Brandon: So are you an QB Alex Smith believer, or won't he ever live up to his No. 1 overall status? His 2009 stats look very similar to his 2006 stats.
Fooch: I remain, unfortunately, somewhere in the middle. I think he has sufficient talent to turn into a quality NFL quarterback. The last two seasons he was knocked out by injuries and so he never really had a chance to continue a normal progression. At the same time I don't know if he'll ever be a franchise quarterback for this team. The upside to his promotion this season is that 49ers fans can finally get some kind of idea of what Smith can bring to the table. I think the 49ers will finally get their answer by the end of the season and can finally decide whether to fish or cut bait with him.
Brandon: Usually a high ankle sprain lingers, but RB Frank Gore seems to have gotten over it and he's looked great over the past 3 weeks. Is he 100%? How about your other injuries - are CB Nate Clements and LT Joe Staley going to be out on Sunday? Who's filling in for them?
Fooch: Gore is more or less 100%. For the last few weeks he's been practicing like normal and carrying the load. In fact, this past week their primary backup was out and the 49ers went with two running backs (and one fullback), with Gore getting plenty of touches.
As for the other injuries, Clements and Staley are out for several more weeks, so there's no chance they'll be active on Sunday. The 49ers promoted Barry Sims to left tackle and he's been playing really well. In fact, it's been surprising how well he's played to date after struggling much of last year. As for Clements, the 49ers actually demoted Clements to the #3 cornerback against the Colts, with Tarell Brown starting in his place. Clements was injured that game and hasn't played since. So right now the 49ers are rolling out Shawntae Spencer, Tarell Brown and Dre Bly as their 1, 2, 3.
Brandon: The Packers special teams have been awful this season. Especially their kick and punt coverage. Do the 49ers have a dangerous return game that could cause them some problems?
Fooch: The 49ers return game is rather dreadful. Since cutting Allen Rossum, the 49ers have not had anything remotely resembling an explosive return game. RB Michael Robinson has been their primary kick returner and WR Brandon Jones has been their primary punt returner. Robinson hasn't been too bad, but nothing spectacular. And Brandon Jones? Well he's been pretty atrocious.
Brandon: Football Outsiders has the Packers D ranked No. 1 and the 49ers D ranked No. 2. I'm surprised by it since the Packers pass defense has allowed 17 passing TDs (4th worst in the NFL) and only recorded 18 sacks. Are you surprised by the 49ers high ranking? What is the biggest problem area on their defense?
Fooch: I'm not shocked by the ranking, although it certainly wasn't something I expected so quickly. The 49ers have a swarming defense that has been very solid against the run, while a bend-but-don't-break style against the pass. The biggest problem with the 49ers defense is consistency. They've had issues with the pass rush at times, and they've had issues with the secondary (particularly the safeties) at times. And yet, through all of this, they've had games where they put together impressive performances. For example, they held Peyton Manning without a passing touchdown in Indy. The problem is the consistency. If they could generate a solid pass rush, and get solid help from their secondary on a consistent basis, they could have an amazing defense.
Brandon: The Packers have surrendered a league leading 41 sacks. The 49ers have only recorded 17 sacks. Something has to give here. How are the 49ers going to attack the Packers pass protection? Do they have any speed rushers off the edge, or is their defensive line just going to bring the bull rush?
Fooch: The 49ers pass rush is questionable at best. Their two outside linebackers were meant to be the big sack guys, but those two have combined for 3.5 sacks. At the same time they've done a solid job at times getting pressure and forcing quicker throws, so it's possible they could break through for some sacks against Rodgers this week. The defensive line will force pressure as well, although again, it's not the most consistent in the world. One guy to keep an eye on throughout the game is NT Aubrayo Franklin. He's quietly put together a very solid season. He's a bigger threat in stopping the run, but he can get to the quarterback on occasion as well.