As we continue to prepare for the Green Bay Packers playing the San Francisco 49ers, I got the opportunity to trade five questions with David Fucillo over at Niners Nation, the SB Nation 49ers blog. David was kind enough to answer questions about injuries to the 49ers (and I refrained from asking about Justin Smith whose injury has been well covered already), the growth of the San Francisco offense, and some ways to attack the always tough Niners' defense. Hopefully this can provide some good insights for all you and I invite you to continue to swing by NN for more great info on the Packers' opponent this week.
One thing you can look at while there are my answers to David's questions. I guess I talked a bit too much (no surprise to regulars here) and David broke it down with a focus on the offense and the defense of the Packers. The first part, focusing on the offense, can be read by clicking here. I'll provide a link to the section on the Packers defense when it goes up. (Edit: Here's the defensive side)
APC: The Niners have taken some hits to the receiving corp as of late with injuries to Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham. How has that effected the passing attack? Has A.J. Jenkins been able to step up and live up to some of the promise he had on the offseaon?
The loss of Manningham and Williams has most definitely impacted the 49ers receiving corps. Both were emerging as very solid options, with Williams also contributing as a kick returner. Manningham had emerged in particular as the No. 2 receiver behind Michael Crabtree and seemed to be a popular target. Losing weapons provides defenses an opportunity to key in on Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Randy Moss all the more.
At the same time, Michael Crabtree has emerged as the biggest threat for the 49ers, picking up some of the slack lost due to the injuries. A.J. Jenkins, on the other hand, has not been able to step up thus far in limited opportunities. He has not gotten a lot of opportunities, so the long-term future remains to be determined, but for the purposes of his rookie year, he has been nothing more than a body on the field.
For the purposes of the playoffs, Michael Crabtree remains the top threat, as he looks to bounce back from a pretty low key performance in last year's playoffs. Vernon Davis has been extremely quiet since Colin Kaepernicktook over, but he has scored a touchdown in each of his games against the Packers. And of course, Randy Moss enjoys the bright lights. The 49ers depth is limited, but the talent that is out there is very solid.
APC: Everyone has talked about how Aaron Rodgers was the most sacked QB in the league, but the Niners allowed only ten less with 41 sacks. Do you feel there is much concern about the Packers' pass rush coming into this game and what will the 49ers do to limit the damage Clay Matthews & Co. can do?
The 49ers sack numbers can be a bit deceptive to a certain extent. Alex Smith was sacked eight more times than Colin Kaepernick on three fewer drop-backs. The difference is that Alex Smith has been more inclined to take a sack rather than make a bad throw that might get picked. Additionally, he can be slow to scramble out of the pocket before things collapse. Colin Kaepernick is more inclined to move around outside the pocket and is more inclined to take off if nothing is there. Additionally, he will make some questionable throws at times to avoid the sack. He has not been burned too badly yet, but it's something to keep in mind.
I think with Kaepernick in place, the 49ers will move him around and keep the Packers off balance. When Kaepernick sticks in the pocket he can take too long to decide and the sacks will come. I don't think the 49ers will suddenly switch to a detailed short-yardage throwing game, but they will need Kaepernick to keep his eyes down the field and get the passes off.
APC: How has Michael Crabtree grown as a player this year? Do you think he's becoming a #1 wide receiver? Has he benefited from the switch to Colin Kaepernick or do you think he would of had a break out season either way?
Crabtree is the 49ers clear No. 1 receiver at this point. While he has been on fire with Kaepernick, he was still emerging with Alex Smith. His pace might have been a touch slower, but keep in mind that the 49ers receivers went down as the season progressed. Crabtree is getting more looks in large part because of great chemistry and timing with Kaepernick, but also in small part because there are fewer bodies out there.
He is not a No. 1 in the sense that he will be making 80 yard catches, but he has some of the best hands you'll see, and he has proven to be critically clutch on third and fourth down. If the 49ers face a 3rd and long, odds are high that Kaepernick will be looking to Crabtree. Even without numbers at the top of the charts, his work on third down alone is as good as anybody in the league.
APC: How serious is the shoulder injury to Aldon Smith? Is this something that a week's rest should heal him up or could he be limited like Justin Smith on Saturday?
Aldon's shoulder injury has kept him limited, but his slow down late in the season was due more to Justin Smith's absence, and also getting so many snaps. Aldon operated in the 49ers nickel and dime packages, and not in their base 3-4 as a rookie. In his second season, that has meant a lot more snaps. But the big issue is Justin Smith. The 49ers all-world defensive lineman works with Aldon on a stunt play that has been a big boost for Aldon. Justin's return will be a big deal for Aldon.
I don't expect Aldon to be limited by the shoulder injury. His performance will be dictated in part by how Justin performs on Saturday. The rest he is getting is simply a big bonus for normal wear and tear and wearing down.
APC: If you were going to attack the 49ers defense where would you start? Fast passing attack? Power running attack? Play action?
The key will be a couple areas. The 49ers can struggle against screens and other quick plays like that. The 49ers are a fundamentally sound team, but it seems like whenever the 49ers do struggle with their tackling, it is not pretty at all. The 49ers really seem to be a boom or bust team against screen passes. More boom than bust, but the bust can be there.
I would imagine the Packers will also do what they can to attack Carlos Rogers in the slot. Rogers moves into the slot when the 49ers bring on extra cornerbacks, and has had some trouble in there with receivers. I imagine guys like Randall Cobb could provide some trouble for Rogers. I think Cobb could be the key in the Packers passing game on Saturday.
Thanks to David for taking the time to answer my question and once again check out Niners Nation for full coverage of our upcoming game with a more 49ers spin on things. It is always good to get a different view of things after all!