NFC West: Aaron Rodgers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are Pro Bowl selections and plenty of all-everything teams revealed in every NFL season. Some players are named, some are snubbed and the discussion on all fronts can be lively.

And then there's what Donny Moore does. Moore, who laughingly calls himself a "former sandwich artist who has had the greatest of opportunities, is a 36-year-old guy whose decisions are debated, sifted through and often even used as verbal barbs in not only living rooms across the country, but in locker rooms around the NFL."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
EA SportsIt comes as little surprise that Peyton Manning is ranked as the top quarterback in "Madden NFL 15."
That's because Moore has the final say about player rankings in "Madden," the wildly popular Electronic Arts video game. The 26th edition -- "Madden NFL 15" -- is set for release on Aug. 26.

And when it comes to the Denver Broncos' game, players will soon discover what NFL defenses did last season -- because quarterback Peyton Manning is at the top of the heap. Manning, who threw for an NFL single-season record 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards last season on the way to this fifth MVP award, is tied for the game's top rating for quarterbacks at 98.

Moore gave Manning and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers a 98 rating -- "it's a 0 to 99 system, there are no 100 ratings in the game," Moore said. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees checked in at 96; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was rated at 93.

And while the debate rages around the league about whether Russell Wilson is a top-10 quarterback, Moore said he will be in this year's "Madden," as Wilson was also given a 93 rating.

Calculating Manning's rating, Moore said, was simply a matter of balancing past production, plenty of advanced metrics on the statistical side, and giving Manning the eye test.

"You're constantly looking at it, having your eyes on everything," Moore said. "It's not only what you see, relative to his peers, relative to the league, but what the metrics tell you as well. A guy like Peyton has such a long track record, from our standpoint it's going to take a lot to push that rating down any. A younger player's rating may be far more volatile ... But we update through the season and through the playoffs."

Moore said Manning's rating in the gaming world represents a complete bounce-back from the quarterback's return from spinal fusion surgery that caused him to miss the 2011 season, which are also the only games Manning has missed in his career. Since signing with the Broncos in 2012, Manning has started every game -- 32 regular-season games to go with four playoff games, with 92 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions.

"There were a lot of unknowns there when he came back, but the feeling was it would affect his throw power," Moore said. "We dropped him down to 84, 85 range, got back up to 89 in 'Madden 13,' I believe. And then to where he is now where we just looked at everything, throw power, awareness, all of those things."

Whether it be on Twitter or in person, Moore said plenty of NFL players have approached him about a ratings adjustment, and that speed tends to be the flashpoint from time to time.

"What usually happens is a big play will happen on Sunday and fans will start tweeting the player, 'Oh man, you did great, you need to talk to 'Madden' to get your rating up,' " Moore said. "And then they'll start following me and we'll go back and forth ... Guys always want to talk about their ratings, they're sort of 80 percent joking, 20 percent serious."

Moore said earlier this year, as he sat "in my cubicle at the office," he could hear Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, on site for a visit, questioning other staffers about how to get his speed rating adjusted. Moore said he then stepped over to meet the quarterback "and I look down and he's got a walking boot on because he just had surgery, so I was kind of going back and forth with him about how a walking boot would affect his speed."

"But in the end we want to just get it right," Moore said. "Whether it's a quarterback everybody knows like Peyton or a long snapper, we want to be right. We strive for perfection, we don't get it, but we always strive for it. But as far as Peyton, I've got a good feeling we're right on that one."

NFLN survey/franchise player: Rams

January, 16, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- It should be no surprise that when 320 NFL players were asked to name one player they would choose to start a franchise with that the top four vote-getters were all quarterbacks. Likewise, it was no shock to see Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning atop the list.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck finished second, followed by New England's Tom Brady and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. In total, 37 players received votes. There were no St. Louis Rams among the top seven to receive votes. Of the Rams currently on the roster, one could make an argument for defensive end Robert Quinn. It stands to reason if you want to start your team with a quarterback, someone might also want to start a team with a guy best equipped to stop one. So maybe Quinn will one day land on the list. He did garner a couple votes this time around.

When I conducted the survey in the Rams' locker room, I was struck by the quickness with which the players I asked came up with their responses. Some went for the veteran Manning, others for the young gun Luck and others went for the in between with Rodgers.

