Today, I exchanged questions with David Fucillo, the editor of SB Nation's San Francisco 49ers blog Niners Nation, ahead of Sunday's game between the Niners and the Green Bay Packers. He was nice enough to answer all of my questions, and hopefully you learn a little something about our opponents from this. I'll be throwing up a fanshot to my answers to his questions a bit later.
1. The 49ers experienced some brief and minor offseason drama this season when they did their due diligence by looking into acquiring Peyton Manning, which Alex Smith didn't like very much. I'm assuming that fence has been completely mended? And what kind of season do you expect from Smith in 2012?
Fooch: Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh have played this off for the most part. Ever since 49ers fans chanted "We Want Carr!" during the 49ers-Eagles game in 2010, Alex Smith has sort of taken on a bit more of an "I don't give a f---" mentality, which I think benefits him and also is one reason he works well with Jim Harbaugh. Coach Harbaugh doesn't really care what people think either so they have developed into sort of two peas in a pod. I'm sure there were some bruised feelings, but Alex Smith is a smart guy and I think he understood the situation.
As for 2012 from Smith? It's tough to say because the 49ers have maintained a fairly vanilla offense in the preseason. Based on the new weapons I think we'll see his numbers increase across the board, although this will not be a wide open spread offense attack. I think we see him take some more chances, but not to the point of recklessness. He is still the same personality and mentality, which is a bit more cautious. I think we see his interceptions go up as a product of these increased chances, but I can't imagine to the point of absurdity.
2. Is the 49ers defense better, worse, or just as good as they were last season?
Fooch: I think it's better in some areas, worse in others, so I would say just as good with some upside. The team let several backup safeties walk, which leaves them with less depth there. However, they added Perrish Cox as their fourth corner, which gives them very solid depth at cornerback. Additionally, Chris Culliver has a full year under his belt, which helps.
Where it will be interesting is at outside linebacker. Aldon Smith dominated in the pass rush as a rookie, but he also spent most of his time as the nickel defensive end, rather than a standup OLB. This year, he will be the starting outside linebacker opposite Ahmad Brooks. Additionally, last year's starter Parys Haralson has since been lost for the season with an arm injury. Smith was always going to start, but this hurts the team's depth there.
But as long as the team has guys like Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ray McDonald, and so forth, they are in a position to dominate. They are an athletic, smart and aggressive defensive unit, which is something they should be able to carry over. I think you'll see fewer turnovers recovered, due to the nature of turnovers, but I think this is still a heavy ball-hawking unit.
3. How good has Randy Moss been in training camp and preseason? Do 49ers fans think he's going to be a viable No. 1 option for a Super Bowl contender?
Fooch: Moss has been flashing speed and hands training camp, but the team has kept him fairly under wraps in preseason games. He has gotten some snaps and had a chance to run around a bit, but the team really hasn't opened it up with him yet. I don't think 49ers fans view him as the No. 1 receiver" or are expecting that from him. Rather, he is a complementary option that could potentially soften up the middle of the field. The 49ers will look to him and Vernon Davis on deep routes to open up the middle of the field on other plays for Davis' crossing routes and Michael Crabtree's mix of routes.
4. Tell us about a 49ers player that fans of other teams probably aren't familiar with yet who could play a part in Sunday's game.
Fooch: Really I'd say keep an eye out for Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. Last season, Carlos Rogers emerged on the scene a bit more, but Brown and Culliver filled the two and three CB role. Culliver came on the field in nickel situations, covering the outside with Rogers moving over slot. The 49ers added Cox this year and he will spend most of his time as the dime back, but might get some nickel work to rest the starters. Given the Packers receiver corps, these guys could see a lot of TV time.
5. Finally, give us your prediction for the game.
Fooch: I can never pick against my 49ers, which is generally why I try and avoid betting on them. I'll go with a 24-20 victory. I think the 49ers defense will have a bit of an edge against Rodgers and the Packers offense coming out of the gate. I think the Packers offense will find their way, but something about facing a top-ranked defense right out of the gate strikes me as advantageous for the defense. Of course you could say the same thing about facing a top-ranked offense. I guess we'll see.
Previous game coverage
Game Preview | Five Niners to watch on Sunday | Five Packers to watch on Sunday | 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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