Behind Enemy Lines: Part 3

Our Scout.com experts take a closer look at Sunday's game between the 49ers and Packers. Let's conclude this three-part series with the key matchups, keys to the game, why each team will win and why each will lose, and predictions from Craig Massei and Bill Huber.

We go Behind Enemy Lines with Craig Massei, the editor-in-chief of SFIllustrated.com.


MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS OFFENSE VS. 49ERS DEFENSE

Packers OTs Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher/T.J. Lang vs. 49ers OLBs Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson: As usual for the Packers, the play of their offensive tackles is key. What's different this week is the challenge isn't so much in pass protection. The good news for the Packers is Lawson (2.5 sacks) and Haralson (1.0 sack) aren't big-time pass rushers, but what they do exceedingly well is play the run. Just like the Packers' combination of Aaron Kampman and Clay Matthews III, Lawson and Haralson are superb at setting the edge and funneling the ball-carrier between the tackles. And with inside linebacker Patrick Willis waiting in the middle, that's a recipe for success. So, while the 49ers' outside backers don't get many accolades, they're a big reason why the 49ers boast the NFL's third-ranked run defense. Clifton never has been much more than an average run blocker, Tauscher will be playing only his second game in a year and the rookie Lang will be playing only his second game at right tackle. That looks like a big edge for the 49ers.

Packers WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings vs. 49ers cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer: Like most defenses, the 49ers play to stop the run first, but they know they must contain Green Bay's big-play wideouts on the edges to keep Green Bay's explosive offense in check. The 49ers have been inconsistent in pass coverage this season, but for the most part, Spencer had been strong in man coverage and Brown has been excellent on the strong-side corner since taking over earlier this month from Nate Clements, the high-priced defender who was getting toasted repeatedly earlier this year to the point the 49ers finally put his $80 million backside on the bench in favor of Brown, a third-year player getting his first shot at being a regular. Brown and Spencer have legitimate speed to turn and run with receivers, and they'll need it against Driver and Jennings, who are averaging a whopping 15.3 yards on their 79 combined receptions. How well they can stick with those wideouts down the field should be a telling factor in Sunday's outcome.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ERS OFFENSE VS. PACKERS DEFENSE


Davis will see plenty of Woodson.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. Packers CB Charles Woodson: Woodson, the Packers' do-it-all defensive back, matched up against Dallas tight end Jason Witten for most of last week's game and held him without a catch through the first three quarters. Woodson will be the focal point of the 49ers' game plan because of his penchant for blitzing from anywhere and everywhere. He forced three turnovers last week, including one on an interception and one on a strip-sack. Davis, who has transformed himself from headed-to-bust status to budding star, leads the 49ers in receptions and yards, and he's got seven of the team's 11 touchdown receptions. He's someone that quarterback Alex Smith looks to frequently, for obvious reasons: At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds with plenty of speed, he's too big for most defensive backs and too fast for most linebackers.


Jenkins slams into Smith.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
49ers LT Barry Sims vs. Packers RE Cullen Jenkins and OLB Clay Matthews: The 49ers have really struggled to find stability on their offensive line, and they have had significant problems protecting the quarterback for the third season in a row, ranking 28th in the NFL in sacks allowed per play. Things have gotten a bit better in that department since Alex Smith took over as the starting quarterback, but the big surprise recently is how well Sims has played protecting Smith's blind side since moving in at left tackle three weeks ago. Things looked a little grim after the 49ers lost their best offensive lineman, starting left tackle Joe Staley, to a knee injury on their first offensive play of Week 8 at Indianapolis. Sims looked on the way to being over the hill last year when he got a starting opportunity at right tackle in his first season with the Niners, but the 11th-year veteran has held up surprisingly well in place of Staley at left tackle, his more natural position. The 49ers already have lost starting right tackle Tony Pashos for the season, so they needed Sims to step up and he has. But now comes an entirely new challenge protecting the blind side edge against effective pass rushers such as Jenkins and Matthews, Green Bay's sack leaders who have combined for 7.5 sacks this season.

THE 49ERS WILL WIN IF ...
... they play error-free football, protect the football and sustain drives and work the clock to keep their offensive on the field. It's really that simple for the 49ers, who have a playoff-caliber defense that has not been helped out much by an inconsistent offense that has been in transition most of the season. But the 49ers do have some weapons offensively and they can put up points when and if everything is clicking. San Francisco has scored more than 21 points just once in its last five games, and if the 49ers can get above that total Sunday, it should give them the total they need to win.

THE PACKERS WILL WIN IF ...

The Packers must contain Frank Gore.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
... they play with the fire and passion that they showed in upsetting the Cowboys last week. The Packers' defense dominated a terrific Cowboys offense last week, and the 49ers aren't nearly as good as Dallas at quarterback and offensive line. Simply put, come close to duplicating last week's performance — attack the quarterback on defense and avoid turnovers on offense — and the Packers will be 6-4 at the end of the day.

THE 49ERS WILL LOSE IF ...
... they lose the takeaway/giveaway battle and fail to make life miserable for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and allow him time to get in a rhythm and allow the Green Bay offense to take control of the game. The 49ers must rattle Rodgers and put him on his back at least a few times while getting in his face on most every passing down. If the 49ers allow the Green Bay offense to dictate the tempo of the game, they are not going to come out of Green Bay with their first victory at Lambeau Field since 1990.

THE PACKERS WILL LOSE IF ...
... they rest on last week's laurels. The Packers posted two big wins last season. They followed the first with two consecutive losses and they followed the second with a season-killing five-game skid. This year, the Packers followed an emotional opening win over Chicago with a loss to Cincinnati. They can't afford to do that this week because the 49ers are playing for their season.

FINAL PREDICTIONS
Craig Massei: The 49ers haven't put it all together in a game since Week 4, a time way back when they were all alone atop the NFC West and being touted as one of the rising darlings of the NFL season. It's a different situation now entirely as the Niners hit do-or-die stage, and something says that San Francisco finally is due to step it up and come through under dire circumstances after three consecutive near-misses on the road by a combined margin of 10 points against opponents that today have a combined record of 22-5.

49ERS 22, PACKERS 20

Bill Huber: Since losing to Cincinnati in Week 2, there's one thing the Packers have done consistently well this season, and that's stop the run. So, if Green Bay can take away standout halfback Frank Gore, the 49ers will have to count on mistake-prone quarterback Alex Smith. Offensively, Aaron Rodgers has thrown five interceptions at home in 13 games as the starter, so chances are the Packers won't beat themselves with turnovers.

PACKERS 20, 49ERS 10

Craig Massei is the editor in chief of SFIllustrated.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport.com


If you missed Part 1, CLICK HERE. If you missed Part 2, CLICK HERE.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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