Given Rodgers' relative youth, I think he's probably the best choice. Luck would be close behind but Rodgers has enough football left in him that he'd still be a good long-term option. Don't get me wrong, Manning is amazing but he's much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

From the Rams' perspective, they're still in the process of trying to develop players who can one day show up at the top of polls such as this.


The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have met so often of late that they’re becoming like division rivals.

Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field will be the fourth meeting between the two teams in the past 17 months. They played in Week 1 of the 2012 season and again in the divisional round of the playoffs that season. They opened the 2013 season against each other again.

The 49ers won all three games.

ESPN.com 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss what, if anything, might be different this time around.

Demovsky: Bill, the Packers have seen quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat them with his feet like he did in last year’s playoff game, when he rushed for 181 yards, and also beat them with his arm, like he did in the season opener this year when he threw for 412 yards. What has he been doing better lately, running or throwing, and how do you think coach Jim Harbaugh will try to attack the Packers’ defense this time around?

Williamson: Rob, he’s been a pass-first quarterback all season as he showed in Week 1. That was his best game of the season. But Kaepernick has been playing at a high level in the past five games with Michael Crabtree back on the field. Kaepernick’s Total QBR during the past three weeks is the highest in the NFL. Rob, I’m intrigued to see what the offensive attack is going to be. We all remember the cat-and-mouse game in Week 1 about the read-option attack that never materialized. I could see the 49ers hitting the Packers with it early to get them off-balance and try to go back and forth throughout the game.

Rob, what do you think the Packers are expecting from Kaepernick this week?

Demovsky: I’m not sure they know what to expect. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers pointed out that last year, the 49ers had the bye week in the first round of the playoffs and therefore had plenty of time to tinker with their game plan and install new looks like the read-option. They don’t have that luxury this time around. That said, maybe Harbaugh didn't use much read-option during the season because he wanted to keep his quarterback from getting hit. Now that it’s win-or-go-home time, maybe he’d be more willing to risk it. Either way, the Packers know they have to limit the big plays -- whether on the ground or through the air -- that have killed them in the previous meetings.

In the opener this year, receiver Anquan Boldin dominated the Packers. Now that Crabtree has returned, what dimension has he added to the offense?

Williamson: It’s changed everything. This is a much better, varied, dangerous offense. Crabtree is not 100 percent, but he is still able to help. It makes Boldin even more dangerous. He was double- and triple-teamed because the 49ers didn't have many weapons. With a trio of Crabtree, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick has some firepower.

Rob, do you think the Packers are giving Boldin extra thought this week because of the damage he caused in Week 1?

Demovsky: I’m sure they are, but they've changed the way they cover since that game. They’re more willing to match up Sam Shields on the opponent’s best receiver now, whereas early in the year they simply played Shields on one side of the field and Tramon Williams on the other. They’re also cognizant of what the return of Crabtree means for the passing game. Also, the Packers didn't have safety Morgan Burnett in the Week 1 game and although Burnett has had an inconsistent year, they’re hoping his presence on the back end helps slow down the 49ers' passing game.

From here, the 49ers look as though they have one of the NFL’s best group of linebackers with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. What makes those guys so effective and how can the Packers attack the heart of the 49ers' defense?

Williamson: And don’t forget Aldon Smith. The young star has been playing at a high level for the past month-plus. He came back in November after missing five games while receiving treatment for substance abuse. But you are right; Bowman, Willis and Brooks all made the Pro Bowl. They are dominant. Bowman has been playing out of his mind and he is a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Rob, do you think containing the linebackers is the key for offensive success from Aaron Rodgers’ unit?

Demovsky: That’s certainly going to be one of the keys, because they could impact both the passing game when their ability to pass rush and the running game because of how they can clog up the middle, where Eddie Lacy likes to churn out yards. The Packers’ second-level blocking is going to be more critical in this game than perhaps at any time all season. If they let those linebackers get loose, it could spell trouble.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers don't often blitz. In fact, since the start of last season, they have the lowest blitz rate of any team in the NFL.

Rodgers
Rodgers
However, when it comes to Aaron Rodgers, the 49ers are aggressive on the blitz, which means they rush five or more defenders. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers continue to put pressure on Rodgers on Sunday when the two teams meet in a wild-card game at Green Bay.

