Packers run offense
Packers general manager Ted Thompson stepped far outside of his box by signing veteran running back Cedric Benson during camp. Benson's age (29 in December) and off-the-field issues typically would take him off the Packers' players-of-interest list, but James Starks can't stay healthy (out with turf toe now) and Alex Green is coming off a torn ACL and can't carry the load yet. Of more importance for Sunday, Benson has fumbled 12 times in the last two seasons, most among running backs. Still, he's a big-name runner who should at least have the 49ers' respect. Benson's rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. That probably won't happen here but the hope is he'll better exploit the natural running lanes created by the Packers' spread offense.
Fullback John Kuhn is a favorite in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Up front, guard Josh Sitton and tackle Bryan Bulaga might be the best right side in the NFL. To the left side, T.J. Lang is an up-and-coming guard but tackle Marshall Newhouse is in the lineup to protect the quarterback more than open holes in the run game. Former Colts center Jeff Saturday replaced Scott Wells and will help run a no-huddle attack.
49ers run defense
The 49ers had the best run defense in the NFL last year, and the scary thing for opponents is it might be even better this season. The entire front seven returns intact, and that includes three All-Pros in Justin Smith and middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who both are rangy, active tackle machines. Ahmad Brooks also is formidable against the run on the strong side, and both Ray McDonald and strongman nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga are stellar up front. It will be a battle as both units attempt to establish control of the line of scrimmage.
Even though the Green Bay passing attack is to be feared, the 49ers will stick with their standard philosophy of stopping the run first. The Niners will play the Packers straight up against the run with their front seven, which gets help in run support by feisty hitter Donte Whitner at strong safety, and that typically will turn into a front six (minus Sopoaga) on passing downs when San Francisco goes into its coverage packages. The Niners are difficult to run against on every area of the field; they set a NFL record by not allowing a touchdown run in the first 14 games of the season last year and led the NFL in both fewest yards allowed per game and per rushing play.