When you are the Green Bay Packers and the opponent you are facing the opening week of the 2013 NFL season is the San Francisco 49ers, you certainly would have some serious questions heading into the game.
The Niners are the reigning NFC champions, plus beat the Packers twice last year, both times in physical fashion.
The last loss was in a NFC Divisional Game at Candlestick Park, where the game on Sunday will be played. San Francisco throttled the Packers 45-31 and had 579 total yards in the game. They had an astonishing 323 yards rushing as well.
I have a number of questions that the Packers should be asking themselves going into the game on Sunday.
Colin Kaepernick ran the read-option play almost perfectly last postseason versus the Packers. Kaepernick had 181 yards rushing by himself, and the team total was 323 rushing yards.
That's called gashing a defense and making it look like Swiss cheese.
The run game was so efficient, that Kaepernick also took to the air for 263 more yards, and the overall total yardage ended up being 579.
If the Packers have any chance in this game, and in future games where teams will deploy the read-option, the defense must be ready to handle this offensive scheme.
The ingredients are there for the defense this year. Rookie defensive end Datone Jones was very effective against teams that ran the read-option versus UCLA. Second-year outside linebacker Nick Perry will be playing at left outside linebacker instead of Erik Walden.
Veteran Johnny Jolly is back after three years out of the NFL, and is playing like he did in 2009, when he was an efficient run-stuffer. The Packers have three other defensive linemen who also play the run well. They are B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson, who will all be part of a rotation to keep the linemen fresh in this game.
Linebackers like Perry, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones have to be active. They have to make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage, as opposed to well down field. Matthews is known for his pass-rushing skills, but has also become a complete linebacker, both in playing the run and the pass.
Bottom line, the Packers have to prove that they can stop this play effectively on Sunday, otherwise it will be another long day for defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his crew.
Aaron Rodgers is 2-2 lifetime (including the postseason) against the 49ers. Going into last season, Rodgers was 2-0, had thrown five touchdown passes without a pick and had an overall quarterback rating of 118.9.
But last season, Rodgers and the Packers lost both games when they faced San Francisco, including a NFC Divisional Game. Rodgers was still good, but he only threw four touchdown passes, compared to two interceptions. Each one of those interceptions happened at a key point in both games last year.
The combined quarterback rating for Rodgers in those two losses was 92.4 That's still a pretty good rating, but not good enough to beat a team like the 49ers.
The Packers need Rodgers to have a quarterback rating close to his career NFL mark of 104.9, which is the all-time record among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 pass attempts.
For the Packers to win, Rodgers will have to his usual excellent day behind center. Rodgers is remarkably consistent. He has had a passer rating of over 100 for the entire season for four straight years now.
If Rodgers can throw a couple (or more) touchdown passes in the game on Sunday, and not throw an interception, the chances of the Packers winning the game will definitely increase.
Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari certainly will be facing one of the very best players in the NFL on Sunday, when he matches up against right outside linebacker Aldon Smith in his very first NFL regular season game.
Bakhtiari has had a very good training camp with the Packers, especially in terms of his pass protection.
In the first part of camp, Bakhtiari was winning against the competition for the starting position at right tackle, when left tackle Byran Bulaga tore his ACL at the Family Night scrimmage.
Bakhtiari immediately moved to left tackle and has stayed there ever since. When he played at Colorado, Bakhtiari also played both right and left tackle, and was very effective in each of those roles.
Through the preseason, No. 69 has had a couple of glitches, but has played well for the most part. Bakhtiari's pass-blocking is his number one strength, while his run-blocking still needs more work, especially at the point of attack.
In facing Smith, Bakhtiari will be facing the guy who led the NFC in sacks with 19.5. It will be a stiff test, but one that Bakhtiari needs to pass.
The first time the Packers faced the 49ers last season, which was opening weekend, the Packers only gained 45 rushing yards. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had 27 of those. Running back Cedric Benson only had 18 yards.
The ground game got a bit better in the playoffs, when the Packers rushed for 104 yards, led by running back DuJuan Harris, who had 51 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers also chipped in 28 more yards.
The Packers need to see that same improvement this game when running the football. This year, instead of Benson or Harris, the Packers will be lining up Eddie Lacy more times than not at the running back position.
The Packers need Lacy to be a difference-maker in the ground game. Just like he was at Alabama, where he took over games by himself at times. Lacy can help the Packers in two ways.
One, he can pile up impressive running stats, especially in short-yardage situations. Two, he can make the opposing defenses play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage because of his effective play, which will allow the deep passing game to be another option for Rodgers to utilize.
Lacy and the Packers will be facing one of the better run-defenses in the NFC, as the Niners were ranked fourth against the run last season.
But for the Packers to improve on offense, the running game has to get better, which will in turn open up the passing game.
That is why No. 27 is in Green Bay.
The most impressive player for the Packers in training camp this year was rookie defensive back Micah Hyde, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Hyde seems to always be around the football. He is also a sure-tackler, which is a very important attribute to have.
Hyde has gotten most of his playing time at the slot-cornerback position, as Casey Hayward has missed most of training camp due to a hamstring issue. That same issue will keep Hayward out of the game against the 49ers on Sunday.
Hayward did a very effective job at the slot-corner last year, as he had six interceptions playing the position. Before Hayward took over last season, it was veteran Charles Woodson who manned the position, and was one of the very best in the NFL at that job. Woodson had 18 picks in three years as a slot-corner.
Hyde has a similar instincts compared to both Hayward and Woodson, when it comes to being aware of where the football is. Hyde is also a good blitzer from the slot, just like Woodson was.
On Sunday, Hyde will face off many times with tight end Vernon Davis. Davis is the type of tight end who can really stretch the field. Last season against the Packers, Davis had four catches for 87-yards (21.75 yards per catch average) and a touchdown.
The success of Davis opened up things for the outside receivers, as Michael Crabtree had 16 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the two games the Packers and 49ers played last year.
Bottom line, Hyde needs to continue the same type of play he has exhibited this preseason and just stay aggressive and instinctive.