Rodgers usually fares well against the blitz but not against the 49ers. Since Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers in 2011, they are 3-0 against the Packers.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers' Total QBR against the 49ers when blitzed in the past three meetings is 8.0. In Week 1 this season, Rodgers was 1-for-6 with an interception when blitzed by Vic Fangio's defense.

Typically, Fangio doesn't like to blitz. His team has blitzed 17.9 percent of the time since the start of last season. It's something about that Fangio blitz that gets to Rodgers. Since the start of last season, he has completed 59.5 percent of his passes and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt against every other blitz. Those numbers fall to 52.8 percent and 4.4 yards against the 49ers.

I would think, based on past success, the 49ers will test Rodgers early with some blitzes to see if the history repeats itself.

49ers play with big picture in mind

December, 29, 2013
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Jim HarbaughChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh's 49ers are the hottest team in the NFL, winners of 11 of their past 13 games.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh frantically sprinted down the sideline in the Sunday evening desert, trying to get one last timeout as the final seconds ticked toward overtime.

He was on the mission of a coach trying to save his season. Or at least the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.

It is Harbaugh’s way to coach every game like it’s his last. He has said it’s a sin not to play like it’s always on the line.

That’s why his 49ers have to be considered one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL headed into the 12-franchise playoff tournament.

"Now, it’s all about that gold ball," San Francisco fullback Anthony Dixon said. "That’s what this team is playing for. We always have to win. That’s our mindset. Losing doesn’t help us much."

It can be argued that when Phil Dawson’s 40-yard field goal attempt went through the uprights as time expired, the 49ers didn’t do themselves any favors. Dawson’s kick gave San Francisco a 23-20 win and secured the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and a date at Green Bay in the wild-card round Sunday.

The Packers, who won in the final seconds over Chicago on Sunday, are going to be tough for anyone to beat at home with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay weather and the aura of Lambeau Field. The suggestion was winning at either Philadelphia or Dallas next weekend would be easier.

The 49ers started the day eligible for the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6 seeds. The first two possibilities were out of their control and never materialized. The allure of being the No. 5 seed was having a better chance of not having to go to No. 1 seed Seattle until the NFC title game if No. 6 seed New Orleans wins at the NFC East winner.

Yes, the edge is minor, but the 49ers didn’t seem to care. Losing is for losers.

“But that’s not how we play,” San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “We know what our task is. We will go out and try to win anybody, win anywhere.”

There is no team headed to the postseason hotter than the 49ers. They have won a league-best six straight games. The 49ers, who finished the regular season 12-4, have won 11 of their past 13 games. Their two losses during the stretch, to Carolina and New Orleans, were by a total of four points.

So while winning at Green Bay is no easy task, the 49ers approach the playoffs as one of the NFL’s toughest tasks for opponents.

“We feel like we can play with anybody,” Dixon said. “We are always confident we will win.”

The 49ers frantically displayed their self-imposed mandate of never letting down Sunday. They roared to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, but slowly let the Cardinals, who entered the game winners of seven of their previous eight games, back in the game.

[+] EnlargePhil Dawson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPhil Dawson made two fields within the last two minutes of the game, including a 56-yarder.
As the 49ers’ offense went to sleep for eight drives, the Cardinals chipped away and tied it at 17 in the fourth quarter. The two teams traded field goals in the final two minutes.

The 49ers took possession at their own 36 (after a nice return by LaMichael James) with 25 seconds to go. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick then hit receivers Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton for receptions of 18 and 29 yards. Patton, a fourth-round pick, made a tremendous sideline catch that inspired Harbaugh to run down field to call the timeout to set up Dawson’s field goal.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Dawson, whose two late field goals made up for a 24-yard miss at the end of the first half that halted his consecutive field goal streak at 27.

All for the fifth seed.

Now that the 49ers did all they could they are looking to start a new journey and do something they couldn’t do last year -- win in February. The 49ers lost the Super Bowl to Baltimore. They were five yards from winning. It eats at this team.

“It’s all about that big game,” Dixon said. “We all want another shot at it. That big game still has left a nasty taste in our mouths. We all want it bad. This game was just a part of achieving that.”

