ST. LOUIS, MO - JANUARY 1: NaVorro Bowman #53 of the San Francisco 49ers sacks Kellen Clemens #10 of the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on January 1, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The 49ers beat the Rams 34-27. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
I'm jumping into the Niners Nation preview fray pretty late with all the work I've been doing elsewhere, so we're going to keep it simple today. On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will open their season against the Green Bay Packers, a team that dominates most of the early power rankings around the league. Looking at our loaded schedule, it appears to be the toughest game.
A year ago, this game would be an instant tick in the loss column when going through the schedule prior to the start of the season. There was no way Mike Singletary's 49ers could have beaten the Packers of today. This team has come a long way in so little time and as such, the door is open to regress back to where we were in as little an amount of time.
It's important to prevent that from happening. There's no such thing a a must-win in Week 1, but the 49ers can do a ton for themselves mentally by getting a win at Lambeau Field on Sunday. The entire team needs a big game to be sure, but after the jump, we'll take a look at a few players that especially need one.
- LB NaVorro Bowman needs a big game to live up to his own expectations. Fans expect him to be as good as he was in 2011, and he's expecting to be better. That's a tall order for a guy who was directly compared to Patrick Willis a year ago. We'll consider this his sophomore outing despite it being his third year, and the sophomore slump has always been something to fear. Bowman needs to hit the ground (and the offense) running.
- CB Carlos Rogers needs a big game to show everyone that 2011 is the new rule, and not just an exception to the "this guy can't pick off a ball if he was playing against Mark Sanchez" rule. The best thing that could happen for Rogers on Sunday is to go out there and snag an Aaron Rodgers interception.
- RB Frank Gore is never a guy to get discouraged, but getting up there in age with young guns at your heels does certain things to a guy who's been used to the lion's share of the carries his entire career. I think we all know Gore has it in him to play another top tier season or two if he can stay healthy, but it might just depend on him asserting his dominance over the other running backs with a great performance against the Packers run defense.
- RG Alex Boone needs a big game because he's at a new position. San Francisco is trying to put its best five offensive linemen on the field, but Boone is simply not a great fit for the position when it comes to his size. That being said, the 49ers know what they're doing and Boone has a high chance to succeed. But the kind of pressure that comes with this vote of confidence can be overwhelming, and a strong outing against the Green Bay pass rush can alleviate so much of that pressure going forward.
- KR/PR Kyle Williams needs a big game for obvious reasons. He'll probably get booed again when he's out there receiving kicks and punts while Ted Ginn Jr. nurses an injury, and the best thing he can do is push that out of his mind and get back to basics. Williams is the kind of guy who needs to let everything go by the book until he has the ball in his hands. He's blessed with the natural quickness and talent to make amazing things happen after he's caught the punt, but he suffers from the desire to do too much prior to that point. A big game would do a lot for his confidence and the fan's confidence in him as well.
There's plenty of other players who need big games, but most of them are pretty obvious. Randy Moss needs one so he doesn't quit again, while Michael Crabtree would love to show he's a real No. 1 receiver early and often. All of the backup running backs want to make an impression, and there's some young corners looking to heat things up in Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver. I even took a look at why each wide receiver needs a big game over at SB Nation Bay Area.
One player who doesn't need a big game is quarterback Alex Smith. It'd be nice for him to go out there and put up a performance like he did against the New Orleans Saints, but I think the biggest thing Smith showed last year is that he doesn't need to let things get away from him. Smith said that things turned around for him when he ignored advice to go out there and take a chance to make things happen. He let the game slow down for him and he played his style of football.
It was frustrating and terrifying at times, but it got the job done. If Smith can go out there and put up bigger numbers this season, all power to him. But he doesn't need to for his head to be in the right place, and for your starting quarterback, that's your No. 1 priority. If he continues to not let things phase him, the 49ers will be in good hands again this season.