The NFL season is finally upon us. It seems like an eternity since, well, you know...we don't have to talk about it, but it's been a long time since a meaningful football game has been played, and now we're just one day away from the kickoff of a new year in the NFL.
The 49ers are a few more days away from their opening game on Sunday where they'll face the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The NFL didn't make things easy for the Niners, opening up against Aaron Rodgers and the always excellent Packers, but nonetheless we're all confident in our team.
So what will it take for the Niners to pull out a victory this week? Let's dive in and take a look at my keys to the game.
The passing game
The Packers are going to do everything in their power to make sure that Colin Kaepernick and the read-option does not embarrass them again. Sure, Kap threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, but his record 181 rushing yards is what everyone, including the Packers, remembers.
I wouldn't even expect to see much, if any read-option stuff unless it's play-action designed to suck defenders in so Kap can complete a pass over the top. I think beating them with his arm is what will need to happen in this game.
Containing Aaron Rodgers
I don't mean containing his production, I mean physically containing him, in the pocket. Rodgers loves to escape the pocket and make throws after extending the play. The 49ers defensive backs can't cover forever, as we've seen them beaten when the play breaks down. San Francisco needs to hem Rodgers in and make him throw the ball quickly. Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith will need to apply pressure and make sure they get Rodgers to the ground before he can escape.
Speaking of the secondary...
Nnamdi Asomugha will be on the field for most of the game as the 49ers will likely be in sub-packages (Nickel and Dime) for a majority of the time. Last season they played a ton of Dime (six defensive backs), which meant Perrish Cox was on the field a good bit, too. I'm guessing that Tramaine Brock is the guy in Dime now, since he was in competition with Asomugha for the CB3 spot.
Whomever are those extra DBs will have to play well and make tackles. Rodgers will take the quick throws and has some talented players who can get yards after the catch. The 49ers are generally one of the best tackling teams in the NFL, and they'll need to be on Sunday.
Back to Nnamdi, I think he could be a real factor in this game. It will be his largest bit of playing time since joining the 49ers this off-season. I'm expecting him to really shine with the added time on the field, so look for him to make some big plays.
Green Bay doesn't need help putting up points on offense, so you can't give them good field position and/or points from their special teams. The 49ers coverage teams have been up and down this preseason, so they'll need to bring their "A" game on Sunday. Keep an eye on C.J. Spillman and Anthony Dixon, two guys who are excellent on coverage units.
The other aspect of special teams will be the return game. Kyle Williams looks to be the primary punt returner while also playing opposite Anquan Boldin on offense, at least as part of a timeshare at the WR2 position. Williams has always been good with the ball in his hands, but he'll need to tame the Candlestick winds and make sure catches, something that some fans are skeptical he can do consistently. Let's put that one game we won't speak of out of our heads and send K-Dub all the good vibes we can. A long return can be the difference when playing a good team like the Packers.
There really are so many things we could highlight here. This is the first game, so there aren't many established trends in terms of things that have plagued the 49ers or been an area of strength. There are some new faces in key positions, so let's hope they add something to the mix that helps the Niners get the "W".
I can hardly wait for Sunday to get here!