As the 49ers season opener against the Packers approaches, I took a few minutes to chat with Kevin McCauley over at Acme Packing Company. We discussed several issues the 49ers will need to approach in this game, and I thought that rather than just post the entire Q&A, I'd break it down into a couple of posts focusing on specific issues.
Some of the most important questions in my mind dealt with the Packers defense. While the Packers offense can be ridiculously efficient, the defense seemed like Swiss cheese at times last season. It was not quite as awful as the Patriots, who at times seemed to not actually field a defense. However, the Packers needed to make some improvements.
After the jump, I've got a couple questions and answers related to the defense, followed by some additional thoughts of my own.
NN: How have the Packers addressed what seemed at times like a swiss cheese defense?
Acme Packing Company: They're going to be depending on rookies quite a bit. Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy were both excellent in preseason and should provide the team with instant upgrades on their pass rush. Charles Woodson's role has also changed slightly; he'll play safety in 3-4 base packages and slot corner in both nickel and dime. The team still hasn't indicated if M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian, another rookie, will be the starting nickel/dime safety. Davon House will also be an upgrade at cornerback when he gets healthy.
NN: Randy Moss was talking about Charles Woodson and expected him to move back into a nickel role from his safety position when the Packers go with five DBs. Is that the case? What do you expect from Woodson this year?
APC: Moss was right on. Sorry for not including *SPOILER ALERT* in my answer to the first question. Woodson's probably going to be up against Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis frequently in the slot, and that should be a fun battle to watch, but he'll be back at safety in the 3-4. The Packers' play their 2-4-5 defense more than their 3-4, so expect to see Woodson lining up at corner on the inside more than he does at safety. I'm expecting him to have a very similar year to last year.
That Woodson matchup in the slot could prove to be the most interesting one to watch all day Sunday afternoon. Woodson versus Crabtree should be something to watch, but Woodson versus Davis would be a particularly interesting mix of styles. Charles Woodson remains a very solid cover guy, but he would potentially be dealing with the always physical Vernon Davis.
I took a look back at the 49ers-Packers contest from 2010. Vernon Davis had four catches for 126 yards including a 66-yard touchdown on a catch and run. His third and fourth catches came with Woodson covering him slotted just past the line, but not in the traditional slot receiver location. In both instances it seemed like Davis got a little physical with Woodson and won the battle. I didn't have a chance to review ever snap, but I recall Woodson have some wins as well in that matchup.
Vernon Davis is the biggest threat on this 49ers offense. Michael Crabtree is great after the catch and Randy Moss would still seem to have the deep speed according to reports, but I don't think anybody on this offense combines the power, speed and athleticism of Vernon Davis. And it has been that way almost since day one of his tenure in San Francisco.
While we may not see Vernon Davis putting up numbers every week like we saw last postseason, but that shows just how dominant he can be. If this offense does open up a bit, I see Davis being as big a beneficiary as anybody.