Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in SF 49ers' Week 1 Action
This game features two very good teams, both with designs on the Super Bowl. It's quite possible that we could see these teams playing each other again in the playoffs.
Let's take a look at some of the most intriguing battles to watch in the upcoming game.
All stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Ian Williams vs. Evan Dietrich-Smith
Ian Williams was one of the 49ers' most pleasant surprises. He played very well in training camp and in the 49ers' preseason games, winning the starting nose tackle position.
Williams, who is 6'1" and weighs in at 305 lbs., provides a big physical presence in the middle of the 49ers' defensive line. He gets the first start of his NFL career and will go up against Green Bay center Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Dietrich-Smith started six games for the Packers last year and will have his hands full against Williams.
Williams has shown an ability to occupy multiple blockers on running plays and also get a good push in the pass rush. It is his ability to apply pressure up the middle that helps prevent opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket.
Vernon Davis vs. M.D. Jennings
Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick have developed a much stronger chemistry than they had for much of last season. The Packers' secondary will be focused on stopping Anquan Boldin, so Davis becomes an important option for Kaepernick.
The coverage assignment on Davis will frequently go to Green Bay strong safety M.D. Jennings. He is entering his third year with the Packers and started 10 games last year. Jennings had one interception in 2012.
In addition to Jennings, linebacker Nick Perry will also get some of the assignments to cover Davis.
If Davis has a big day, the 49ers offense will be clicking. With one of the 49ers' wide receiver positions a bit of a question mark, Davis' productivity will be an important element of the 49ers passing game.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Eric Reid
Aaron Rodgers will be passing early and often against the San Francisco 49ers.
Rodgers is certainly one of, if not the best quarterback in the NFL. In 2012, Rodgers completed 371 of his 552 pass attempts for 4,295 yards. Rodgers threw for 39 touchdowns and had only eight interceptions.
Although they are not matched up directly, a big part of this game will be the play of Eric Reid. He won the starting free safety job, replacing Dashon Goldson.
The Packers are unlikely to have much success running the football against the 49ers' tough run defense. They will therefore rely on Rodgers and the passing attack to win the game.
Rodgers will try to confuse Reid and exploit the rookie, who will be starting his first regular-season game in the NFL. If Reid and the rest of the secondary can hold their own, the 49ers will have an excellent chance to win.
Joe Staley vs. Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews, now in his fifth NFL campaign, has been a Pro Bowl linebacker in each of his prior four seasons. In 12 games last year, Matthews had 13 sacks and can be a major force for the Green Bay defense.
We will see Matthews rushing the passer frequently from his outside linebacker position. Joe Staley will have the job of keeping Matthews away from Colin Kaepernick.
If Matthews can harass Kaepernick and force him to rush his throws, it will disrupt the 49ers' passing game.
If Staley can handle Matthews one-on-one, the 49ers will have a huge advantage. They will not need to use a tight end to chip Matthews, nor will they need to keep a running back in to provide blocking help for Staley.
Aldon Smith vs. David Bakhtiari
The San Francisco 49ers faced the Green Bay Packers twice last season, once in the regular season and once in the playoffs. The 49ers won both contests, but 2013 is a new year.
One of the biggest keys for the Packers is giving Aaron Rodgers time to throw. If he has time, he will exploit the 49ers' defensive secondary.
The 49ers will attempt to get a strong, consistent pass rush on Rodgers. If they can sack him or even apply good pressure, forcing him to throw before he wants to, it bodes very well for the 49ers defense.
Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks last year and was a Pro Bowl selection and First-Team All-Pro. He will go up against rookie David Bakhtiari, who replaces the injured Bryan Bulaga. If Smith has a big day, he can create havoc on the Packers' offense.
Bulaga's injury was a major blow to the Packers offensive line. Bakhtiari was a fourth-round draft selection this year and is completely unproved at the NFL level.
The Packers will certainly give him help, sometimes with a tight end and often with a running back. If they cannot keep Smith off of Rodgers, they will be in trouble.
The need for the Packers to double-team Smith will enable Ray McDonald and Justin Smith to work one-on-one against their blockers. It will also give the 49ers some good blitz opportunities, but they must get to Rodgers if they employ this tactic.
The battle between Smith and Bakhtiari will be extremely interesting to watch. Whichever player has the most success will go a long way towards determining the winner in this game.