For their first real test of the 2012 season, the 49ers get the tall order of Aaron Rodgers and the explosive Green Bay offense.
Rodgers led the Packers to a 15-1 record last season behind one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, but the 49ers were equally as dominant on the defensive side of the ball. Consider the Packers and 49ers claimed the top two seeds in the NFC last season, and it all adds up to one of most anticipated season openers in recent memory for both teams.
San Francisco has started game-planning for Green Bay in earnest this week, knowing the potential of Rodgers and the arsenal at his fingertips.
“(Rodgers) commands a lot out of his guys and his guys definitely go out there and lay it on the line for him,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “They just do a great job with utilizing their weapons and Aaron’s on the same page with his receivers. As a defense, we have to go out there and play a full 60 minutes and know that they can score at any time. We have to be ready for anything.”
For the first time in his career, Bowman won’t be lining up alongside Parys Haralson, who was placed on Injured Reserve this week with an undisclosed arm injury. But in the “next man up” culture of football, Bowman sees it as an opportunity for another member of the 49ers to rise to the occasion.
Rising star Aldon Smith, who was in competition with Haralson for the starting spot at outside linebacker, is expected to step into the starting role on Sunday. Smith burst on the scene with a 49ers franchise rookie record of 14 sacks last year and has been honing his skill as a run-stuffer this offseason as he grows into his every-down role.
“It hurts us because we’re used to playing with Parys so much and him being in the game,” Bowman said. “But it’s a chance for another young guy to step up and fill in a role. We have a lot of great guys, a lot of great athletes and I’m sure whoever’s up next will do a great job.”
Haralson’s strength was setting the edge on his side of the field and funneling the action back to the All-Pro tandem of inside linebackers of Bowman and Patrick Willis. Haralson started 47 of the past 48 regular season games and will be missed, but the 49ers have also brought in veteran Clark Haggans to help bolster the position.
Haggans spent the first eight years of his career in Pittsburgh and the last four seasons with NFC West foe Arizona. The 35-year-old veteran said he noticed the physical nature of the 49ers defense last year and that he’s looking forward to contributing. Bowman is also grateful to add a player with Haggans’ experience to an already talented defense.
“Obviously, the coaches think highly of him,” Bowman said. “Us as players, we’re excited to see what he brings to the table for us.”
The 49ers will need to be at the top of their game to slow down Rodgers this weekend. Green Bay returns an impressive group of receivers that includes Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver. The Packers also feature one of football’s most talented tight ends in Jermichael Finley, who figures to give the 49ers linebackers an early test in pass coverage.
“We go up against one of the best tight ends in the league on our team in Vernon Davis,” Bowman said. “(Finley) has got the hype around him and I’m excited to play against him and see what happens.”
It’s always tough to slow down an offense as potent as Green Bay’s, but Bowman said the key will be to keep Rodgers on his toes. After all, Rodgers threw for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns last year en route to being named league MVP.
“We just have to throw different things at him and play a whole 60 minutes,” Bowman said. “Not get complacent when something goes good for us and not get down on ourselves when something goes bad. We just have to keep playing throughout the game and see where it falls.”
Tags: Navorro Bowman
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