Week 12 brings a familiar face to the Bay Area in Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Back closer to 2005 this would have been an especially intriguing matchup. At this point it’s a tough conference matchup, but depending on how things shake out, it could turn into the intriguing matchup the media would LOVE to see. Although things could easily change, Shaun Hill is probably in line to be the starting quarterback week 1 at this point. However, Alex Smith could still end up as the starting QB of this time at some point this season. It may never happen, but we still have a chance to see Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers.
Either way, the 49ers will be coming into this game with a little bit extra rest on their side. Their week 11 matchup against the Bears is on a Thursday night, meaning 10 days between games. Not a huge gap, but it could be significant as the team will be in that tough, dog-days type stretch of the season.
2008 was a tough, but interesting season for the Packers. The first season of the post-Favre era was interesting to say the least. The air attack certainly did not suffer as they finished 10th in passing (http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamoff) behind Aaron Rodgers’ 4,038 yards, primarily to Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Their rushing attack wasn’t spectacular, ranking 17th, but certainly wasn’t a liability behind Ryan Grant and to a lesser extent Brandon Jackson. On defense they were quite solid against the pass but were quite weak against the run, finishing 28th (http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef).
So how did they finish 6-10 with a worse record than our 49ers even with a +39 point differential (to the 49ers -72 point differential)? Well, five of their ten losses were by four or less points, or a combined 21 points, with two coming in overtime. A lot of close losses that the coaching staff will need to address. They obviously need to turn a lot of those losses around, but close losses are something to build from.
After the jump we look at the Packers offseason additions and subtractions, 2009 Questions and Answers and a quick preview of the matchup...
Additions & Subtractions
The Packers major additions this offseason came almost entirely through the draft. Their two primary free agent pickups were a backup center and a backup safety. Filled some depth, but not much else.
In the draft however, the Packers made some potentially big additions. In the first round they added a potential nose tackle of the future in BJ Raji, and what they hope is a long term answer at outside linebacker in Clay Matthews. At this point they've gotten Matthews signed and into camp, but Raji remains one of the league's first round holdouts. Their next picks were the fourth round and later, so not a ton of impact talent right off the bat. They snagged OT Jamon Meredith in the fifth round out of South Carolina. He could definitely be a long term answer at offensive tackle for the Packers.
I combined additions and subtractions because the minus column saw the Packers only real loss being Colin Cole. Of course, Packers fans viewed him as a significant liability in the rush defense so maybe it's addition by subtraction.
2009 Questions and Answers
Given that there wasn't a lot of turnover on the roster, will they be able to improve that rushing defense even a little bit? BJ Raji could certainly help, but he's not doing anybody any favors holding out from training camp. The 49ers know plenty about this kind of situation, but I would argue it's worse for the Packers. The 49ers need to improve their passing game but I think they've got enough talent to tide them over for now. The Packers, on the other hand, need the infusion of talent to improve that defense. That could be the difference in some of those tight ball games.
In the end it is a question of whether they can win the close games. They played well against NFC North opponents, and aside from the addition of Jay Cutler to the division, not much has changed. They've got some tough matchups outside the division, but they have enough winnable games. Aaron Rodgers put up very solid numbers last year, so the questions are whether he can repeat that performance and whether it's enough to turn the corner.
vs. San Francisco
Bigelow and I both projected this as a loss, although he seemed to think he was going out on a little more of a limb. Green Bay at Lambeau is always tough and seeing as this will be close to Thanksgiving it will be nice and chilly. Of course, if the team is instituting this "power running game," they could be built to do some damage in the cold. That raises an interesting question. We always hear about warm weather teams struggling in the cold and teams always struggling in Lambeau. Would a strong rushing game be enough to counter that? Obviously this Packers team is not on the level of mid 90s Packer teams. But it seems like home field is still home field.
Either way, this is a tough game to call. Even at 6-10 the Packers came across, at least to me, as a more dangerous team than that. I really don't know where they end up record wise by the end of the year. That makes this game just as much a toss-up as any other...how's that for a cop-out!