The San Francisco 49ers certainly have the Packers’ attention and respect.
“They don’t give you a lot of different looks. They just play their look and their coverage and they play them well. They rely on their talent,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of the 49ers’ defense, No. 4 in the league last season.
“There are a ton of No. 1 picks in their offense. If you pick that high, you’re going to get pretty good,” Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said of the 49ers' offense.
The Packers will host the 49ers on Sunday in a clash between the NFC’s top two seeds in last season’s playoffs. It’ll also be a classic confrontation of a contemporary team vs. a team seemingly from the NFL’s past.
Is there still a place in today’s game for a team that prides itself on a power running game and strong defense?
“Sure,” Packers Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac said. “I think they proved it last year. That last game could’ve gone either way.”
Trgovac was referring to the NFC title game, which the 49ers lost to the Giants on a fumbled punt. The NFL came that close to potentially crowning a team that was 29th in the league in passing as its champion.
“Harbaugh, what do you expect?” Trgovac said.
Trgovac and 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh are Michigan men. They were schooled on the virtues of the physical game. The fundamentals of blocking and tackling course through their veins.
In a game with an abundance of storylines, one of the main subjects involves the Packers’ ability to stand up to the 49ers’ force.
“I think that’s where everything starts with them,” Capers said, referring to the 49ers’ intent to run the ball. “They’re a physical running team with a lot of versatility to their scheme. When you can run the football, it sets up the play-action pass. They have a lot of exotics and gimmicks you have to prepare for.”
Mostly, Capers’ unit has to be prepared for running back Frank Gore (pictured, breaking off a 42-yard run against the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2009), who rushed for 1,211 tough yards last season. They are tough yards because everybody knew who was getting the ball.
The intent is to make defenses focus on Gore, and then make the big play with a pass to tight end Vernon Davis, who caught 10 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in last winter’s postseason.
“He’s a rare guy. He might be the fastest guy on their team as a tight end. He can go the distance at any time,” Capers said.
Stopping the 49ers rests on stopping Gore and making the 49ers one-dimensional, which is to say pass a lot. That’s not Harbaugh’s style of football.
“The goal is to always be balanced. We don’t want to be one-dimensional. We don’t want to let the defense dictate to us. We want to be multi-dimensional,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said on Wednesday.
“We have to match their physicality. We have to stay gap solid. You can’t stop every run but you just hope they don’t go for big runs,” Trgovac said.
“They’ve invested a lot in that offensive line. They’ve invested three No. 1 picks in that line. This will be an excellent challenge for us. If you don’t match their physicality, they’ll expose you.”
The challenge for Clements’ offense is to give Rodgers time to throw against a pass rush that features relentless defensive end Justin Smith and playmaking linebacker Aldon Smith.
“They’re very talented on the edge and strong and powerful with the two inside guys. They do a very good job of trying to shrink the pocket and then trying to push the pocket,” Packers Offensive Line Coach James Campen said.
“The best defenses have the best talent and they have a lot of talent,” Clements said. Additional coverage - Sept. 7