 third downs during their three-game skid. The sorry trend has to be reversed against a 49ers defense that has allowed opponents to cash in on 46.5 percent of their third-down opportunities.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- Packers head coach Mike McCarthy vs. 49ers head coach Mike Nolan. It's pointless to argue which coach should have the upper hand in knowing the schematic ins and outs of the other's team after they worked together in San Francisco last season. The chess match originating from the sidelines will be interesting nonetheless, especially when McCarthy's offense is on the field against Nolan's defense. Perhaps more so than Xs and Os, the winner will come down to which coach does the better job of getting his respective struggling team to play with purpose, minimize its mistakes and break a losing streak.
--- 49ers CBs Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer, the starting tandem which is expected to be back intact as Spencer returns to practice this week after missing two games with an ankle sprain, vs. Packers WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, who have combined for 102 catches for 1,518 yards and nine touchdowns.
--- 49ers LB Brandon Moore, who as been relatively quiet the past two games after making a big splash into the starting lineup in his first three games, vs. Packers RT Tony Moll, a rookie who is starting his fourth consecutive game at the position after starting earlier this season at right guard.
--- 49ers OLB Manny Lawson, who has turned into a solid performer and one of the team's top tacklers on defense, vs. Packers TE Bubba Franks, who is no longer much of an option in the passing game but still does a respectable job as a blocker.
--- 49ers RT Kwame Harris, who will play the entire game because Adam Snyder went down with an injury, vs. Packers DLE Aaron Kampman, who leads the Packers with 10 sacks and leads the linemen with 77 tackles.
--- 49ers LT Jonas Jennings, who continues to be plagued by an ankle injury, vs. Packers DRE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, a 250-pound speed rusher who might be susceptible on run downs against 330-pound Jennings.
--- Packers defensive front vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore. On the heels of two straight run-deficient performances, in which it allowed 201 yards and a per-carry average of 5 yards to Seattle's Shaun Alexander and 105 yards and a per-carry average of 4.8 yards to the Jets' Cedric Houston, Green Bay must try to contain the powerful and speedy Gore. The league's No. 3 ground gainer is without peer, excluding Atlanta QB Michael Vick, by averaging 5.5 yards per rush. The early outlook is the Packers plan to cut off Gore on the outside by working in a stout Corey Williams in place of right end Gbaja-Biamila on early downs. Swarming to the football, whether Gore's running inside or outside, is paramount because he breaks tackles with regularity.

INJURY IMPACT
49ERS: CB Shawntae Spencer (right ankle) returned to practice this week and might be ready to get back into the starting lineup after missing two games, but his status will be a game-time decision. LT Jonas Jennings (left ankle) is listed as probable and is expected to start against the Packers. LB Derek Smith (left hamstring) is out of action for at least one game and most likely more. TE Eric Johnson (left knee) is out for this week's game, but there's a chance he will be able to return for the Dec. 14 game against the Seahawks. OT Adam Snyder (right ankle/knee) is out for the game against the Packers, and is likely to miss at least another game. DT Anthony Adams (knee) didn't practice this week and is unlikely to play after being downgraded Friday to doubtful.
PACKERS The offensive line will continue to make do with rookie Tony Moll at right tackle. Head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed Wednesday that Mark Tauscher has a torn groin, an injury that has sidelined the veteran leader the last three games. Tauscher has yet to practice and is doubtful for Sunday's game. The offense also hasn't been the same without tight end David Martin on the field the last two games because of sore ribs. Martin is the team's top pass-catching tight end and was a capable vertical target for Brett Favre. Martin wasn't involved in team segments of practice earlier this week and is questionable for the game. MLB Nick Barnett is expected to play against the 49ers despite having a broken right hand but will continue to wear a club-like cast for protection. RB Ahman Green (knee) and CB Charles Woodson (shoulder) have become regular midweek non-participants in practice with lingering injuries, but both are probable for the game.


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