The 49ers and Packers will be squaring off in a couple days in a battle of two teams battling for a playoff spot. The 49ers have a better shot than the Packers at winning their division, but it doesn't make this game any less important. Acme Packing Company is the SB Nation Packers blog, and Brandon runs things over there. Big thanks to Brandon for taking a few minutes to answer some of our questions.
Fooch: The Packers lead the league in sacks allowed. Can you explain this problem and how (or even if) the Packers are working to solve it?
APC: The offensive tackles have been the problem. Veteran LT Chad Clifton has only played about half the snaps, and he's not as good as he was a couple years ago. Unfortunately his replacements, either LG Daryn Colledge has slid over or rookie OL T.J. Lang, have been beaten badly. Lang has shown some promise, and played well last week as the starting right tackle, which he may do again this week, but he's still playing like a rookie. RT Allen Barbre started the first 7 games, but he's currently buried deep on the bench. The Packers recently resigned veteran RT Mark Tauscher, who tore his ACL last December, but he reinjured that same knee. He could be back as soon as next week. Once Clifton is finally over the bad ankle that's been bothering him this season, and Tauscher returns, the pass protection should improve.
Fooch: The Packers are fourth in the league in defensive interceptions, thanks in large part to Charles Woodson and Al Harris. Some folks have come over to NN and said Woodson would likely cover Vernon Davis. Is that accurate, and if so, do you know the best ways for teams to beat the Packers secondary?
APC: Woodson doesn't play like a conventional corner. While Harris will always lineup opposite the outside receiver, Woodson is often in the slot. Against the Cowboys, Woodson lined up mostly against Jason Witten, and the Packers played a lot of nickel. But that alignment was unusual for them and probably designed specifically for Witten. I expect they'll cover Davis with a linebacker or safety. However their best LB in pass coverage is Brandon Chillar, who hasn't played at all the last two weeks due to a broken hand. He can play with a cast, and he was active last week, but they didn't use him.
Fooch: How good (or not) exactly are the Packers? The two best teams they've beaten are Dallas and Chicago, both of whom have big flaws (not to say the 49ers have been any better). So what do you make of this Packers team 9 games in?
APC: The Packers are playing outstanding in a lot of areas. They've outscored their opponents by 53 points, outgained them by 755 yards, and are +13 in turnovers. Their run defense and pass defense have been outstanding, although they've had trouble in pass coverage in the red zone. QB Aaron Rodgers has a QB rating over 100, and RB Ryan Grant is at 4.2 yards/carry with only 1 fumble and on pace for over 1200 yards. But where the team is bad, they are really bad. They lead the league in penalties, allowed 41 sacks, and have worst special teams unit in the NFL. They are getting killed in what Mike Tanier called "Hidden Yards".
Fooch: Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are the big names among the receivers for outsiders. Is there someone else who the 49ers should pay close attention to among their receivers/tight ends?
APC: Jennings is playing through a bruised knee, but he didn't make it on the injury report this week. The other 3 players who have been dangerous are: TE Jermichael Finley, who is 6'5" and fast, but has missed the last 3 games with a knee/shin injury; TE Spencer Havner, who is a converted practice squad LB who's become Rodgers' favorite target in the red zone with 4 TDs in the last 4 weeks; and WR James Jones, who only has 14 receptions on the season, but 3 TDs and 3 receptions over 40 yards.
Fooch: Ryan Grant seems to be flying well under the radar, even as he puts up some quality rushing totals. I honestly don't know enough about Grant to analyze his game. What kind of running back is he (power back, between the tackles but requiring a solid OL, better outside the tackles, etc.)?
APC: Grant is big and tall, he's listed at 6'1", and he seems to be the type of back Mike McCarthy prefers. When McCarthy was the 49ers OC back in 2005, he stuck with 6'1" Kevan Barlow, so I often compare Grant to Barlow when people wondered why he stuck with Grant last season despite his early troubles. You'll see Grant run off tackle, just inside or just outside on either side. They usually run a couple screen passes per game to him. But he doesn't have the big play ability, so I doubt he'll have any carries greater than 10 yards.