The San Francisco 49ers open the 2013 season against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Excitement is building for Niner fans as Sunday approaches. The team is not only looking recapture the NFC West title, but also return to the Super Bowl in their final season at Candlestick Park.
To preview the regular season opener, Niner Noise teamed up with Packers fan website Lombardi Ave for a question and answer session. Here are the answers from Lombardi Ave and below that you can find our answers. Enjoy and go 49ers!
Q.) What are your exceptions for the Packers this season?
I expect the Packers to be playoff contenders, but beyond that, it’s really tough to know how well they’ll do this season. There are a lot of really good teams this year in the NFC, and the Packers will have a tough road ahead of them to lock down a playoff spot.
I think their defense will take a step forward from last year. They already improved quite a bit from their 32nd-ranking in 2011, but they still need to take that extra step in order for the Packers to be serious championship contenders this year. They have Clay Matthews and a lot of young, talented players, but they need more playmakers. So we’ll see if any emerge this season on defense.
The offense should be a bit more balanced this year. At least that is the hope. They’ll still be primarily a passing team with Rodgers under center, but with Eddie Lacy in the backfield, their ground game may have a little more life this season.
Q.) How big of an impact will losing starting offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season have on Green Bay’s offense?
It will have a major impact. Fourth-round David Bakhtiari will start at left tackle in Bulaga’s place. The Packers really like the rookie lineman, but he’s still a rookie and will have his share of mistakes this season. However, he did look decent in the preseason and should hold up admirably most of the time. The question is though how well will he do against the elite pass rushers in the league, like Aldon Smith and Jared Allen?
If Bakhtiari can hold his own on the left side then the Packers offense shouldn’t be inhibited in any way. But if the rookie struggles and the Packers need to adjust their game plan or favor the protection to his side, then the offense may not be able to do everything they want at the line scrimmage and exploit mismatches on the field. A lot rests on the rookie’s shoulders, but I guess the silver lining here is that the team will still have last year’s starting left tackle Marshall Newhouse ready to go off the bench if Bakhtiari becomes too much of a liability in protection.
Q.) What are Packers fans expecting out of rookie running back Eddie Lacy?
Well, I think fans expect a lot out of Lacy this season. Packers fans have been anxious for Green Bay to pick up a difference maker in the backfield for some time now, and the hope is Lacy will be that guy. The team hasn’t had a 1,000-yd back since 2009. It’s clear things would be much easier for Rodgers and the offense if they got the running game going.
However, I get the feeling some fans are expecting too much out of the rookie back, and I worry that if Lacy struggles early on in the season, people will be ready to give up on him. It’s important to remember, although really talented, he’s still a rookie and we’ll have to be patient with his development as an NFL running back.
Having said that, I think Lacy will help open things up on offense. Teams won’t be able to just play two-shell all the time against the Packers. Plus, he’ll help revitalize the play action game, which will help the Green Bay offense get more open looks downfield. Even if Lacy doesn’t top 1,000 yds this season (which he may), he’ll still be effective if he can manage 60-80 yds rushing a game. That’s just enough to make opposing defenses account for him.
The Packers did not have much success stopping the Niners offense in the playoffs the last time the teams met. How will the Packers defense stop Colin Kaepernick and the read-option this time around?
There has been one number that has been talked about over and over this offseason—579. That number has haunted the Green Bay Packers all year, and I think the coaches and players are ready to prove they won’t give up that kind of yardage again.
The Packers have tried to get more athletic on defense this year to stop the read-option and athletic quarterbacks, like Kaepernick. They released some veterans and are going with younger talent at key positions, like safety and linebacker. The Packers will definitely do whatever they can to prevent Kaepernick from running all over the field like in last year’s divisional round game.
My guess is that Green Bay will play a lot of single man coverage on the Niners’ receivers and bring an extra defender in the box to prevent the run and force Kaepernick to pass. I think the Packers would rather take their chances with Kaepernick throwing the ball than running it. But we’ll see, it will be a huge challenge for their defense to start off the season.
