49ers keys vs. Packers: Mr. and Mr. Smith

US Presswire/Cary Edmonson

Aldon Smith figures to be a key factor for the 49ers in 2012.

The premier matchup of Week 1 pits the San Francisco 49ers against the Green Bay Packers—the game that could have been the NFC Championship Game last season had the New York Giants not made their improbable Super Bowl run.

Let’s take a closer look at the statistical storylines tied to this contest.

Key matchup: Alex Smith vs Packers defense

If the Packers strategic approach mirrors that of last season, it will pose a formidable challenge for 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

Best TD-Int Differential
Facing 5+ Pass Rushers (2011)
(Including Playoffs)

The Packers sent five or more rushers at the fourth-highest rate of any team in 2011 (46 percent).

Smith was sacked a league-high 26 times when the opposition sent at least five pass rushers.

But Smith had one of the best touchdown-interception differentials in the league, with 14 touchdowns and one interception against such pass rushes. In fact,

Smith’s differential was almost a near-match for the quarterback on the other side of the field in this game, Aaron Rodgers, as seen in the chart on the right.

Smith had the best season of his career in 2011. His five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime were tied for the second-most in the NFL, behind only Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

The other Smith is a difference-maker

49ers linebacker Aldon Smith had a significant impact in his first NFL season. He’ll be trying to match that in 2012.

The 49ers averaged a sack once every 12 dropbacks with Aldon Smith on field last season, but averaged a sack once every 23 dropbacks with Smith off the field. Smith was on field for only 48 percent of the 49ers’ defensive plays last season.

Keep in mind that if the 49ers defend passes in a similar manner to how they did so last season, it plays right into one of Rodgers’ (many) strengths.

Most Pass TD Per Int In Season
NFL History (Min. 25 Pass TD)

The 49ers rushed four or fewer players on 82 percent of opponent dropbacks last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

But Rodgers completed nearly 70 percent of his passes against that kind of pressure last season, throwing 29 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

Though the 49ers didn’t pass-rush as aggressively as other teams, there were two things they did exceptionally well. They allowed only three rushing touchdowns, the fewest by any team since the 1971 Minnesota Vikings yielded only two.

They also defended longer pass plays with success. Opponents completed only 34 percent of their throws that traveled at least 15 yards in the air against the 49ers defense, the second-lowest completion rate against such throws in the league.

San Francisco’s 17 interceptions on such throws were the most in the NFL.

Notable trends

The Packers have won nine straight regular-season games vs the 49ers. That is tied for the longest active win streak by any team against a single opponent.

The last time the 49ers beat the Packers was Week 9 of the 1990 season. The nine-game win streak is the longest streak by either team in the history of the series.

Green Bay has won 13 straight games at home and 19 of its last 20 overall. The 13-game home win streak is the longest active home win streak in the NFL.

Stat of the Game

The Packers (15-1) and 49ers (13-3) combined for 28 regular-season wins last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is tied for the second-most wins ever from the previous season in a Week 1 matchup.