San Francisco 49ers (4-5) at Green Bay Packers (5-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, noon.
TV: Fox (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Chris Myers)
Series: 55th regular-season meeting. Packers lead 28-25-1. Including a postseason matchup in the 2001 season, Green Bay has won the last six games dating to 1999. Four of those six meetings had point spreads of at least 10 points, including 30-19 in the teams' most recent meeting in 2006 at San Francisco. The Packers' last loss in the series was 30-27 on the road Jan. 3, 1999, in the controversial NFC wild-card matchup decided on a last-second touchdown pass from Steve Young to Terrell Owens. Green Bay is 11-1 against the 49ers since the 1995 season, including a 6-0 record at Lambeau Field.
Packers: WR Biren Ealy, RB Ahman Green, S Matt Giordano, T Breno Giacomini, T Allen Barbre, DE Michael Montgomery, LB Jeremy Thompson.
49ers: QB Nate Davis (third QB), CB Keith Smith, CB Nate Clements, LB Takeo Spikes, C Cody Wallace, LT Joe Staley, WR Brandon Jones, DT Ricky Jean Francois.
Keys to the game
The Packers allow just 3.5 yards per carry and will come out focused on RB Frank Gore. His production has been inconsistent behind a shaky line, but the 49ers will still bank on establishing a ground game because QB Alex Smith is prone to throwing the ball into tight quarters and the Packers already have 13 interceptions. Green Bay continues to tinker with its own offensive line personnel. If QB Aaron Rodgers is given the time, he should have success working downfield. San Francisco picked off five passes in its last game but is still a bit thin in the secondary.
This is the first matchup between Alex Smith, the first overall pick in 2005, and Aaron Rodgers (No. 24). Smith, in 36 career starts, has 25 touchdown passes and 37 interceptions. Rodgers, in 25 career starts, has 46 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. ... The Packers rank eighth in the NFL on offense (12th rushing, 11th passing) and fourth on defense (fourth rushing, sixth passing). The 49ers rank 27th on offense (22nd rushing, 24th passing) and 18th on defense (third rushing, 29th passing).
Packers: Doubtful — T Allen Barbre (ankle). Questionable — G/C Evan Dietrich-Smith (ankle); RB Ahman Green (groin). Probable — LB Desmond Bishop (ankle); LB Brandon Chillar (hand); TE Jermichael Finley (knee); DE Cullen Jenkins (ankle); DE Johnny Jolly (back); LB Brad Jones (concussion); LB Aaron Kampman (concussion); FB John Kuhn (hand); LB Clay Matthews (jaw); LB Brady Poppinga (thigh); T Mark Tauscher (knee); C Scott Wells (concussion); CB Charles Woodson (hip).
49ers: Out — CB Nate Clements (shoulder); T Joe Staley (knee). Questionable — LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring). Probable — WR Isaac Bruce (ankle and elbow); RB Glen Coffee (concussion); WR Michael Crabtree (knee); DT Demetric Evans (shoulder); S Michael Lewis (quad); RB Michael Robinson (not injury related); S Mark Roman (knee); DE Justin Smith (back); T/G Adam Snyder (shoulder).
Inside the 49ers
San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is the team's most important offensive player. And that certainly will not change Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
Not only is Gore being counted upon to get yards on the ground and in the passing game. But he will also have one of the big challenges of remaining in the backfield and putting his blitz pickup skills to use.
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said the Packers have achieved a lot of success this season at dictating mismatches with opposing running backs in pass protection. Defensive back Charles Woodson came free on a blitz last week against the Dallas Cowboys to sack Tony Romo and force a fumble. Also, Green Bay has converted defensive end Aaron Kampman to outside linebacker.
"They create a mismatch over there on that side with a back trying to block a defensive lineman off of a two-point stance," Raye said.
This challenge is nothing new to Gore, who takes a lot of pride in being an all-around running back. He leads the 49ers with 551 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 105 carries (5.2-yard average). Gore has also caught 26 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown.
But he knows his blocking will be just as important to the 49ers' success on Sunday.
"I just have to know what I'm doing," Gore said. "They bring a lot of pressure. As long as I feel I know what I'm doing and what man to block. I'm going to try my best to block him."
An aggressive, productive front seven on the San Francisco 49ers defense will dare the Packers to run the football. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy has been quick to give up on the run game if things don't start to his satisfaction, so a familiar pass-heavy plan of attack could be in order against a short-handed 49ers secondary.
The Packers are expected to be at full strength with their receivers for the first time in five games, as vertical threat Jermichael Finley returns at tight end. The resurrection of quick, short passes to benefit sack-burdened Aaron Rodgers did wonders in the big win over the Dallas Cowboys last time out, but Rodgers will have to be cognizant of the 49ers' flooding the field underneath and trying to take away the slants.
On defense, the Packers have to keep big-play tight end Vernon Davis from becoming a factor, perhaps rolling shutdown corner Charles Woodson to Davis. That would allow defensive coordinator Dom Capers to stack the box at will for the dual purpose of stopping powerful running back Frank Gore, whom McCarthy touts as "special," and dialing up the pressure on erratic quarterback Alex Smith. Green Bay can ill afford to give Smith time to throw and gain some elusive confidence. Nickel back Tramon Williams figures to be on the spot against rookie wideout Michael Crabtree.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.