As we examine the details of team building this offseason, let’s also look at the big picture, just for fun.
How do the Niners match up against the Green Bay Packers, their first opponent next season?
NINERS DEFENSE VS. PACKERS OFFENSE: Green Bay may have the best offense in the NFL, but it doesn’t match up well with the Niners defense because Green Bay’s offensive line simply isn’t good enough. They cut 35-year old LT Chad Clifton this offseason, so 23-year old former fifth round pick Marshall Newhouse will have to try to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side next season. Newhouse gave up 10.5 sacks and 41.5 pressures in 2011, and he’s supposed to block Aldon Smith? No chance. The Niners’ rush will be on Rodgers in less than three seconds every play, and the Niners secondary is good at covering receivers for three seconds. Rodgers mostly wants to throw to Greg Jennings, but Jennings will have a tough time getting open. He’ll either line up against Carlos Rodgers in the slot – a very tough matchup for any receiver – or he’ll line up outside and face man-underneath coverage – a form of double coverage. Either way, the Packers will have a tough time moving the ball against the Niners elite defense.
NINERS OFFENSE VS. PACKERS DEFENSE: Green Bay gave up an NFL record number of passing yards last season, but the Packers drafted a pass rusher, Nick Perry, to pair with their other stud pass rusher, Clay Matthews, so their pass D surely should improve next season. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to call creative blitzes, and he has the talent to confuse and overwhelm the young, inexperienced right side of the Niners line – a strategy the Ravens and the Cardinals used to beat SF last season. In the secondary, Charles Woodson still has the talent to shut down any 49er receiver he’s lined up against. The Packers D is mostly vulnerable to Vernon Davis, so they’ll most likely double team him by bringing the strong safety into the box. That’s the blueprint for stopping the Niners offense, and the Packers can execute it. For the Niners to beat the blueprint, Alex Smith will have to make accurate deep throws to Randy Moss and Mario Manningham outside the hash marks.
This will be a close, low-scoring game that will be decided by a couple of plays, probably turnovers. I think the Niners have the edge because their elite unit – their defense – is better than the Packers elite unit – their offense.
Over the next few days I will post previews of the Niners against each of their NFC West opponents for your offseason fun and hopefully edification.