If they cannot stop him, they at least hope to contain him.
The third-year San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who played a large part in ending the Packers' 2012 season, is the primary target as the Packers get ready to open the 2013 regular season on Sunday.
"Well, just not letting him get outside. That's the main thing we have to stop," said cornerback Sam Shields. "That's really all we've been talking about through the meetings — not letting him get outside and everybody playing their responsibilities.
"We just need to keep him contained, not running up field too fast. Not doing more than what you're told."
Last January, in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, Kaepernick blitzed the Packers for 444 total yards in a 45-31 victory at San Francisco. Amazingly, 181 of those yards came on the ground, setting a playoff record for quarterbacks. A 56-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the most damning and telling. On a read-option play out of the pistol formation, Kaepernick ran untouched around the right side. Three Packers — outside linebacker Erik Walden, inside linebacker Brad Jones, and safety Charles Woodson — were sucked in by a fake up the middle to running back LaMichael James. The Packers looked fooled on that play and several others. This time around, they hope to stick to their principles.
"You've just got to trust the defense and do your job," said safety Morgan Burnett. "He's an athletic quarterback, and with a guy like that, everyone has to be dialed in, sticking to your keys. Sometimes you might have to stick with your coverage a little longer because he's one of those guys that's capable of extending the play.
"It's important that you do your job. Every man has to be accountable out there, so we have to trust one another, trust the defense, and be where we're supposed to be on certain assignments."
In the offseason, a road trip by the Packers' defensive coaches down to Texas A&M for a little brush-up on the read-option confirmed what the staff thought about defending the play. As Burnett alluded to, it was more about fundamentals.
But even fundamentals sometimes fail against a player as dynamic as Kaepernick. In the last meeting against the Packers, he gained 79 yards on five runs around the right end and 75 yards off scrambles in that playoff game. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers made adjustments — like using Walden as a spy — but his defense looked woefully outmanned. On a 20-yard touchdown scramble by Kaepernick, the Packers created a respectable four-man rush out of their dime defense but when Kaepernick broke the pocket, no defender was in the middle of the field on the back end to make a tackle.
On the 56-yard touchdown run, cornerback Tramon Williams failed to get off a block by wide receiver Ted Ginn on the perimeter, which might have at least prevented Kaepernick from getting to the end zone.
It was a defensive failure on all levels of the defense, not just the front seven. In the end, it added up to a mind-boggling 579 yards for the 49ers.
So, is there any reason to expect anything different from the Packers this time around?
Will the Packers be better prepared?
Part of the challenge this week is that there is still some unknown.
"I think their creativity schematically is something that all teams do in the offseason," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "In regards to the 49ers, you could see in the preseason video that they really didn't show a whole lot. There will be some new looks. History will tell you there's 20-30 percent looks in this game that are what we refer to as ‘unscouted looks.' So that's the way we go about it. And I think that will definitely be a part of their offensive approach."
"Week 1 is definitely a peculiar week because, like Coach said, 20-30 percent is unscouted looks," added nose tackle B.J. Raji. "So, we don't know exactly what they're going to do. Hopefully, we have some stuff that they don't know we're going to do. That's why we play the game — to see what happens."
Raji's defensive line teammate Mike Daniels took McCarthy's assessment one step further.
"We have no idea what they're going to do," said Daniels. "I mean, you look around and the preseason is very vanilla. Nobody is going to give anything away, which is smart and is what you expect. Especially if you've played somebody once, you have to change it up, so we have no idea what they're going to do. But we know the personnel, we know the people in the helmets better than we did coming into Week 1 last season."
Daniels' last point should provide some relief. Last year at this time, Kaepernick was a backup to Alex Smith when the 49ers came to Lambeau for the 2012 season opener. By the playoff meeting, he had seven starts under his belt.
"The more film you watch on somebody, the more tendencies you get, the more things you pick up," said defensive end C.J. Wilson. "Last year (in the playoffs) was our first time playing against Kaepernick (as a starter), so I expect to do better than last year because we've seen what he can do on the field and on film and we've been training really hard for their plays, so I see it going better than last year."
Though both the 49ers' offense and the Packers' defense are expected to field nine of the same starters as the playoff game, there are a few notable personnel exceptions for the Packers. Outside linebacker Nick Perry is back from injury and should be an upgrade over the departed Walden. The defensive line is much deeper with the addition of first-round pick Datone Jones and the inspired return of Johnny Jolly. And rookie defensive back Micah Hyde, who should see action on Sunday in place of the injured Casey Hayward (out with a hamstring), looks like a force near the line of scrimmage based on his play in the preseason.
As a wild card in their preparation, the Packers also signed former 49ers quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien (to the practice squad) this week. Wallace spent a week in training camp with the 49ers and Tolzien spent the past two years in San Francisco, so their information on Kaepernick and the 49ers' offense can only help.
"This is a new team, new identity," said Burnett. "Everything that happened in January, that's gone and over with. This is Team 93 (the 93rd year for the Packers in the NFL). We've got to build our own identity. That's why guys are excited to get out in Week 1 because this is the most important game to us because this is our only game right now."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org