The focus on Sunday's game, and rightfully so, is the Green Bay Packers' high-powered offense against the San Francisco 49ers' juggernaut defense.
The other side of the ball holds plenty of intrigue, too, because of the mystery involved.
The 49ers' reputation is they operate a run-first attack and use quarterback Alex Smith in a complementary role. Last season, the 49ers ran the ball 50.1 percent of the time. Only Denver (hamstrung by Tim Tebow) and Houston (down to rookie No. 3 quarterback T.J. Yates) ran the ball with greater frequency.
During the offseason, San Francisco gave its offense a big-time and big-name makeover. After Smith completed all of one pass to his wide receivers in a loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game, the Niners signed Mario Manningham away from the Giants and wooed Randy Moss out of mothballs after the record-setting receiver was out of the league last year.
So, what do the 49ers have in store for the Packers?
"You really don't know what they're going to do in this opener," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday. "Normally, if you have four, five games of tendencies on somebody, they aren't going to change drastically. You never know coming out of preseason because most teams are fairly vanilla in the preseason."
Capers figures the running game will remain "where everything starts" for the 49ers' offense. However, with receivers Michael Crabtree, Moss and Manningham and tight end Vernon Davis, Smith suddenly has as talented a quartet of pass-catchers as any quarterback in the league.
"It's a good thing," Smith said during a conference call on Wednesday. "The more problems you can give a defense, the more you can get them to think about, the better. So much of this game comes down to matchups. We have a lot of different guys to create a lot of different matchups. It's a good problem to have. It's something we'll continue to mold and it will probably evolve as the season goes on."
San Francisco checked in a respectable 11th in the league with 23.8 points per game last season. However, the 49ers ranked a woeful 30th in red-zone touchdown percentage (40.7) and 31st in third-down percentage (29.4).
Chances are, Smith's not going to start slinging the ball all over the yard, a la Aaron Rodgers, but at least he's got the weapons to make teams pay for putting the defensive bull's-eye on Gore.
"The goal is to always be balanced and do whatever it takes to win," Smith said. "That might change from week to week. Some weeks, it will be throwing the ball; some weeks, it will be running it; some weeks, it will be both. We don't want to be one-dimensional, we don't want defenses to dictate anything to us. We want to be multidimensional and really dictate the pace of the game to the defense."
The 49ers have a multitude of ways to dictate the game.
They can run it with Gore and change-of-pace back Kendall Hunter moving the chains behind an offensive line that features three former first-round picks: left tackle Joe Staley and guards Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.
They can emphasize the run even more by using 355-pound Leonard Davis — the second overall pick of the 2001 draft and a three-time Pro Bowler — as an extra lineman and bringing in backup nose tackle Will Tukuafu at fullback. They also can swap out Smith for second-year player Colin Kaepernick, a strong-armed passer and exceptional athlete, to run the read option out of the Pistol formation. When he ran the Pistol at Nevada, Kaepernick became the first quarterback in NCAA history with three consecutive seasons of 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. When he ran the read option in a preseason game against Minnesota, Kaepernick ran 78 yards for a touchdown.
"They have an awful lot of different personnel groups," Capers said. "They have a lot of exotics and gimmicks that you have to prepare for. I think they do an excellent job in terms of their variation. You saw in the preseason that they ran the quarterback-read play out of the shotgun and Kaepernick had a ton of yardage off of that. They ran it in the playoffs last year with Smith. You see that quarterback-read stuff that you see so much of in college football."
And now, with Moss, Manningham and first-round pick A.J. Jenkins joining Crabtree and Davis, the 49ers can spread the field, either to keep teams honest or in comeback situations. Last season, only three teams had fewer 40-yard pass completions than San Francisco. Of course, spreading the field doesn't necessarily mean pass. Just as the Packers hope to get easy yards with Cedric Benson in four-receiver sets, the 49ers could do the same with Gore or Hunter (or Brandon Jacobs when he's healthy or rookie LaMichael James once he's up to speed).
"Gore can run it at any time and then they can throw it, and I think it opens up their play-action passing game," Capers said. "They've got a lot of targets. You better be prepared for all phases of the game. ... They can play a power game and they can spread it out and either throw it or run the option."
Agree or disagree?:
Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums
. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.