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Secondary Displays Brains and Brawn

Posted Sep 11, 2012

Jim Harbaugh believes his team’s best trait is its ability to demonstrate strong preparation habits. In fact, the way the team works on a daily basis has San Francisco’s coach most pleased coming off a Week 1 win in Green Bay.

“The way we work, the way we prepare is the best thing we've got going for us,” Harbaugh said on Monday, a day removed from watching his team end an eight-game losing streak to the Packers.

With 49ers players returning to team headquarters on Tuesday following a day of rest, San Francisco’s emphasis on details was also noted by key difference-makers in a season-opening victory.

“We have a lot of stuff that goes into our gameplans and that’s the thing,” began safety Dashon Goldson, who recorded four tackles against Green Bay, “we’ve got a lot of smart guys who can handle the stuff they throw at us.”

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn’t sheepish about putting his players in positions to succeed, even if it means having more information being explained in the week of preparation.

“Everything we see on Sunday, we’ve seen in the week,” explained cornerback Carlos Rogers, who totaled four tackles and his first-career sack off a nickel corner blitz. “(Fangio) did a good job of preparing for us, and most important, that scout team, they did a good job of preparing us, giving the looks that Green Bay was going to do… It made it much easier out there on Sunday.”

Rogers’ timely blitzes, coupled with the team’s six-defensive back dime package, gave Aaron Rodgers and the Packers plenty to worry about. Green Bay scored 22 points on a week when NFL teams combined to score 791 points on Kickoff Weekend 2012, the second-most for any week in league history and the most-ever during a season’s first week.  

Results are one thing, but Fangio’s leadership and knowledge of the game is perhaps what’s most respected by his players.

“I played for some good coordinators, I think he’s one of the best, if not, the best,” detailed Rogers, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2011 playing under Fangio. “He’s utilizing all this talent.”

Green Bay’s offense produced two touchdown drives last week, but it was the 49ers who were one of 10 NFL teams to score 30 or more points in Week 1.

The Packers might’ve had an opportunity to reach the 30-point barrier late in the fourth quarter, but second-year cornerback Chris Culliver put an end to Green Bay’s comeback attempt with a fourth-down pass breakup.

“I had to make a play,” said the 6-foot, 199-pound cornerback, who posted four tackles in a winning effort. “The opportunity came to me. Instead of (Jordy Nelson) catching the ball and making a first down, which could’ve lead to this, could’ve lead to that, you just had to make a play.”

Culliver was pleased to be in position to make a challenging play against a Pro Bowl wide receiver, but said that Fangio’s play call was equally responsible for the outcome.

“Coach Fangio called a great defensive call and we played it to the best of our ability,” Culliver added. “The ball was in the air, I just had to make a play.”

The 49ers secondary which features two Pro Bowlers from last season (Goldson and Rogers) continues to play confident football. The unit took a lot of pride from holding the Packers to 279 net passing yards last week, too.

“That says a lot about our secondary,” said Goldson, a first-time Pro Bowler. “We’re doing a good job as a secondary and as a defense of stepping up to the challenge and getting it done.”

The ball will likely be in the air a lot more on Sunday in San Francisco’s Week 2 home opener against the Detroit Lions.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for more than 350 passing yards in his last four contests, including last week’s late home win over the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers are well aware of last season’s 5,000-yard passer from the team’s Week 5 meeting in Detroit.

“I remember them trying to throw the ball a lot,” Goldson recalled of a 25-19 win that saw the 49ers hold star wideout Calvin Johnson to seven catches for 113 receiving yards and no touchdowns. “We did a good job on the run and they tried to get the ball out to Calvin. As long as we defend him and keep the explosive plays down, we’ll be fine coming out this game.”

This time around, San Francisco expects to see even more of the Pro Bowl wideout Johnson, who has 45 touchdowns since 2008, most in the NFL.

The challenge, too, is equally exciting.

“Last week was fun,” Culliver said. “The Packers have five different names you could throw out, but we showed our secondary has DBs who can cover and that can hold our own as well. With this week, nothing’s changed, we’re hungry. That was last week, now we’ve got to move on to Detroit.

“Every week is a challenge and every week we’ve got to be prepared.”

Good thing that’s what the 49ers do best these days.

Players expect the gameplans to be unique and challenging at the same time.

“It shows what kind of confidence the coaches have in the players,” Goldson added. “They know we have a good team. They know we have good players and they don’t hold back on the gameplanning, on things we can run, because they’re confident in us to get it done.”

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