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Harbaugh invites physical identity


Some will bill it as a game between a finesse offense and a power defense, which is fine with 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh, as long as no one uses the word finesse to refer to any part of his team.

"In my coaching career there have been certain words that have left me unsettled and confused, and the finesse one would be one," Harbaugh said during a telephone interview with Packers media on Wednesday. "Though I believe it's important to scheme, still, football has always been and always will be at its core physicality. It's always at the core of our football team."

Harbaugh is the hard-edged, second-year head coach of a 49ers team that made a giant leap to 13-3 and the NFC title game last season, coming within a play of a trip to the Super Bowl. Harbaugh led the 49ers to those lofty heights with the league's fourth-worst passing attack.

How did the 49ers do it? By being physical. They had the league's No. 4 defense, No. 1 rush-defense and No. 8 rush-offense. They are not the rankings we've come to associate with success in today's game.

Whereas the Packers, Giants and Patriots played the contemporary game, leaning on their passing attacks to overcome unproductive defenses and stodgy rushing attacks, the 49ers did it the old-fashioned way: They won the physical game.

"I would hope so, that it would be something people would think they were watching," Harbaugh said of that identity for being a physical team.

So the table is set for a clash of styles that would've been on display in last season's NFC title game, had the Packers not been upset at home by the Giants. The clash of styles that is the 49ers vs. the Packers will be on display at Lambeau Field this Sunday, in one of the NFL's headline openers.

"You have to be able to do all of those things; be able to run the ball, be able to throw the ball, be able to stop the run, play coverage, be able to blitz, make it look like blitz and play coverage behind it. I don't think you'll find many football coaches that aspire to be a one-dimensional team," Harbaugh added.

In an attempt to bolster his team's passing attack, the 49ers acquired Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham and long-time Packers antagonist Randy Moss. They give the 49ers wide receiver corps formidability it lacked last season.

"They help us be more of a two-dimensional team," Harbaugh said.

Quarterback Alex Smith is the beneficiary. The first overall pick of the 2005 draft, Smith reclaimed his career under Harbaugh last season by being efficient; Smith pitched only five interceptions, one fewer than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw. It helped push Smith's passer rating to 90.7.

"He's our unquestioned leader and we have tremendous confidence in Alex, the way he works, the way he prepares," Harbaugh said.

Smith credits his success to Harbaugh's influence. Harbaugh is a former first-round pick who was a bust as a Bears quarterback, but found success later in his career with the Colts.

"It's always unique to play for a guy that played the position. He has such a great understanding of everything that comes with the job. He's constantly teaching all of the fundamentals of the game. He's always the guy I go to. He has a high expectation level for quarterbacks," Smith said.

Sunday's game is also a clash of quarterbacks from the same draft class. Rodgers is from the Bay Area and longed to follow in the footsteps of Joe Montana, but it was Smith the 49ers selected, leaving Rodgers to fall to the Packers with the 24th overall selection.

"They're a great football team, a team that could be expected to win every game," Harbaugh said of the Packers. "They pose numerous, numerous problems on both sides of the ball. First and foremost, we're going to have to be very sound. It's not a game we can be making mistakes, mental errors, turn the ball over. We're going to have to stand toe to toe and nose to nose with them."

It's how the 49ers like to play the game. Related links

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