Sunday's season opener between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers marks the third time these teams have met in the last year. As we know, the original sucked. The sequel was even worse. One more beatdown and we're officially in George Lucas territory. Let's just hope Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien made copies of the Niners' playbook. All pessimism aside, this game has all the storylines you could want from a Week 1 game. You've got bad blood between the two teams, key injuries on both sides, the ever-present "Aaron Rodgers is still pissed the Niners passed on him" narrative, and Jim Harbaugh already complaining to the officials. Welcome back, NFL. We've missed you. Now, onto some of the things to keep an eye on this Sunday:
The Packers' Youth
Remember when Aaron Rodgers was a fresh faced kid with lots of hair gel who looked like he was plucked from a boy band? Yeah, he's one of the oldest guys on the team now. Holy crap. In fact, the Packers enter the season as the 5th-youngest team in the league. While having fresh legs is all well and fine, the Packers might be relying on their rookies more this year than any since 2009. Datone Jones, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy and David Bakhtiari will all see significant playing time. That's counting on a lot from guys who have never played in a real regular season NFL game before. While it might be premature to expect huge things right off the bat (especially against a team like the Niners), if the young Packers can simply prove they belong, it could be a good sign of things to come.
The Soft Underbelly
Say what you want about the Packers defense getting beat at the line, or not having enough of a pass rush, or having too many players with dreadlocks, the achilles heel all last season was the middle of the field. Basically, the Packers defense resembled the streets of Green Bay on gameday - completely barren. No linebackers. No safeties. Just guys like Kaepernick running berserk with no one around them. That's, shall we say, frustrating. If the Packers want to have success on defense, they simply can't allow teams to continue to gash them in the middle of the field. The run defense is stout, but if runs that get to the second level continue to result in the defense parting like the red sea, there's just no way they can win. See also: I miss Nick Collins.
I like Mac. Seems like a good dude. Someone you want to grab a beer with. But the general sentiment over the last couple of years seems to be that Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers look good more often than Mike McCarthy does. A hard fought loss in this game would be one thing. Getting de-pantsed like they were in the playoffs last year is another. Obviously, fan backlash has exactly zero impact on a coach's job security, but more 3rd and long draw plays to Kuhn and defensive players standing around asking, "What's a ‘read option?'" certainly won't help. McCarthy and Capers need to come prepared and make good, sound coaching decisions to have a shot at winning. Also, someone confiscate McCarthy's red flag. It's for the best.
Personally, I'd rather punch myself in the mouth than hear the term, "punch you in the mouth" as it relates to football, but it does have some merit. The Niners in two recent matchups have just been bigger, stronger, faster, nastier, filthier or whatever other adjective you can think of that would describe a Rex Ryan home movie. The Packers should have no problem in getting motivated to play this one with as much physicality as they can muster. How that turns out, who knows. But at least matching the Niners in terms of their style of play could go a long way in the Packers finally shedding their ‘finesse team' label.
We've already touched on Bak (is it too early to give him a ‘Tausch'-like nickname?) in the first category, but his importance can't be stressed enough. The Packers can survive Micah Hyde getting toasted or Eddie Lacy getting stuffed. If Bakhtiari can't protect however, it causes all kinds of issues. He's held his own fairly well thus far, but he's up against one of the absolute elite level defenses this game. Not only will Justin Smith be a beast to deal with, but Bakhtiari will have his hands full with the quartet of ultra linebackers Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and assault rifle aficionado, Aldon Smith.
Bonus: Jim Harbaugh losing his mind
The silver lining to this game is that even if the Packers lose, you can still count on at least 3-4 completely insane reactions from Jim Harbaugh. He's really the gift that keeps on giving. Remember the GIF from last year of Harbaugh rage-frothing? High comedy. And who knows, if the Packers win, we might get to see our first coach just spontaneously combust on the sidelines like a Spinal Tap drummer.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Packers vs. 49ers Preview: Q&A with Niners Nation
- NFL 2013 Predictions: FootballOutsiders.com Says Packers-Patriots in Super Bowl XLVIII
- Teach Me How to Acme: A Guide to the APC Community
- Packers Practice Report 9/5: Pads On, Full Steam Ahead for San Francisco
- Week 1 NFL Picks: APC Writers Aren't Optimistic about the Packers