Quick Take: 49ers at Packers

December, 29, 2013
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Three things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' matchup against the Green Bay Packers in an NFC wild-card game at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday at Lambeau Field:

1. Two teams no one wants to play. This rematch of the 49ers’ Week 1 home victory is easily the most intriguing matchup of the first weekend. The 49ers are the NFL’s hottest team. They have the longest active win streak in the league at six games and have won 11 of their past 13 games. This is a 12-4 juggernaut. However, the Packers are dangerous. A healthy Aaron Rodgers makes them a contender, and winning at Lambeau Field in the playoffs is never easy for the road team.

2. Will the read-option live? This should be an interesting cat-and-mouse game. Last year in the divisional round in San Francisco, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran all over the Packers using the read-option. It was a huge storyline heading into Week 1 -- and then the 49ers barely used it as Kaepernick threw for a season-high 412 yards, including hitting Anquan Boldin 13 times. They used it sparingly the rest of the season, but they do break it out now and again. Will it happen again at Green Bay? I can see it being used, at least a bit. The Packers will definitely be on their toes.

3. Check the weather. It is expected to be cold with a chance of snow next weekend in Green Bay. Of course, it is Green Bay in January. The 49ers are a physical, grinding team. They fancy themselves as a cold-weather team. It shouldn’t be a big problem, but the weather is always an advantage for the Packers.

Aaron Rodgers' effect on 49ers

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
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Rodgers' effect on: 49ers | Seahawks | Lions | Bears | Cowboys | Saints | Panthers

The San Francisco 49ers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. So are the Green Bay Packers.

So the collarbone injury suffered by Green Bay superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be crucial for the 49ers. Initial reports indicate Rodgers may miss three weeks.

The impact Rodgers has on the 49ers won’t happen until the playoffs. The 49ers are 6-2 and a game and a half behind 8-1 Seattle in the NFC West. Green Bay, which lost to Chicago on Monday night after Rodgers was injured early in the game, is in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC North at 5-3.

If the 49ers don’t have to play Green Bay in the postseason or if the Rodgers injury means the 49ers won’t have to go to Lambeau Field in January, that would be huge.

For now, though, the 49ers’ focus is on three big upcoming games against Carolina, New Orleans and Seattle in the next month. San Francisco has won five straight games and is rolling.

After beating Green Bay in a wild 34-28 Week 1 game, the 49ers are not thinking much about the Packers. Still, it has to creep into the 49ers' minds that a potential major playoff challenger has suffered a possible season-altering injury.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 1

September, 9, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the 49ers' 34-28 win over the Packers:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesDespite his struggles this season, Washington's coaches are still wary of the ability of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick’s arm: The Green Bay Packers have to be flummoxed. In their last game against the 49ers, in the playoffs in January, the Packers saw Colin Kaepernick run for 181 yards. The Packers spent the offseason trying to learn how to better defend the read-option. What happened in their opener at San Francisco on Sunday? Kaepernick ditched the read-option for the most part and threw for a career-high 412 yards. Kaepernick was brilliant. He was nearly flawless, hitting new receiver Anquan Boldin 13 times for 208 yards and tight end Vernon Davis six times for 98 yards. Kaepernick had a Total QBR of 89.8 on Sunday, the second highest of his career and the highest QBR against the Packers in the regular season since 2009. It was a message from Kaepernick that he can win with his arm just as much with his legs.

Blown call: Referee Bill Leavy said after the game he and his crew made a mistake in the second quarter. An extra third-down play was handed to San Francisco after a wild melee resulting in offsetting 15-yard penalties on Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews (who clobbered Kaepernick) and San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley, who attacked Matthews in defense of his quarterback. The 49ers should have faced fourth-and-2 from the Packers’ 6-yard line, but officials spotted the ball back at the 10-yard line and made it third-and-6 again. The 49ers scored a touchdown on the next play to take a 14-7 lead with 8:57 remaining in the first half. Had it faced fourth down, San Francisco likely would have opted for a field goal. According to ESPN Stats & Information's win probability calculator, the 49ers had a 76.6 percent chance to win after scoring that touchdown. If the correct ruling was applied and the 49ers made a field goal on fourth down, their win probability would have been 64.5. Do I think Green Bay was robbed? No. It happened early. San Francisco won by six, the Packers controlled the game and Matthews started the melee with a silly, dirty hit.

