Friday, September 6, 2013

5 Burning Questions for Week 1

As we prepare to watch the 49ers open their season on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers here are the 5 buring questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.

1)  Will Green Bay become more balanced?

In the 2 meetings between these teams last year the Packers ran the ball a total of 22 times.  One of the keys to defeating the 49ers defense is to stick with the running game, and in the playoff game it appeared as though the Packers had figured that out at least early on.  Through the middle of the 3rd quarter the game was tied 24-24.  At that point the Packers had run 31 plays, 18 passes to 13 runs, but all of that went away after the 49ers after the 49ers took the lead 31-24.  Over their final 25 plays the Packers threw the ball 22 times to just 3 runs and the 49ers built a 45-24 lead.

In an effort to bolster their running attack the Packers spent 2 of their draft picks this season on running backs, picking up Eddie Lacy from Alabama in round 2, and Johnathan Franklin from UCLA in round 2.  If the Packers make the effort to run the ball 25 times, they have a chance to win the game.

2)  How does Aldon Smith do against rookie left tackle David Bakhtirari?

The Packers had the 4th worst pass protection in the NFL in 2012, giving up 47 sacks on the year.  For this reason it may not be such a bad thing that they are having to look to rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari to start.  It will be interesting to see how Smith looks after an offseason to rest his injuries.  Smith had 19.5 sacks through the first 13 games of the regular season last year, but only 1 game during the week 1 game last year.  His ability to beat the rookie will play a key role in the outcome of the game.

3)  Will Kaepernick show improvement as a game manager and gel with his new wide receivers?

This is actually 2 questions in one.  No, I am not implying in any way that Kaepernick is a game manager, only that he needs to show improvement in this area.  The 49ers were flagged for the second most delay of game penalties in the league in 2012, and Kaepernick's inability to get the snap off on time forced Harbaugh to use a timeout and negate what may have been the game winning play during those fateful last few plays in New Orleans back in February.

In addition to game management, how quickly will Kaepernick begin to click with a receiving corps that includes only 1 wide receiver from last years roster being active.  The early returns show that he and Anquan Boldin are on the same page, same can be said for Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore.  The only returning wide receiver, Kyle Williams, has not played a down during the preseason but has not missed time in practice since early in training camp.  Does it all come together in week 1?

4)  How will the new look 49ers defense hold up?

The 49ers secondary has undergone the most change of any group on the team.  Out are Dashon Goldson via free agency, and Chris Culliver from a season ending knee injury.  In are first round draft pick Eric Reid, and free agent pickup Nnamdi Asomugha.  Asomugha has been in a blue non-contact jersey through the first few practices this week and is expected to be ready on Sunday, but if he can't go the job as the number 3 cornerback will fall to Tramaine Brock.

Both of the new additions will be tested right off the bat.  As defensive coordinator Vic Fangio stated yesterday, "there are no Sacramento State's in the league."  While watching the film from the playoff game last year, I stopped tracking the personnel groupings midway through the 3rd quarter when it became evident that the 49ers had spent the entire game in either their Nickle or Dime packages.

One thing that may help them out is the return of a healthy Justin Smith and healthy Aldon Smith.  Both players struggled with injuries late in 2012 and the 49ers defense suffered as a result.  Aldon Smith finished the season with 19.5 sacks, but did not record one after week 15.  Their ability to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, along with Ahmad Brooks, and Ray McDonald could prove key to victory on Sunday.

5)  How does the 49ers offense handle Clay Matthews?

There has been a lot of discussion regarding Clay Matthews this week after some of his comments regarding how the Packers will look to slow down the read option.  In 2 games agains the 49ers last season Matthews recorded 3.5 sacks, 2.5 in week 1 and 1 during the divisional playoff game.  Joe Staley did very will with Matthews in the playoff game last year.  If he can keep that up on Sunday the 49ers offense should be able to take advantage of other areas of the Packers defense.

One weak area for the Packers may be the secondary, where their slot corner Casey Hayward has been ruled out for week 1, and another starting cornerback has been slowed a bit by injury this week.  Hayward is a key player in the back half of the Packer defense, having accounted for 8 interceptions in 2012.

Prediction Time: 49ers 27 Packers 23

The 49ers will get out to an early lead and hold on late to finish off the Packers and get off to a 1-0 start to the season.

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