The San Francisco 49ers face a brutal test in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. It's a contest that most experts expect the Packers to win, but the 49ers have all the right tools at their disposal to prove them wrong.
Even more frightening is the fact that the team loaded up on defense this past draft. The secondary—a big liability last year—looks to be much improved in 2012.
Still, the 49ers haven't exactly been twiddling their thumbs this past offseason. General manager Trent Baalke has done an excellent job of shoring up areas of weakness, and the team's roster is one of the league's deepest from top to bottom.
Let's take a look at a few things the 49ers need to do in order to defeat the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
The New York Giants provided a blueprint on how to slow down Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs last year. They successfully pressured him throughout the game, sacking him four times and hitting him five times.
The 49ers have to get in Rodgers' head early on in this upcoming game. And, while the 49ers were one of the best teams in the NFL in 2011 at getting to the quarterback, we have yet to see much from the starters in this department in 2012.
Aldon Smith will be playing in his first NFL game as a starter, and we're going to see him in on most plays, whether it be as a 3-4 outside linebacker or as a defensive end in the team's nickel packages. It's imperative that Smith have a huge game, because he's the team's best pure pass-rusher. If he's on his game, the rest of the front seven will have an easier time making an impact, due to the requisite double-team he'll be due.
The Packers' offensive line is subject to being breached, but the entire defensive line will need to play disciplined and stay in their lanes or Rodgers is liable to run wild.
Dashon Goldson is the weakest link for the 49ers on defense.
While his stats were outstanding last year, he was oftentimes out of position on crucial plays. He has a strong urge to make big plays, which is a plus, but it gets him into trouble when he guesses wrong or takes the bait of a seasoned quarterback that tricks him by looking off his true target.
According to Pro Football Focus, Goldson missed 11 tackles in 2011 and was given a negative rating in pass-coverage in six games.
Goldson must play with more discipline. If he doesn't, Aaron Rodgers will carve up the 49ers' secondary and the Packers will win.
From what I've seen so far from the 49ers' starting offensive line in 2012, this upcoming game against the Packers could turn into a repeat of the team's Thanksgiving Harghbowl game against the Baltimore Ravens last season.
The offensive line must play as a unit. Everyone must execute their assignments in pass-protection. The Packers look to have found Clay Matthews' counterpart in Nick Perry, and if these two are allowed to run wild, Alex Smith is in for a long, long night.
It's especially imperative that Alex Boone correct his preseason mistakes at the right guard position. The former tackle didn't look smooth during the preseason, and it was obvious at times that he's still not sure what to do in certain situations.
Furthermore, the offensive line must dominate the Packers' front seven in the running game. It's going to require a balanced approach for the 49ers to win, and on offense, it all starts with the hogs up front.
If the 49ers have any chance of winning this contest, Alex Smith must put on a performance like the one we saw from him against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs last season.
So far this preseason, I've been impressed by what I've seen from Smith. He has full confidence in his ability to move the offense, and his mastery of the playbook is apparent. His stats tell the story: 13-of-19 for 134 yards (7.1 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 123.6.
Smith must have a big game against the Packers for the 49ers to win. Aaron Rodgers will surely turn this game into a shootout, no matter how well the 49ers defense performs, and Smith is going to need to match him throw for throw late in the game.
The 49ers have an excellent chance to steal this game on the road as long as Smith continues making smart decisions and playing with the same efficiency we saw from him during the preseason.
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