SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers might just be facing the hottest passer in NFL history Saturday night. No one tops Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in two essential quarterback categories: putting the ball in the end zone and minimizing mistakes.
Over the past two seasons, the Packers quarterback has thrown for 84 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions -- a plus-70 ratio that ranks better than the best two-year runs produced by Tom Brady (plus-59), Peyton Manning (plus-58) and Drew Brees (plus-56).
"He's thrown 70 more touchdown passes than interceptions in two years -- seven-zero!" former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said. "Think about that for a minute."
Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive coordinator, has given it a lot of thought this week. He's watched so much film of Rodgers that it has him seeing the pocket presence of Dan Marino and the scrambling creativity of Steve Young, both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, the 49ers counter with Colin Kaepernick, a second-year player with seven starts.
The 49ers' best chance of overcoming a perceived mismatch at football's most important position? Keeping Rodgers off the field by running the ball successfully. Then making him as uncomfortable as possible when the Packers are on offense.
Young, working as an ESPN analyst when Rodgers was sacked eight times in a 14-12 Week 3 loss in Seattle, sees that game as a blueprint.
"Aaron Rodgers will beat you if he's protected,"
Young said. "If you can bring four guys and put pressure on him, you can beat him. I saw it in Seattle in spades in the Monday night game where they just tortured the Packers."
Rodgers has been sacked 51 times this season. The 49ers' best plan of attack could be similar to the one the New York Giants used in two Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots in which they sacked Brady a combined seven times. The Giants also sacked Rodgers four times last season in a 37-20 playoff win at Lambeau Field.
Dan Fouts, a CBS analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback, said that's easier said than done.
"I think the 51 (sacks) is a little misleading, because they had eight in that Seattle game and they've shored up their problems, pretty much," Fouts said. "He's tough to get to, and if you blitz him, you're risking man-to-man coverage with dynamic receivers and a dynamic tight end."
Fouts worked the radio broadcast of Green Bay's playoff win over Minnesota last week and puts Rodgers in the same category as Brady, Manning and Brees.
"They're just in total control," Fouts said. "They know exactly what they want to do, and in Aaron's case, his ability to extend the play and reach every part of the field is what sets him apart."
Fouts believes the 49ers' best chance would be shutting off the Packers running game and "make him throw 60 times, and hope he doesn't complete 40 of them."
Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films, said in a KNBR interview that Rodgers is doing most of his damage outside the pocket.
"The biggest concern with Aaron Rodgers and their pass offense right now is not the rhythmic flow of it, it's the extension of plays," Cosell said. "That's where he's at his best right now."
Gannon said Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy are in concert in terms of play-calling and that the 49ers' challenge will be "just trying to get him out of rhythm, get him off his spot and force him to throw the ball before he's ready."
Young thinks Justin Smith's health (torn triceps tendon) will be a factor because, if he's effective, it will enhance the 49ers' ability to pressure Rodgers without blitzing.
"That's the special sauce that Aaron can't control," Young said. "He can't beat that, because he's under duress. Every quarterback knows that with a certain amount of duress, you can't do your job. But without that, the advantage goes to Aaron Rodgers." ___