49ers' defense comes up big: Yes, Green Bay scored 28 points, but this was a good day for the 49rs’ defense. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 330 yards, but the 49ers pressured him well. According to ESPN Stats & Information, when the 49ers sent extra heat on Rodgers, he converted a first down just twice on third down. San Francisco’s run defense continued to be stout. Green Bay had 63 yards on 19 carries and averaged 3.3 yards per carry. The 49ers allowed a average of 3.7 yards per carry last season. It was the third-best mark in the NFL.

Some cleaning up to do: For the most part, this was an excellent opener for San Francisco. Kaepernick was special. The receivers came up big, the offensive line was fantastic and the running game moved the chains when it wanted to. San Francisco also had success on defense. Still, there is some work to do. The 49ers had some mistakes and some lulls in the secondary. Also, San Francisco had 11 penalties for 85 yards. That’s too many for a good team. With an NFC West rivalry game approaching in Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers have some things to address.
Mathews-KaepernickAP PhotoClay Matthews and Green Bay had all offseason to digest what Colin Kaepernick did to them in January.

The final season at venerable Candlestick Park begins in style as the San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

It is a rematch of an NFC divisional playoff game in the same building. The 49ers completely outclassed the Packers on Jan. 12, as first-year starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick and crew had their way with a defense that looked slow and lost in a 45-31 San Francisco victory.

Packers team reporter Rob Demovsky and 49ers team reporter Bill Williamson have plenty to discuss. To the questions:

Williamson: Rob, I think we have to start this off with this simple query: Can the Packers stop the read-option of a Kaepernick-led offense?

Demovsky: Bill, that’s what everyone has wanted to know since Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards against them in the playoff game. The number 579 -- the total yards of offense the 49ers piled up that day -- has been burned into the brains of the Packers’ defensive players. Almost every day in practice during training camp, the defense went off to one end of the field by itself and worked against the read-option. But the Packers haven’t seen any of it in live action since that playoff game, so at this point, there’s no way to know whether they’re any better equipped to handle it now.

Williamson: That’s the thing. Green Bay will be coming into this game nervous. The read-option has been on the minds of this coaching staff and its players all offseason, yet the Packers don’t know for sure if they can handle it any better than they did the last time they saw Kaepernick. Kaepernick and his coach, the always-confident Jim Harbaugh, believe in their system and their personnel. They are going to challenge the Packers right away. I fully expect Kaepernick to come out gunning to make a statement -- a full-tilt San Francisco offense. If Kaepernick has early success, it could open the offensive floodgates. Now, if the Green Bay defense holds Kaepernick early, the Packers will get a confidence boost and should hang around all day.

Rob, just how confident do you think the Packers will be if they get a ton of read-option right away?

Demovsky: Clay Matthews said this week that the Packers know they have to take their shots at the quarterback when he tries to get outside the pocket, and if they do, perhaps they can get Kaepernick to sit in the pocket more, which ultimately is their goal. They want to make him a pocket passer if at all possible. That’s their best chance for success.

There are other issues to this game, of course. Bill, considering the fact that the Packers will start a rookie, David Bakhtiari, at left tackle and a former undrafted free agent, Don Barclay, at right tackle, how big of an advantage does a pass-rusher like Aldon Smith have against Green Bay?

Williamson: Other than Kaepernick and Aaron Rodgers, Smith might be the most important player on the field Sunday. He can change the game by himself, as his 33.5 sacks in two NFL seasons attests. Bakhtiari and Barclay have an incredible challenge ahead of them. It is also bad news for Green Bay that 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith is healed from a triceps surgery. Aldon Smith had all 19.5 of his sacks in the regular season with Justin Smith playing with him, and none in 2012 without him. Having the Smith & Smith show together could mean a long day for Rodgers.

Demovsky: But won’t the 49ers have to respect the Packers’ running game a little bit more with the addition of rookie Eddie Lacy? He looks like their first legitimate running back since Ryan Grant in 2009. If the Packers can establish Lacy on first down, they might be able to keep themselves out of obvious passing situations, and then Aldon Smith wouldn’t be able to tee off and jet-rush up the field on every second and third down.

