Packers vs. 49ers: Five Niners To Watch On Sunday

Justin Smith (top) and Navorro Bowman (middle) will be major factors for the 49ers defense on Sunday.

We all know who the Packers' key players are this weekend (or at least we will when Devin tells us later this afternoon), so I'll cover who you should be aware of on the other side of the ball. As usual, I'll forego the super-obvious guys like Patrick Willis or Alex Smith in favor of some less-discussed people.

Justin Smith, DE #94

Smith has quietly developed into one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. He has put together a remarkably consistent career, recording between 5 and 8.5 sacks in all but one season in his 11 years in the league. Furthermore, he has missed exactly one game in his career, and that came in his rookie year of 2001. Smith is a big, prototypical 3-4 end who holds the point against the run and eats up blockers to allow the linebackers to get after the quarterback. Keep an eye on his performance, as it may determine whether Aaron Rodgers is given time to throw the ball on Sunday.

Navorro Bowman, ILB, #53

Bowman is the less-heralded of the 49ers' two inside linebackers, behind Patrick Willis, but he's become really good really quickly. He actually led the team in tackles with 113 (although Willis did miss three games), and tied with Justin Smith for the lead in Pro-Football-Reference's "approximate value" metric. Bowman has good speed and agility and can certainly play sideline to sideline. I would have to say that Bowman and Willis are the best 3-4 ILB tandem in the NFL right now.

Chris Culliver, CB, #29

I asked Fooch at Niners Nation for some clarification on the 49ers' secondary roles, and he helped out with this description:

The guy who comes in with the nickel defense is second year cornerback Chris Culliver. It is worth noting that when Culliver comes into the game, he is on the outside and Carlos Rogers moves inside to cover the slot receiver. Culliver worked his way into the 49ers nickel D very quickly as a rookie and had a solid year (in 2011). He's a physical guy but obviously deals with young player mistakes.

Rogers is solid, and will likely deal with Randall Cobb and some Greg Jennings out of the slot. Culliver is the one to watch, and the Packers have veterans on the outside who may be able to exploit their matchups against the young corner. He has good size at 6 feet, but I would expect Jordy Nelson to try to stretch the field against Culliver on occasion out of 3 or 4-receiver sets.

Anthony Davis, RT #76

Davis was in the same 2010 draft class as Packers' tackle Bryan Bulaga, and was picked earlier at 11 overall. I'm curious to see how he fares against rookie OLB Nick Perry and DE Ryan Pickett on that side of the ball. Coach Jim Harbaugh has been complimentary of his play, and he'll need to be solid on the right side for the 49ers to have success on offense.

Michael Crabtree, WR #15

Crabtree has slowly but steadily increased his production over the past three years and looks to break out as the 49ers top wide receiver this season. He also participated in the preseason for the first time, missing in the past with injuries and a contract holdout. I expect him to see a lot of Jarrett Bush on Sunday, and Bush will need to be on his game.

Star-divide

Previous game coverage

Game Preview | Series History | Key Matchup - Newhouse vs. A. Smith | Key Matchup - A. Smith vs. Woodson | Key Matchup - Moss vs. Williams | Injury update | Fantasy outlook | Start/Sit advice | Week 1 picks | Biggest absence - Davon House |

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