With the NFL regular season beginning tonight, there are a few exciting matchups to look forward to this weekend. One of these big games pits two Super Bowl contending teams from the NFC. This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. With these two titans battling to open their seasons with a 'W,' here are three keys for a 49ers victory.
1. Get pressure on/hit Aaron Rodgers.
The entire league knows it: Rodgers is a stud and he is going to throw often. With the exception of 2010 (He was short 78 yards), Rodgers has thrown for 4,000 yards three of the last four seasons. The Packers have an extremely dangerous and potent offense, but most of that comes from the passing game. However, Rodgers has been sacked over 100 times over the last three seasons. If the Niners want to have a chance at winning this game, Rodgers needs to spend a lot of time on the ground. Justin Smith and company will have to get consistent pressure against a shaky offensive line like they were capable of doing last season. If Rodgers is scrambling around and getting knocked to the ground, he can't beat you through the air (at least not as effectively).
2. Offensive Efficiency.
A huge key to the 49ers success last season was minimizing errors on offense. They took care of the ball and were consistently putting points on the board. If the Niners want to leave Lambeau victorious, they'll have to improve on last season's offense. Yes, getting at least three points is great, but playing against a high-scoring offense requires touchdowns on your team's part. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman will have to push the envelope a bit and try to make things happen on third down and in the red zone.
Alex Smith will have to be efficient especially in those two situations for the Niners to win. They will need to move the chains and punch it in to the endzone when given the opportunity. The Packers defense is more than capable of shutting things down, so if Frank Gore and the other backs see extra defenders in the box, Smith will have to step up his game and orchestrate productive drives that result in six points. The 49ers went toe-to-toe with the high-scoring Saints in the playoffs last season, so the world knows they're capable of running up scores.
3. Special Teams Play
This goes for both sides of the 49ers' special teams units. Special team-extraordinaire Blake Costanzo left in free agency, so the Niners will have to find someone to replace his excellence on the unit. Costanzo was seemingly in on every tackle and every big play made by the unit. Packers returner Randall Cobb showed how dangerous he could be on kick returns last season. He definitely poses a big threat to the Niners special teams.
Andy Lee, the all-pro punter, will have to continue to play at an all-pro level. If Lee can make Green Bay start their drives deep in their own territory, it'll be a huge bonus and help for the defense. Kicker David Akers will also be important to the game. If this turns into a defensive game, Akers will have to convert field goal opportunities when they arise. If the teams aren't scoring many touchdowns, Akers' consistent leg will prove vital in putting up 3 points on the board.
And finally, the Niners return game will have to be great. Ted Ginn Jr. is already a bit dinged up, so Kyle Williams might be handling punt returns once again. Williams is unfortunately known for his two fumbles/muffed punts in the NFC championship game last season. Williams will have to prove he has completely shaken it off and play well on Sunday. If Williams and the kick returners can give the Niners solid field position, the less strain there is on the offense to move the ball on long drives.
If all these things come together well, it could be a great start to the 49ers season.
My prediction: 49ers win 27-21
*All Stats Obtained from pro-football-reference.com29576