The 49ers will host the final opening day in Candlestick Park against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon. I had the chance to ask Green Bay Packers Examiner Brian Neuberger five questions on the team. Here are five answers he has on the Packers and the upcoming game:
Christian Gin: How has the injury to Brian Bulaga affected the Packers offensive line?
Brian Neuberger: Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy shook up the entire dynamic of the offensive line this preseason, with Bulaga’s move front right tackle to Aaron Rodgers’ blind side as the anchor of the move. With Bulaga out for the year, McCarthy, essentially, was resigned to going back to the drawing board. David Bakhtiari, selected by Green Bay in the fourth round of April’s NFL draft, will replace the hulking Bulaga in the starting lineup when they tip off the 2013 season on Sunday—likely meaning a long afternoon of battling Aldon Smith. While the athletic Bakhtiari has been impressive during the preseason (namely allowing only a single sack), expect a baptism by fire, especially playing in a division featuring the likes of Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. Not an ideal situation, to say the least.
CG: Who becomes the replacement for Casey Hayward in the secondary and what are the expectations for him?
BN: With Hayward out for the season opener (hamstring), look for rookie cornerback Micah Hyde to try and fill the void. While veterans Sam Shields and Tramon Williams will likely start in the Packers secondary on Sunday, the 6’0”, 197-pound Hyde, a first team All-Big Ten selection a season ago at Iowa, will be used likely be a frequent target by Colin Kaepernick when substituted in. However, with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out of the lineup for San Francisco, I feel that the absence of Hayward will not be as problematic as that of Bulaga on the offensive line.
CG: How much of an impact do you expect from the rookie RBs in Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin?
BN: Having gone 43 consecutive outings without a 100-yard rushing performance, I am sure that many are eager to see what the two rookie running backs will be able to do. Since Rodgers supplanted Brett Favre as the face of the franchise following the 2007 season, the Green Bay offense has ranked within the league’s top 10 in points per game in each of the subsequent five seasons, while only placing better than 17th on one occasion (14th, 2009) during the same span. With that said, I believe that Lacy, tabbed by Green Bay in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, among the two first-year players, is capable of becoming an every down back who can open up of the team’s play action ability and, essentially, establish a semblance of balance on the offensive side of the ball. Additionally, Lacy’s size—the former Alabama product outweighs Steven Jackson by two pounds, while standing three inches shorter than the bruising Falcons tailback—will make him a difficult down for many on the defensive end through the season. Lacy has the tools to have an impact early and often this season, and I am excited to see what how he does with his first taste of regular season action.
CG: What does first round pick Datone Jones bring to the table that Packers were missing on the defensive line last season?
BN: Jones adds a level of athleticism and quickness to the Green Bay defensive line, wonderful traits to have when playing opposite Clay Matthews. While Jones’ ceiling is very high, he was plagued by injuries in the preseason (sustaining a sprained left ankle on his first snap in Green Bay’s preseason opener against Arizona) and is not quite back to 100 percent. However, once healthy and able to get into a rhythm following missing the bulk of the Packers’ four preseason contests, Jones, especially in the NFL’s current era of the spread-option offense, may prove to be one of Ted Thompson’s most celebrated draft picks.
CG: What is your prediction for Sunday's game and why?
BN: San Francisco 31, Green Bay 24. With an entire offseason to prepare for Kaepernick, who played the role of the Grim Reaper in respect to the Packers’ 2012 title aspirations, I do not see the 49er offense shredding the Green Bay defense the way they did in their divisional round matchup in January. While Rodgers has a bit more ammunition at his disposal, I feel that San Francisco’s defense, whose aggressive and dynamic defensive front will be matched up against a suspect Green Bay offensive line, will prove to be the game’s turning point.