Williamson: That is certainly the Packers' hope. It is clear that getting their ground game back on track was a focal point of the offseason. This is a passer’s league, but getting yardage on the ground and keeping Kaepernick off the field will surely help Green Bay’s cause as much the relief that it would give Rodgers. But here’s the rub -- San Francisco is a monster against the run. The 49ers allowed just 3.7 yards per rush last season, third-best in the NFL. The Packers will be hard-pressed to break their streak of 43 regular-season games without a 100-yard rusher.

Demovsky: Bill, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the Packers are going to defend Kaepernick & Co., but don’t forget that January's playoff game was tied 24-24 midway through the third quarter, and the Packers' offense was having a decent day -- Rodgers throwing for 257 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Can the 49ers secondary hold up against Rodgers and the likes of Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson?

Williamson: A fine point. Look, the Packers are legitimate. They will not be embarrassed in this game. Rodgers is the best player on the planet. He and his receivers must be accounted for. If the 49ers are vulnerable on defense, it might be in the secondary, where they have the oldest defensive backs in the league. Can older players like Carlos Rogers and Nnamdi Asomugha (who may be slowed by a collarbone injury) keep the Green Bay passing game honest? If Green Bay is going to win this game, it’s going to be because Rodgers is unstoppable. That’s possible.

Rob, as we have discussed the major talking points of this anticipated matchup, an intriguing side story has developed. The Packers have brought in a pair of former 49ers backup quarterbacks in Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien. Do you think they can help Green Bay pull out a victory from the meeting room?

Demovsky: I doubt Wallace can. He wasn’t even with the 49ers for a full week. But you'd better believe they’ve grilled Tolzien about the 49ers. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the biggest reason they brought him in, and if they end up cutting him from the practice squad in a week or two. Now, Tolzien probably won’t know much about the 49ers' game plan for this week, but considering he was with them for both meetings against the Packers last season, he likely has a good working knowledge of how Harbaugh wants to go after Green Bay.

Williamson: I’m with you. These moves add some strategy elements, but this is going to be a big-boy game pitting two of the NFL’s finest teams against one another. Once the game starts, this thing is going to all about Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Kaepernick, Rodgers and Matthews.

San Francisco got some good news Thursday: Nnamdi Asomugha will be ready to play Sunday against the potent Green Bay Packers.

San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Asomugha, signed this offseason, will play and be the No. 3 cornerback. He was limited in practice with a collarbone injury Wednesday.

Asomugha will be important against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game. Expect Asomugha to be on Jordy Nelson often.

With Asomugha set to play, the 49ers are pretty healthy heading into this game. Backup running back LaMichael James is expected to be out a few weeks with a knee injury. Other than that, San Francisco is set.
All the rage this week was about the Green Bay Packers' defensive plan of trying to hit San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday.

But guess what?

Willis
Patrick Willis will get a chance to get some licks in on Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers as well.

The ferocious 49ers inside linebacker practiced fully Wednesday after missing the entire preseason with a broken right hand. Barring a major, unexpected setback, Willis will be on the field Sunday.

After missing the preseason, you can tell Willis is getting jumpy. He seemed ready to play Wednesday when he met the media and during the brief window when practice was open to reporters. Willis spoke passionately of missing everything that goes into playing with a team. He said he missed hitting, laughing and hurting with teammates. Sunday, when the lights come on for real on the start of his seventh NFL season, Willis will be there. With no excuses.

He said he expects to make every tackle and have at his disposal every move that has made him a superstar. If not, he will not blame the hand injury.

Willis said he is not sure if he will wear a protective “club” on his hand Sunday. I’d be surprised if he didn’t. Friday marks five weeks since his surgery. Willis said it could take up to eight weeks to recover fully. Such protection is standard.

It gives Willis some confidence that this is the fourth time he will be playing through a broken bone in his hand. He knows it can be done. And from watching his actions Wednesday, he’ll have no reservations.

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.

NFL teams have played their most important snaps of the 2013 exhibition season now that every team has played at least three games.

This becomes a good time to check out how many snaps each projected starting quarterback has played. The players listed in the chart below entered preseason as the quarterbacks I considered most likely to start season openers. We might have to make adjustments in some cases.

Teams have different priorities based on a range of factors. This snapshot does provide some context.

