GREEN BAY, Wis. The 49ers and Packers spent last week hurling stinging compliments at each other.
Said 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: "He's Drew Brees with great scrambling ability, and actually a little stronger arm. And the guy right now is at the top of his game, and many people think he's the best quarterback in the NFL."
Rodgers shot back with a haymaker of his own by saying the Packers might need "three or four" blockers to stop 49ers defensive end Justin Smith.
"I think he's definitely one of the best players in the NFL, regardless of position," Rodgers said. "Most offensive guys would probably agree. He does a lot on the field. A lot of stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet."
Beneath all that gooey praise is the core of today's game, which pits Rodgers and Green Bay's relentless and efficient passing attack against a Smith-led 49ers defense that vexed all the top quarterbacks in the league a year ago.
The 49ers' defense stands out for its plainness. It doesn't blitz very often, certainly not as much as Green Bay, which sends pass rushers from all angles and positions and ranked second behind New Orleans in number of blitzes last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
"These guys have every blitz in the book and they've run them," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "They're a good pressure team, good disguise team, and they challenge your rules, that's for sure. You might have to write some new rules for them. I really haven't seen anybody pressure quite as much as the Packers."
By contrast, the 49ers are a great defense wrapped in a brown paper bag.
They blitzed just 200 times in 614 defensive snaps last season, one of the lowest percentages in the league. But they don't need to blitz to apply pressure, which allows them to spread defenders around the field.
The 49ers are at their best when they send just four pass rushers Justin Smith and Aldon Smith on the right side and Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks on the left.
That's what the Giants were able to do last season in their divisional playoff win in Green Bay in January.
Rodgers set a record for efficiency a 122.5 rating during a regular season in which the Packers went 15-1. The Giants, however, sacked Rodgers four times, intercepted him once and forced him to fumble once. Rodgers finished the game with his lowest passer rating of the season, 78.5.
Safety Donte Whitner said the 49ers have studied the film from that game and that it's a template the 49ers can and must duplicate today. He admitted Rodgers is so aggressive when he sees a favorable matchup and the Packers' receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver are so talented, any one-on-one situations are to Green Bay's advantage.
"In the NFL, a lot of the wide receivers are some of the best athletes in the world," Whitner said. "So you put a guy man to man with one of the best athletes in the world with no help it's like crazy. It's like you want to be beat."
Rodgers probably was hyperbolizing when he said the Packers might use three or four players to control Justin Smith. But maybe he wasn't.
Green Bay is likely to use a six-man pass protection this afternoon. The Packers also use their running backs as extra blockers by sending them out of the backfield and having them "chip" the opponent's best pass rusher.
You can bet that they'll be making a beeline for Justin Smith.
"I'm not going to lie," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's definitely someone that we're focused on."