49ers vs. Packers: 5 Keys to the Game for San Francisco
It's the end of the business week and we are 48 hours from witnessing the opening weekend to kick off the 2012 NFL season.
Amidst an exciting schedule of match-ups, the 49ers and Packers headline Week 1 with America's Game of the Week. The Niners will have their hands full with the Pack at Lambeau Field, and even though they are the underdog, the 49ers have the team makeup to come away with a win.
Aaron Rodgers is coming off incredible back-to-back seasons, in which he won a Super Bowl and was named the league's MVP. He is arguably the most dangerous football player in the NFL today, so it will be quite the challenge for San Francisco right off the bat.
In this piece, we'll break down five things the San Francisco 49ers can do to put themselves in a position to win this ball game.
Win Individual Match-Ups
Across the board, the 49ers need to focus on winning individual match-ups; obviously, this entails a lot.
When Jim Harbaugh and the staff talk about accountability, this is loosely what they are alluding to. Players need to be accountable and responsible for their assignments. They must play as hard, if not harder, than the guy next to them.
And this goes for offense, defense and special teams.
The 49ers' receivers need to beat their corners to give Alex Smith a chance to make a play. The backs have to pick up the blitz, catch out of the backfield and hit their gaps. And the offensive line needs to execute their assignments to allow full functionality on that side of the football.
It's important for the Niners to have balance on offense, and they can do that by simplifying things, like winning individual match-ups.
San Francisco's defensive line and backers need to keep this game in front of them. The defensive lineman need to beat their match-ups, which are favorable ones, and inflict constant disruption in the Green Bay backfield. This applies to the outside linebackers as well, who will be depended upon to get pressure on the quarterback.
And perhaps most importantly, the 49ers' cornerbacks need to beat the Packers receivers. San Francisco has the depth at the position to take away Green Bay's receivers and present them with a real challenge for 60 minutes.
If the Niners defensive backs can consistently get position on them and run with them 'til the whistle blows, they will have a great shot of winning this one.
Also, there cannot be any blown assignments, because Green Bay will capitalize without hesitating. Give this team an inch and they will take a mile; it's that simple.
But remember, the 49ers defensive backs only need to cover long enough for Justin or Aldon Smith to get through, which is only a matter of seconds at a time. Because of the level of talent on this team, there will be an intangible support system when it comes to guys winning match-ups.
Having talent next to talent will make the jobs of each 49ers player easier than it would have been had they not fielded a complete team. On the contrary, there is indeed a number of highly able football players, that together, should be able to exploit their opponent.
Win Turnover Margin
This is essential if the 49ers want to have success against the Packers.
The 49ers need to establish their game and play their brand of football, which is mistake-free and physical. The battle for the turnover margin will be fought and won in all three phases of the game. In 2011, the 49ers were a league-high +28 in the turnover margin, but some question whether they can repeat that.
On offense, San Francisco needs to play methodical, slow-paced, ball-control football. If the 49ers want to win this game, they cannot allow the Packers any breathing room, and they can restrict it by limiting the turnovers.
On defense, the Niners need to attack the football on every single play. The defense has to make the Packers' players paranoid and uncomfortable when possessing the football. They have to rip at the football, jump routes, gang tackle and put a helmet on the ball whenever they get a chance.
Swarming the football will help them win this one.
The 49ers' special teams squad is fully capable of making plays as well. The Niners have an excellent crew of gunners; built of smart, fast players who don't hesitate to go for the football.
Control the Tempo
From the opening kickoff, the 49ers need to control the tempo of this ball game. When they force other teams into playing their style of football, teams often find themselves trying to put a square peg in a round hole: it just doesn't work.
The 49ers need to focus on running the football against the Packers. One of the most important things they can do when it comes to controlling the tempo is to move the ball on the ground effectively.
The Niners have made moves this offseason, enabling themselves to run the ball at will on game day. Against teams like Green Bay, that is exactly what will help them achieve success.
By moderating the tempo, San Francisco can control the clock and help themselves win time of possession. Ultimately, if the 49ers can control the tempo on offense, it will limit the opportunities for Aaron Rodgers.
Like the Niners defense managed to do against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, they need to prevent Rodgers from establishing a rhythm. The more time the Packers QB has on the field, the more damage he can do.
The 49ers defense can also help control the tempo of the game.
By setting the tone with physical play, and this goes back to winning match-ups, the Niners can prevent Rodgers from being comfortable. The 49ers can slow the pace of the game by affecting the other team's quarterback.
It takes technically sound football to set and control the tempo of the game; however, the 49ers have the tools to do it.
Hit the Quarterback
The 49ers need to get after Aaron Rodgers immediately and consistently. There needs to be constant pressure on the Packers QB throughout the ball game.
A big part of this responsibility falls on the defensive line, made of Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald. These guys need to be able to pressure Rodgers without added help, because San Francisco will need the extra men in coverage.
By consistently pressuring Rodgers, the 49ers can:
- Make him throw off balance
- Make him throw the football away
- Make him check down
- Make him desperate to make a play
- Make him force throws and turnovers
Even though the defensive line will be highly depended upon, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks can step up with big games and help San Francisco close this one out.
Smith is transitioning into a starting role this year, featuring a unique skill set that enables him to get in the opponents' backfield with frequency. He is an efficient blitzing linebacker that can change the outcome of a game with his talents.
With much of the attention focused on the right side of San Francisco's front, Ahmad Brooks should see a fair amount of opportunities. Brooks is a solid 3-4 outside linebacker who is as good pressuring as he is stopping the run. He needs introduce himself to Rodgers early and often.
If Rodgers realizes that both sides of the Niners front are equally threatening, and he could get hit from anywhere on any play, he will get rattled.
Like the Niners did to Eli Manning and Drew Brees, they need to have Rodgers looking out of his earhole.
Capitalize on Turnovers, Score in the Red Zone
Finally, the 49ers have to capitalize on opportunities, particularly turnovers and red-zone visits.
When San Francisco has an opportunity to score touchdowns in the red zone, they cannot settle for field goals. The 49ers have been in positions before where they could have run away with the game early, but settled for a few field goals instead of a few TD's.
There is a 12-point difference between three field goals and three touchdowns, and in a game like this, that could mean the world to San Francisco.
The 49ers will take the football away because it's their specialty, but turnovers mean nothing if Andy Lee is punting the ball back to Green Bay two minutes later. The offense bears the responsibility of putting the ball in the end zone after the defense has put them in a great situation.
The defense and special teams will greatly help the Niners offense, but it's up to them to finish the job. If San Francisco can do this, it will signify a pure team win. It will take every fiber of each individual Niner to leave Lambeau with a W on Sunday.
This is perhaps the most important thing the 49ers can do collectively as a team to help them start the 2012 season 1-0.
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