In fact, this whole week, I have wondered about his place in the modern NFL. It started with the nascent debate about Tom Brady and Joe Montana. I think it's pretty obvious who is the better QB. I mean, I'm sure pretty much everybody knows.
That said, I was really curious about how Aaron Rodgers stacked up to Tom Brady. I came to the conclusion that at this point in time, I think Rodgers is a better QB. Now, in comparison to the Brady of old? That's way different. Whole new conversation.
I think a solid argument could be made that Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL right now. As such, what sorts of expectations do we hold for our defense this week? The answer to this question is difficult to ascertain. Normally, I think, we expect our elite defense to play at an elite level. Especially last year, this was not an unreasonable position to hold. But what constitutes as elite against the Packers? The team is a high scoring offensive machine.
Last season may hold the key.
In thinking about high scoring offenses we played last year, the two teams that come to my mind right away are the Lions and the Saints. Both teams are obviously good because of their ability to put up a lot of points (which is, I think, largely in contrast to why we are good). These two games may hold two proverbial blueprints for how the 49ers defense may handle the Packers.
The Lions game was a close one - a game that came down to the wire. A wire that was strung up over the Niagara Falls and upon which the two head coaches clashed with a fury that would sent slight reverberations through the NFL. The reason this game was close was largely due to the defense's ability to limit offensive explosions. Calvin Johnson, for example, had a nice day, catching for over 100 yards. But he went without a TD and was effectively rendered a moot point by the extraordinary efforts of Chris Culliver with a lot of solid work done by Carlos Rogers. The front seven did their job (as usual) and forced the Lions to be exceptionally one dimensional. This stellar defensive play gave Alex Smith and the offense multiple opportunities to win the game.
I see this in contrast to the Saints game in the playoffs. While the defense did play at an elite level for the majority of the game (see Whitner, Donte), they did give up the big plays - especially as the game was winding down. A lot of the time, the difference between a good-to-great defense and an elite defense is the big play prevention. Given the last quarter of the game, I would say that the defense did not play at a truly elite level. That said, in the beginning of the game (during which time the defense played at an elite level) they provided enough opportunities for the offense to build a considerable lead. When the end of the game came about, therefore, it only required superhuman effort from Alex and the offense, not divine effort. (Alright, so maybe it was. That's the most impressive finish I have ever seen to a game. I don't want to downplay Alex or the offense at all.)
But, at the end of the day, these are the two likely scenarios of a 49ers victory. I think that if the 49ers win, the score will be close. The question right now is if that score will be in the low 20s or the high 30s. However you answer that demonstrates the expectations you have of the defense.