The San Francisco 49ers welcome the Green Bay Packers to town for a Week 4 rivalry matchup. The 49ers have owned the rivalry the last few years, winning four straight games, including two playoff matchups. However, this time around, the 49ers are in an unusual spot. They are a sizable home underdog. The 49ers opened as a 9.5-point underdog, but the line has come down to 7.5- or 8-points depending on your sportsbook of choice.
The 49ers have not been a touchdown or more home dog since it happened twice in 2007. They covered and won outright in one, and did not cover in another. The 49ers are coming off a pair of losses by a combined score of 90-25, and are not playing well. However, the Packers are coming off a short week following a Monday Night Football win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Can the 49ers cover a big spread? I spoke with Tex from Acme Packing Company to get some thoughts on this topic. And to mix it up a bit, I talked about why the 49ers would NOT cover, and he talked about why the Packers would NOT cover. That way, we each talk more about our own team's weaknesses.
Why the 49ers will cover (from Acme Packing Company)
Three things could contribute to the Packers performing much poorer than expected on Sunday: poor pass protection, poor run defense, and the weird things that tend to happen on a long road trip.
On offense, the Packers should expect to move the ball well, as they have done all season, but the big plays are few and far between so far this year unless Aaron Rodgers is able to draw the defense offsides. On the road, that's a much tougher task. Furthermore, the Packers' tackles have struggled lately, and have allowed quite a bit of pressure on Rodgers since Bryan Bulaga went out with a knee injury. Over the past two games, they've done an admirable job keeping outside rush to the back of the pocket, which allows Rodgers to step up and deliver the ball, but there's no guarantee that this will remain the case. If the 49ers can collapse that pocket earlier or get some semblance of interior rush (which the great interior OL hasn't allowed so far), that may force some turnovers.
As far as the Packers' defense goes, the Kaepernick-Dom Capers storyline remains a point of great concern for most Packers fans. Clay Matthews' new position inside will probably keep him spying Kaepernick on occasion, but that takes away from all the other great things he can do both on and off the line of scrimmage. The other key is the expected absence of safety Morgan Burnett - he's listed as questionable, but I expect that he will not suit up. The run defense was far better against Seattle (the one game that Burnett played) than it was against Chicago or Kansas City. If he indeed is out, Carlos Hyde has a better chance of having a big day on the ground, and that's probably the biggest key to beating Rodgers - keeping the ball out of his hands as much as possible.
Then there's the weirdness that happens when there's a cross-country trip involved. Not only did the Packers take a long flight out to Santa Clara on Friday, but they also are coming off a short week following Monday night's win. That in and of itself creates some potential for concern on the Packers' end, and could be one of those intangibles that can lead to unpredictable things happening. Even though everybody seems to expect a Packers domination on Sunday, I'm feeling far more cautious in my optimism for a Packers win.
Why the Packers will cover (from Niners Nation)
This is probably a slightly easier portion to write. If the 49ers play like they have the last two weeks, the Packers will go OVER the 48-point total on their own. But even if the 49ers play better ball, it's a tough slog. That Packers offense is just so good, and I don't know that an improved pass rush will be enough. If the pass rush struggles even a little bit, Rodgers will pick this defense apart.
For the 49ers, this is as much about getting the offense on track as it is trying to contain Rodgers. If the offensive line continues to struggle, I don't see the offense getting going in any consistent manner. A solid performance from the offensive line would likely help Kap get back on track, but asking for a solid OL performance could very well be asking too much.
I suppose there is a little more value in what I think the 49ers could do to actually cover in this game. I think the return of Reggie Bush and Bruce Ellington are two options that could help counter a poor offensive line. Maybe if we see some screen plays and other short dump-offs it can make up for the offensive line. We have not seen much of that thus far. Maybe we see some wide receiver screens mixed in. If the offensive line can't perform well in a more traditional role, Geep Chryst is going to need to come up with ways for the offense to get on track.