Today I went to the local DMV counter at the AAA office here in the suburbs of San Francisco. My purpose was to get my "PACK FAN" plates reassigned to my new car. The clerk asked, in a good-natured fashion, if I wanted to switch the plates today or wait until after the game on Sunday. He also pointed out that they are offering a free 49ers blanket if I get an insurance quote. The funny thing is, this office is in the East Bay, much closer to Oakland than to San Francisco, and yet they are not offering any Raiders blankets. Yes, I love these California bandwagon-jumpers.
Lots of pregame coverage around here revolving around the rules for hitting read-option quarterbacks. First, the NFL put out a media training video that explains the rules (warning: it takes forever to load - NFL Video). The bottom line of the video is that a read-option QB is considered a runner, whether or not he actually has the ball, until he is out of the play or is in a "passing posture" (for example, standing upright, either still or backing away from the play). So if the QB hands off the ball but continues to run forward in order to continue the uncertainty about who has the ball, he is in a "running posture" and can be tackled. When Bay Area media asked Clay Matthews about this the other day, he explained the rule as the Packers understand it. Which caused Jim Harbaugh to immediately start whining about the Packers' "tough talk," saying that he has contacted the league office to ask for clarification of the rule, and also intends to talk to the officials in the stadium on Sunday about what he perceives as sounding like the targeting of a specific player.
At least one member of the Bay Area lapdog sports media was right there with Harbaugh. "What’s behind the NFL’s failure to protect read-option quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick?" Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Harbaugh upped the ante on Friday by saying that the rule is "flawed and biased." My sense (and hope) is that this issue will fade away, one way or the other. The league's rule is not new - only the explanation and examples are new. Obviously, if the QB is either running the ball or trying to deceive the defense as to who is carrying the ball, the QB has to be treated as a ball carrier, and not as a quarterback entitled to special protection against harm. One of two things is likely to happen with respect to this rule and this game. Either Harbaugh will cut down or even eliminate the usage of the read-option, to protect Kaepernick, or he won't, and Kaepernick will take some hits. If the Packers are able to do this with some discipline and discretion (an open question), it might work out well for them.
On a personal level, I don't think I have been as pessimistic about a 49ers-Packers game since that first playoff game back in January, 1996. Then, I just assumed that the defending Champion 49ers would win, and I didn't know if Favre and the Packers were ready to compete on that level.
This time, my pessimism comes from the fact that the 49ers were almost impossible to stop late in the year and in the playoffs last year. The Packers, by contrast, just were not on any kind of a roll at the end of the year, and blew the chance for a bye week by losing to the Vikings in the final regular-season game. I know that the preseason doesn't mean much (if anything at all). Still, in the preseason this year, the Packers have just not done anything to give me a lot of confidence. I am enthusiastic about Eddie Lacy bringing a new dimension to the offense, but that enthusiasm is tempered by the loss of DuJuan Harris and Brian Bulaga for the year, and I don't know if it is reasonable to assume that they will have a successful running game together by Week 1 of the season. On defense, I find it encouraging that the Packers spent a lot of time studying how to stop the read-option during the offseason (and I will set aside the question of why they didn't do a little of that homework in preparation for the playoff game last year), but the Packers will still be without Casey Hayward (out with a hamstring) and probably without Morgan Burnett (also with a hamstring).
The Packers have enough talent to go in and win this game. And maybe the 49ers will turn out to be a bit of a one-year wonder. But if I honestly predict the winner of the game, I see the 49ers winning, in a closer game than the playoff game last year.
Occasional ramblings of a life-long Green Bay Packers fan, season ticket holder, and shareholder, now living in northern California. My articles were previously published on the South End Zone web site.