We took a few minutes to talk with the folks at Acme Packing Company. They answered five of our questions, and we answered five of theirs. I'll drop their post in the NN layout once they publish it. Thanks to APC, and good luck (but not too much luck) this Sunday!
Niners Nation: The loss of Bryan Bulaga is pretty significant. How will the left side of the Packers line handle Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, both in terms of personnel and potential game plan?
Acme Packing Company: The only positive to Bryan Bulaga's injury is that it happened so early on that the Packers could spend the entire preseason preparing for his absence. David Bakhtiari, a fourth round pick this past April, has moved up to take his place. Prior to Bulaga's injury, Bakhtiari was pushing Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay to win the job at right tackle, so his accession to starting left tackle isn't totally without merit. However, it's never a good thing when a mid-round rookie is covering your quarterback's blindside, especially when his first regular season start comes against the 49ers tandem of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith.
To help Bakhtiari, the Packers will use a tight end of running back to assist on stunts and bad blocks. Ultimately, however, Bakhtiari is going to need to win a fair amount of these battles on his own. The Packers' starting right tackle, Don Barclay, struggles in pass pro and will need assistance as well. The team can't send help to both sides on every play, and Bakhtiari is the more capable of the two. If he can't hold up, it could be a very long afternoon.
NN: On the other side, Casey Hayward is out. How does that impact the Packers secondary? You guys mentioned Micah Hyde as a potential replacement. Thoughts on him?
APC: Casey Hayward's absence itself could be the difference between a close game and the 49ers walking away two touchdowns ahead. Last year, he was the Packers' best ball hawk as he led all rookies with six interceptions. He also proved to be a great cover corner and perfect for the slot. Players like that are never easy to replace.
Micah Hyde has a large contingent of the fanbase excited, but he's far from being a Hayward clone. On plays near the line of scrimmage, he excels by making tackles for loss, rushing the quarterback, and generally being a menace towards his opponent. However, Hyde struggles in coverage. He was burned several times over the course of the preseason, and it's easy for teams to throw him off on crossing routes and in the vertical game. Had similar mistakes been made by Jarrett Bush, the fans wouldn't be as excited. That said, he's far better than most team's fourth or fifth cornerbacks, so the drop off could have been worse.
NN: How is the running game looking with the additions of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Will the Packers conceivably "take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands" a bit more this season?
APC: A misnomer regarding the Mike McCarthy's play calling is that there isn't very balanced. However, nearly 42% of his calls last year were run plays. A 58-42 pass to run ratio is a good balance when your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers.
The larger issue is whether the Packers can be more effective in those running plays. Eddie Lacy had a strong showing against St. Louis during the preseason, but outside of that there aren't a lot of certainties. Against Seattle, Lacy finished with negative yardage but seven yards after contact. That says the issue is with the offensive line. Will they be able to pull together and open up holes for Lacy come the regular season? That's the big question.
NN: Tell us about your special teams. Is Randall Cobb handling returns? What's up with Mason Crosby?
APC: The team spent the entire preseason trying to find a suitable replacement for Randall Cobb. The two players who stood out most on returns were Jeremy Ross (his postseason fumble will be fondly remembered by 49ers fans), and Micah Hyde. It's unclear which one the Packers favor at this point, but it would be a surprise to see Cobb back on returns this season.
As for Crosby, he handled himself well in a kicker competition with Giorgio Tavecchio. Tavecchio probably kicked a little better in practice, but Crosby had a perfect record in the preseason games. While that sounds good, it'll be a long time before fans aren't grinding their teeth every time the Packers line up for a field goal.
NN: The Packers spent some time at Texas A&M learning more about defending the read option. However, as Mike McCarthy discussed in his conference call, the Packers problems seemed to stem from Colin Kaepernick's scrambles on designed pass plays. How do you think the Packers will adjust from January, and what kind of success do you expect?
APC: McCarthy nailed it on the head; the Packers (and most of the NFL) struggles to contain quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick when he improvises with his feet. The Packers improved the athleticism of their defense with the additions of Datone Jones and the return of Nick Perry, but the threat of a big scramble will always be there. The Packers just have to hold those to under 20 yards.
As for defending read option plays, an entire offseason of planning should yield a cure. Despite the defense's poor playoff performance in San Francisco, Dom Capers remains one of the league's better defensive minds. The read option is still going to be effective, but it shouldn't lead to 56-yard touchdown runs this season.