Sing With Me Now: Let's Get Physical

When the 49ers came to Lambeau to open the season, one thing was abundantly clear. They were the more physical, aggressive team by a long shot. They punched the Packers in the mouth early and the Pack never really got off the mat.

So here we are 18-19 weeks later and we'll find out whether the Packers have closed the gap. The 49ers are a much different team since then, most notably at quarterback. They've lost some playmakers in recent weeks to IR, including WR Mario Manningham, KR Kyle Williams and back up RB Kendall Hunter. But the guy we'll all have our eye on is Justin Smith, who will try to play with a torn triceps, but the jury's out as to his effectiveness.

The staunch 49ers defensive unit is led by the physical defensive tackle, who may just be the best in the business. While the defense is littered with Pro Bowlers and All Pros, most are asked to play virtually every snap. So there is very little proven depth and when a guy goes down it can have a huge impact.

Smith's injury happened in the third quarter of San Fran's statement win of the year: their December shocker in Foxborough. After he exited, Tom Brady lit up the defense for four touchdowns. The next week, the Seahawks dropped 42 points on them. Sack master Aldon Smith, with 19.5 sacks for the season, didn't register even one, once Smith was sidelined.

If Smith is a shell of himself, the Packers will have a much easier time moving the ball and Rodgers will be much more comfortable in the pocket. Another trouble spot when we talk about being physical is on the other side, where Don Barclay duels with the terrific Ahmad Brooks. Look for the Pack to give the rookie some help on that side.

The Packers defense has obviously changed a lot since the opener as well. Remember, Jarrett Bush actually started in the opener. Since then, a number of youngsters have grown up and gotten comfortable in Dom Capers' system. Expect the Pack to do a much better job corralling Frank Gore this time around--they've had good practice the past couple of weeks trying to deal with Adrian Peterson.

The biggest wildcard is the Niners' new quarterback. Milwaukee native Colin Kaepernick gives the offense a whole new look: he had 50 yard runs in his last two games and will take more chances downfield. But he is completely inexperienced in playoff football and has shown a reliance on one guy in the passing game: Michael Crabtree. If the Packers can take him away, Kaepernick may struggle. Of course Randy Moss, will be starting on the other side and he's been known to save his best showings for the Green and Gold.

The Packers have been hearing how they're a finesse team (read: passing team) while the 49ers are a physical, hard hitting team. They have a chance to dispel those notions on Saturday night, by stuffing the running game and forcing Kaepernick to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers. You know Rodgers will be stoked to play a big game against his hometown team, the team that passed on him with the top pick in 2005.

It remains to be seen how healthy Rodgers' weapons are. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson missed practice on Wednesday. Hopefully, they'll be back on Thursday and good to go for the game. All hands will be needed on deck to tackle the tough 49ers.

But the one guy that maters most is Justin Smith. It's been 27 days since his injury and torn triceps don't heal that fast. If he is not himself, it takes a lot of the "physical" away from the 49ers and will allow the Pack to operate much more effectively. And with Woodson back, the Packers' defense feels like they can match them man for man.


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