49ers vs Packers: How Should San Francisco Attack Green Bay?
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.For want of a shoe the horse was lost.For want of a horse the rider was lost.For want of a rider the message was lost.For want of a message the battle was lost.For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
We're still shaking things up here at the NFC North blog by using our knowledge of the flaws of each team to attack them as if we were the opposition game-planning.
The 49ers have one of the more potent defenses in the NFL, but they lack proven scoring power offensively, while the Packers have a big-scoring offense but are coming off a year where the defense completely fell off a cliff.
Both teams feel they can take a leap forward in their respective weak areas and will look to prove it during Sunday's game.
There are several areas the Niners will focus on to beat the Packers.
When the 49ers Are on Offense
The 49ers made their bones offensively last year with quick, short passes that got the ball out of Alex Smith's hands as fast as possible.
That remains the case this year, despite the extra weapons the team has brought in to help.
The Packers have worked hard to get their pass rush back and will come after Smith hard, but the quick pass attack the Niners used last year will help overcome whatever pass rush the Packers can come up with.
Smith getting a quick pass out will minimize the risk of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry getting a hand on him, as well as counter any blitzes by safeties or penetration by the defensive line.
Along with the fast release by Smith, it would be wise for the Niners to make sure they keep some extra blockers in on occasion.
Teams that chose to block either Matthews or Perry (not both) often ran into trouble. The Packers will overload an offensive line, and having fullback Bruce Miller or a tight end in to help out will stifle any pass rush.
While Smith and the Niner offense need to keep things quick and the Packers' rush off-balance, they have to take some shots downfield. The Packers' secondary has some question marks, and the Niners should attack them early.
Test Davon House (if he plays), Sam Shields and Casey Hayward. Avoid Tramon Williams if you can. Attack M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian when they are in at safety and Charles Woodson is at corner.
Along with eating up chunks of field, this also keeps the defense from just hanging around the line of scrimmage. They can't blitz Morgan Burnett if he needs to help Hayward over the top.
Keep them off-balance and keep the pass rush from getting their hands on Smith—that's how the Niners will be able to move the ball and score the points they may need to keep up with a potent offense.
When the 49ers Are on Defense
This will be a good early test for the 49ers, as the Packers boast one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.
In order to give their offense a shot at keeping up, the defense has to slow this juggernaut down.
They will want to start by attacking left tackle Marshall Newhouse.
Newhouse allowed 10.5 sacks and 41.5 quarterback pressures in 2011, and while he has looked better this preseason, the 49ers will want to pressure him early to see if he can be broken.
Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, even inside guys Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman should get lined up on Newhouse at some point. Give him different looks and keep the offensive line from being able to shore him up with help from T.J. Lang or even fullback John Kuhn and Jermicheal Finley or another tight end.
They have to get at Rodgers as soon as they can, and to do that, they need to break Newhouse.
Getting pressure on Rodgers is, of course, just part of the problem. Once you get in on him, you still need to contain him. So they have to keep him from breaking off a run or creating extra time with his feet.
When they get near Rodgers, he has to get hit.
Rodgers will get passes off, of course—he's Aaron Rodgers. So keeping a lid on Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson is a huge concern.
The secondary for the Niners is OK. Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarrell Brown are solid, while the safety combo of Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson is very productive.
Rodgers and Brown will have to try and knock Jennings and Nelson off their routes to try and throw Rodgers' timing off.
Simultaneously, the linebackers are going to have to keep an eye on Jermicheal Finley, Randall Cobb and Donald Driver on shorter routes, especially across the middle.
Again, it's a matter of knocking the receivers off their routes and screwing up Rodgers' timing.
There's also a new element the defense has to worry about: This year the Packers have what appears to be a real run game.
Cedric Benson will not be mistaken for Ray Rice or Arian Foster, but he is a solid and productive back. He will get some carries, probably very early on.
The Packers already had a tremendous play action—before they had a real ground attack.
Now that they really can run the ball, the Niners also have to be very careful not to get sucked in on that same play-action scenario.
If Rodgers suckers them in, you can bet the result will be a very long reception by Nelson or Jennings.
This is a game that truly can go either way. For the Niners, they have to prove the offensive output last year wasn't a fluke and that they can be more of a threat vertically.
To do that, they have to make the Packers' pass rush and secondary remind everyone of last season. They have to keep the pass rush in check to allow Smith time to move the ball.
Meanwhile, they have to find a way to get at Aaron Rodgers, and that more than likely comes down to how effective they can be in forcing Marshall Newhouse to make mistakes.
It's a very winnable game for San Francisco by doing those things.
If they fail at one of them, the game could just as easily be lost.
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