In mid-April, the 49ers coaching staff waited with bated breath like everyone else, awaiting the NFL to release its 2012 schedule.
After winning the NFC West and securing the No. 2 seed in the Conference, the 49ers knew they would have a tough 16-game slate worthy of a division champion. They knew they would be facing marquee players like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees throughout the season but there was still a major unknown: Who would the 49ers face in Week 1?
Once the word came down from the league office, the coaches immediately popped in game tape of the Green Bay Packers, Sunday's opponent in the season opener. By mid-May, the 49ers defense had a full scouting report of Green Bay's robust offense.
It's safe to guess the scouting report had plenty to say about Rodgers. Despite attempting 502 passes last season, Rodgers threw just six interceptions to go along with his MVP season, 45 touchdowns and 4,643 passing yards.
"Well, a great way to explain him is he's Drew Brees with great scrambling ability, and actually a little stronger arm," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "And the guy right now is at the top of his game and many people think he's the best quarterback in the NFL."
Fangio's unit figures to play plenty of its pass-heavy coverages on Sunday, featuring five and even six defensive backs, meaning cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox could see big workloads.
The 49ers spent some time in May game-planning for the Packers and also dedicated a couple days of training camp to preparing for Green Bay, but now they're officially "knee-deep" in the Week 1 game plan, according to offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
As he prepares for Green Bay's disruptive defense, one that was tied with the 49ers with 38 takeaways in 2011, Roman has a valuable resource to lean on. Roman usually picks Fangio's brain for defensive tendencies of the opposition and things are no different this week, as Fangio is very familiar with the system of Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Fangio has coached with Capers on four different staffs throughout his career and is well-versed in Capers' 3-4 system, which has roots that date back to 1992 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It has stood the test of time, to say the least," Roman said. "Vic knows it as well as anybody. The great thing for us is we get to practice against it every day now. Now, there are some differences and the personnel is different, but Vic's a great resource for football. Vic's been a great resource for me my entire career. He is one of the smartest football coaches I've ever met. I ask Vic about every team we play, to be quite honest with you because he is an encyclopedia of football."
Like the 49ers, the Packers possess play-makers at each level of their defense.
The front line is anchored by fourth-year defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who has established himself as one of the league's top run-stuffers. The Packers also added a couple of promising pass-rushers through the draft in Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, but Raji will surely command most of the attention on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"Huge presence in the middle," Roman said of Raji. "Our guys inside, it's just going to be a real physical battle in there because he's so strong. He's got a really, really good quickness too for a big man. Their inside linebackers, their front seven, they play very well together."
At the next tier in the defense are Clay Matthews and rookie Nick Perry. Matthews and his long locks have become well-known around the NFL as he is consistently flying around the field and making plays, while the USC product Perry has caught Roman's eye a quality outside linebacker.
"We have a lot of respect for their defense and Clay Matthews is just a dynamic player," Roman said. "He has a great feel for the game of football. … Nick Perry is an extremely powerful player. He's just been killing tight ends this preseason. He's got an incredibly strong lower body. He looks like a defensive end, which he played in college at USC. He's extremely powerful and sets a mean edge."
But the Packers, who in 2011 ranked dead last in yards allowed (411.6) and 19th in points allowed (22.4), will be without last year's leading tackler Desmond Bishop, who was placed on the Injured Reserve with a torn hamstring.
Green Bay still has Charles Woodson, though, and he's someone the 49ers will be sure to keep an eye on. The 35-year-old lynchpin is so skilled and experienced that he can play almost any defensive back position and Capers' system.
Ready or not, the Packers will be tasked of being the first team to face Roman's revamped offense. No one quite knows how Roman plans to use his new weapons like Randy Moss, Mario Manningham or LaMichael James, nor do they know if the 49ers will employ second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick for select plays.
Given Kaepernick's stellar development this offseason and through training camp, Roman said there's a possibility Kaepernick could see some playing time in Week 1.
"I think you definitely discuss it. But we have full confidence in Alex Smith," Roman said. "We like when Alex is out there leading us. I think (Kaepernick) gives you the flexibility to be able to talk about that and feel good about it and plan for it. I think it's just good change of pace and makes the defense prepare for something different."