Each Thursday morning, Press-Gazette Media will get the lowdown on the Packers’ next opponent from a beat writer who covers that team.
There is much talk this week about how the Green Bay Packers have lost their last four meetings with the San Francisco 49ers, two of those defeats coming in the postseason.
Pay it no mind. These are not those 49ers.
These 49ers have a new coach (Jim Tomsula replacing Jim Harbaugh), a depleted defense (minus Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald and coordinator Vic Fangio) and a quarterback who appears to be a shell of the dual threat who bedeviled the Packers in three of those 49ers victories.
Colin Kaepernick was intercepted four times Sunday during the 49ers’ 47-7 loss at Arizona. The Cardinals returned interceptions for touchdowns on the 49ers’ first two series. Coming on the heels of a 43-18 drubbing at Pittsburgh the previous week, the blowout loss dropped the 49ers – who beat the Vikings 20-3 in their season opener – to 1-2.
We asked beat writer Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News to answer a few questions about what the Packers can expect when they face the 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium:
1. What the heck happened to Colin Kaepernick on Sunday?
CI: “He had made strides all offseason and shown that he had become a more refined passer with a more compact motion and a better ability to read defenses. Honestly, what I think happened: They reshuffled their line. The right side of their offensive line had been problematic…very suspect. The first two plays of the game there was pressure and it stuffed Carlos Hyde runs. On the first pass play, they got pressure in the same area and Kaepernick kind of panicked, and he didn’t have all the fundamentals you need as a good thrower. And the Cardinals were waiting for that. So, boom! Pick-6. And the next series, same thing. They pressured him, he panicked a little bit and made kind of a lazy throw and underthrew the ball … and suddenly they were down 14-0 and it just snowballed. … It was one of those games where it was just disastrous, no matter what he did. How that translates to this next game I’m not sure, because they’re going to want to get his confidence back and obviously they’ll want to establish the run like they do every game.”
2. Kaepernick is 3-0 in his career against the Packers. Is there hope that he’ll bounce back against a team he has tormented?
CI: “If there’s any way to rebound from your career-worst performance, it would be against possibly the NFL’s best team and the team that he’s had their number. But the defense has changed a lot since those other times that the 49ers have played the Packers. This isn’t that same solid, sturdy defense that a quarterback needs. I don’t know if Colin can do all this on his own and I don’t think they want him to. They’re going to want this to be Carlos Hyde's and the defense’s game. They’re going to try to play keep away from Aaron Rodgers and they’re going to try to do that with the run. And when Aaron gets the ball in his hands, he’s going to do what Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger have done to the 49ers the last two weeks. He can absolutely annihilate them.
“With Eric Mangini taking over the defense this year, I really thought it would be a lot more aggressive, with a lot more disguises, and it has backfired severely these last two weeks. They have given up 90 points (over two consecutive games) for the first time since 1980.”
3. Is Carlos Hyde healthy and capable of having a big game against the Packers' run defense?
CI: “He is healthy and he runs hard. I don’t think the 168 yards he had in the opener against the Vikings was a fluke. … There’s no question he’s a No. 1 running back. The question is whether the 49ers can block for him. The left side of their line is their money spot. Joe Staley might be the best tackle in the game, and they’ve moved Alex Boone from right guard to left guard just so they can have one side of the line be decent. They’ve switched to a zone-blocking scheme, which allows Hyde to be more patient, pick a lane and cut back.”
4. Despite the rough start, are things better without former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh around? Is it a better atmosphere?
CI: “If you’d asked me that question after Week 1, I would’ve said, ‘Absolutely.’ Everybody was extremely happy. There was a much happier vibe around the facility that everyone was getting along well. You didn’t have to worry about people squealing from the front office to the media about something Harbaugh was doing wrong. He never really lost the locker room; he had lost face with the owner and general manager, absolutely, and I’m sure there were gripes among players but there was never outright dissent like it was made out to be. Tomsula is a guy everybody respects and likes because, the word everybody uses about Jim Tomsula, he’s a caring coach. Very people-person-oriented. The problem is, if you lose back-to-back games in which you’re giving up 40 points, does that matter? People don’t care how nice a guy he is or how caring he is, they want to know if he can coach.”
5. So how big of a game is this for Tomsula? If they lose big again, is he on the hot seat?
CI: “No, he’s not. If they lose by 40 points again, then yes. … But the cards were so stacked against him by so many people leaving this offseason. … The ownership loves him and adores him, everyone does. So they’re not going to scapegoat him. They’ll scapegoat Kaepernick before they scapegoat Tomsula.”
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