Jim Harbaugh is worried.
And why wouldn't he be? This offseason has been a brutal one for the 49ers. They lost their star receiver to an Achilles injury, one of their primary nickel corners to a torn ACL and their flagship linebacker may not be at 100 percent for the season opener because of a fractured hand.
Mario Manningham also won't be available until Week 7, and it's safe to say that another injury to any of the Niners' starting receivers could spell the end to their Super Bowl aspirations.
So yeah, things are going to be a little tense on the sidelines in the early going. You can expect to see Jim holding a cup of Xanax every time a player is a little slow getting up.
But the most anxious moments will come whenever Colin Kaepernick is feeling the heat, which will be quite often this season. Now that defenses are aware San Francisco has a descent quarterback under center, there's going to be an aggressive mindset we haven't seen since Greg Williams focused on Alex Smith and Frank Gore and planned to well, kill them.
How bad is it now?
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has already spoken several times to the media this week about his team's strategy of hitting Kaepernick hard every time he leaves the pocket, via profootballtalk:
“You do have to take your shots on the quarterback, and obviously they’re too important to their offense,” Matthews said, via Maiocco. “If that means [coaches] pull them out of that type of offense and make them run a traditional, drop-back, pocket-style offense, I think that’s exactly what we’re going for. So you want to put hits as early and often on the quarterback and make them uncomfortable.”
Of course Harbaugh had a response, and it served a much bigger purpose than riling up the usual pre-game trash talk.
“[It] sounds a lot like targeting a specific player,” Harbaugh said. “You definitely start to wonder. A man usually doesn’t tell you his bad intentions. You know what’s being said publicly, not what’s being said privately. I hope their intent is not going to be anything that’s not within the rules.”
Translation: Dear, sweet officials, don't let these schmucks anywhere near my franchise quarterback.
The Niners weren't so much of a head case last year when Alex Smith was the starter. And by that I don't mean no one cared about Alex's safety and well-being. They just had a serviceable backup. One who would go on to shatter records and lead his team to the Super Bowl.
It's hard to feel the same kind of optimism with Colt McCoy. The sight of Kaepernick in his "hands off" practice jersey showed a mutual feeling in training camp.
The Pollyanish among us might think back to 2008, when the Patriots lost Tom Brady to a devastating knee injury, but went on to win 11 games behind backup quarterback Matt Cassell.
But they still missed the playoffs, and for a team whose expectations are to make the Super Bowl every year, such a season will always be judged a failure.
The 49ers find themselves in a similar situation this year. After falling short of the Super Bowl in overtime in 2012 and coming five yards shy of winning it all last February, they're just one advancement away from a sixth world title.
They're a team that continues to get better with every draft: this year they have Colin Kaepernick instead of Alex Smith, Anquan Boldin instead of Randy Moss and Phil Dawson in place of David Akers. The future also looks bright with Eric Reid, Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore and Tank Carradine.
But they're going to face a daunting challenge in Week 1.
The Packers want to win this game. A lot. That became evident earlier this week when they signed Scott Tolzien and Seneca Wallace to their practice squad. Neither one of them will ever take a snap in a Packers uniform, but they may be able to provide valuable insight on what kind of audibles the Niners will call and what stick of deodorant Adam Snyder keeps in his locker.
This game is of equal importance to the 49ers, who will have their biggest challenge of the year when they travel to Seattle next week to take on the Seahawks and the 12th man. A loss at home against the cheeseheads could mean an 0-2 start for the season.
It's clear last season's humiliating defeat in the playoffs has the Packers focused on one thing. Colin Kaepernick may have had the single most dominant game in NFL history—yes, even better than Peyton Manning's seven-touchdown duck hunt against the Ravens last night—and the Pack are determined to send out a message:
"Run against us and you'll pay."
Kaepernick, undeterred, has already delivered the perfect response.
“I’m not worried about that,” Kaepernick said. “It’s football. You’re going to get hit.”
Translation: catch me if you can.
Injuries or not, the 49ers are ready, and fearless.
See you Sunday.
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