A few notes regarding the NFC West info:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer appeared sharper in the preseason opener than he did subsequently. Pass protection was one problem against San Diego on Saturday night. Palmer still got 37 snaps, his highest total of the preseason. But with the team losing key players Rob Housler and Jonathan Cooper to injuries, snap counts for Palmer were not a leading storyline.
  • St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford has played 25 snaps in each of the last two preseason games. He is averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt in the preseason and has a 114.1 NFL passer rating to this point (he finished the 2012 preseason with five touchdown passes, no picks and a 116.3 rating). The team's most recent preseason game, at Denver, provided Bradford a good opportunity to connect with Jared Cook, the tight end St. Louis lured away from Tennessee in free agency with $19 million in guarantees. Cook caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick has played fewer snaps than any projected starter other than the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III, who has not yet played in a game since suffering knee injuries in the playoffs last season. Kaepernick finished strong against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, completing his final six passes, including one for a touchdown.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson took three sacks and threw two interceptions while playing 38 snaps against Green Bay in the most recent preseason game. The Packers, meanwhile, pulled Aaron Rodgers after 10 snaps. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Packers came after Seattle with scheme-related wrinkles an offense would address in the regular season, but not preseason.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski ranked San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick No. 11 when ranking the 32 projected NFL starting quarterbacks for 2013.

Jaworski now says he thinks Kaepernick can become an all-time great. Jaworski, speaking in the video atop this item, pointed to Kaepernick's arm strength, accuracy and mobility. He also pointed to the coaching Kaepernick is receiving from Jim Harbaugh and staff.


Early returns are indeed promising. Kaepernick ranked second to Peyton Manning in Total QBR as a starter for the regular season and playoffs. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Eli Manning rounded out the top 10.

Smith's presence on that list stands out, because he hadn't produced at that level previously. I do think the offense in San Francisco forces teams to account for the run, setting up quarterbacks for success on early downs. That is when Smith in particular flourished. As Jaworski points out, there is no denying the physical ability Kaepernick brings to the position. Put him in the 49ers' system and the potential is there, no doubt.

Now that we've begun work on that Hall of Fame bust, let's revisit what Jaworski said when ranking Kaepernick 11th among starters earlier this offseason:
"Normally 10 NFL starts is not enough for me to evaluate a player so highly, but this kid has special talent, is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback with a power arm and outstanding athleticism.

"Remember this? It was a signature play of the 2012 season. It was Kaepernick’s first touchdown run against Green Bay that really caught my attention. You see the press man coverage with two deep safeties. It turned out the Packers doubled Michael Crabtree. But the point is the same. This is what mobile, athletic quarterbacks can do versus man-to-man coverage, especially on third down. It forces defenses to rethink their concepts, it limits their tactical options.

"I remember Kaepernick’s first start against the Bears. It was immediately evident that he gave the 49ers every dimension in the passing game. And I love the way Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman set up Kaepernick with defined reads through the use of shifts and formations.

"Watch what happened here from the coaching tape. All that pre-snap movement was designed to get Vernon Davis matched on linebacker Lance Briggs. As favorable as the matchup was, that was still not an easy throw.

"That’s why Kaepernick has a chance to be very special. He has a complete throwing skill-set with a powerful arm that I absolutely put at gun level. His ball comes out with a lot of energy and velocity. And Kaepernick can drive the ball down the field, on the move, with accuracy.

"Kaepernick is one of the four or five most physically talented quarterbacks in the entire NFL. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to the loss of Michael Crabtree, but the elite skill-set is still there."
The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick has played fewer preseason snaps than any projected starting quarterback except for the still-idled Robert Griffin III.

Big deal? Not necessarily.

Injuries, game circumstances, position battles and other factors affect how NFL teams allot playing time during the exhibition season. Kaepernick played 12 snaps in the preseason opener, not far from the 13.8-snap average for projected starters in openers. His four snaps against Kansas City in the 49ers' second preseason game came in well below the 26.6-snap average for the other projected starters in their second preseason games.

"I didn't want anything freakish to happen," Harbaugh told reporters Sunday. "Sometimes you gotta have a plan and you also need a feel, too. So, just felt like he has gotten tremendous amount of work in practice. Though you’d like to have him play more in the preseason games, it comes down to a feel there."

The chart shows how many snaps projected starting quarterbacks have played in the preseason. "DNP" shows when a projected starter did not play. "MNF" reflects the scheduled "Monday Night Football" game between Pittsburgh and Washington.

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