QBs Kaepernick, Rodgers take center stage for opener 

click to enlarge Niners QB Colin Kaepernick (7) ran wild against the Packers in the playoffs last year and will look for more of the same today. - ROBERT HANASHIRO/USA TODAY SPORTS FILE PHOTO
  • Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports file photo
  • Niners QB Colin Kaepernick (7) ran wild against the Packers in the playoffs last year and will look for more of the same today.

Steve Young and Brett Favre will likely be watching the 49ers' season-opening clash with the Green Bay Packers on high-definition TVs as a new quarterback rivalry takes center stage.

The NFL's "new king" Colin Kaepernick is facing off against Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers at Candlestick Park today, the type of matchup that football fiends dream about in March when they're counting down the days to Week 1.

"Happy to be back out there," Kaepernick said.

Kaepernick rushed for an NFL record for a quarterback with 181 yards in January as the 49ers discarded the Packers in the NFC divisional round, and the big question heading into 2013 is whether defenses will be able to slow down the 25-year-old signal caller and his team's read-option offense.

In an interview with ESPN radio, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said the key to defending the read-option is taking shots at the quarterback.

"If that means they pull them out of that type of offense and make them run a traditional, drop-back, pocket-style offense, I think that's exactly what we're going for," he said.

But Kaepernick is a running threat when he drops back to pass, too. He gained 75 rushing yards on scrambling plays against the Packers in January, including a 20-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

"The root of our issues really came in the passes, his ability to scramble out of the pocket," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "From a defensive perspective, [our] gap integrity and rush lanes is really what started his production."

By turning Kaepernick into a pocket passer, though, the Packers could potentially expose the 49ers' lack of depth at wide receiver.

Stopping Rodgers will be equally challenging for the 49ers' defense.

"He's a great quarterback," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "He throws it just as good as anybody if not better than anybody, and he's got all the elusiveness that goes with it. And he's got good guys to throw it to, so they're a hard operation to stop."

In the 49ers' final six games last year, the defense surrendered an average of 297 passing yards per game and that was with Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson starting at safety.

Rookie Eric Reid will be making his regular-season debut in the secondary today and while he was stellar in the preseason, Rodgers, who has thrown 84 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions over the past two years, will surely target him today.

"I'm sure there's other teams we would prefer for him to start against, but there's no Sacramento States in this league," Fangio said. "So no matter who he goes against, it's good stuff. He's just got to be ready. I don't think the game will be too big for him. I think he'll be fine."

Nnamdi Asomugha will also be making his 49ers debut in the third cornerback position, where Chris Culliver played last season, which means he could be lining up against Jordy Nelson for much of the game.

The front seven will need to get after Rodgers to ease the burden on the secondary. If the former Cal signal-caller receives more than four seconds in the pocket, he will dissect the defense like a stiff cadaver.

But Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, who were both nursing injuries in the playoffs, are healthy, which should bode well for the pass rush. In a small sample during the preseason, the front seven looked as vicious as ever and they should only get better with linebacker Patrick Willis joining the attack this week.

As good as Rodgers was in 2012, the 49ers managed to hold him to four touchdown passes and 560 yards in two meetings, suggesting they may have the edge this week in what could become the conference's most compelling quarterback rivalry since Young vs. Favre.


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Paul Gackle

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