Q.) What is your prediction (with final score) for the game between the Niners and Packers?
Oh, man. This game is a tough one to predict. I could really see it going either way, especially considering this is the season opener and we really haven’t seen either team play this year.
But if I have to decide, I’m going to have to go with the Packers (big surprise), but I think it will be close. I think the Packers will have a slight edge because the injuries the Niners suffered at wide receiver will allow the Green Bay defense to play a lot of man coverage and free up extra defenders to shadow Kaepernick. I also think if Green Bay gets some production from Lacy and the running game that will open things up for Rodgers in the passing game.
The final score will be Green Bay 24, San Francisco 21.
It will be a good one to watch. I can’t wait.
Here are Niner Noise’s answers from the Q&A:
Q.) The 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl before coming up short. What are your expectations of them this season?
Super Bowl or bust! The Niners have a tough schedule, especially the first four games of the season. But with a majority of the starters on offense and defense from last season returning, many fans expect another NFC West championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. Niner fans are excited to see what Colin Kaepernick will accomplish this year as he will be playing in his first full season as a starting QB.
Q.) The 49ers are dealing with some injuries at wide receiver with both Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out. Who is stepping up in the passing game to make up for these losses?
Losing Michael Crabtree, who will likely be out until December, was a big loss for the Niners offense. But with Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and the likely emergence of rookie receiver Quinton Patton, the offense should continue clicking like last season. In the preseason, Kaepernick and Boldin developed an on the field connection that an offense needs to with their QB and No. 1 receiver.
Boldin has taken over the No. 1 receiver spot, with Kyle Williams taking over his spot as the second receiver on the depth chart. Manningham is on the PUP list, so he will not be back until after the sixth game of the season, at the earliest. This is where many Niner fans expect Patton to step up for Manningham as the slot receiver.
Q.) Colin Kaepernick is one of the young rising stars in this league. What makes him such a special player? What area of his game do you think he needs to improve upon this season?
As Packer fans found out the last time the two teams played, Kaepernick’s speed and ability to run is what makes him a special player. On every play opposing defenses have to account for his legs, even if it looks like a passing play.
Where Kaepernick needs to improve this season is to know when to slide or go out of bounds after he tucks the football and runs. He didn’t get hurt last season or take any jarring hits, but opposing teams will be looking to hit him as often as they can to make him think twice about running again. Last season, he had the fourth highest percentage of hits taken on rush attempts in the league for quarterbacks. On 65 rushing attempts, he was hit 31 times (47.7 %.)
Q.) What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the team heading into this season?
The strength for the Niners is their defense. The team had six defensive players make the Pro Bowl last season. Don’t be surprised if the Niners have more than that selected after the upcoming season. Another reason the defense is the strength of the team is because of the depth they have with their backups. The defense could replace most of their starters and still continue clicking and stopping offenses.
The weakness for the Niners would be at wide receiver because of the injuries already mentioned. Boldin is a solid receiver and Williams has shown he can be a reliable receiver. But with young and unproven receivers like Patton, Marlon Moore, Jon Baldwin and Chris Harper backing them up, the offense could be one injury away from having its passing game collapse.
Q.) Give us a one player on defense and one player on offense that we may not know a lot about but could surprise people this year?
On defense, that player will be rookie safety Eric Reid. He is taking over as the starting safety for Dashon Goldson who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason. In training camp and the preseason, Reid has played so well in coverage, making tackles and laying out jarring hits that Niner fans have already forgotten about losing Goldson.
Receiver Quinton Patton will have a breakout year as the Niners slot receiver. Kaepernick showed in the preseason games he trusts throwing to Patton and the receiver showed he was capable of making big plays. It will be interesting to see how he plays on the field in the regular season
Q.) What are your expectations for the opener on Sunday?
Niners win in a close game, 27-24. Both defenses will dominate the game, but the Niners D will win the turnover battle, which means a victory for San Francisco.
Q.) Any other thoughts you’d like to leave with us about the 49ers?
Good luck stopping the gazelle that is Colin Kaepernick on Sunday.