SANTA CLARA -- One of the NFL's best defensive players -- and a guy who typically does not come off the field -- played the 12th-most of any 49ers defensive player Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.
Because the Packers featured a lot of multi-receiver sets, the 49ers countered with six defensive backs. So for one-third of the 49ers' defensive plays, linebacker Patrick Willis stood on the sideline as a spectator.
"I didn't see him on the field in some of those situations, so I was aware of it," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday in a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
How the 49ers choose to counter when the Packers feature a receiver-heavy offense Saturday night in the NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park will be one of the games within the game.
"It's really not a chess match from our view," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
"We have a lot of of respect for how they go about their business game-planning. Vic Fangio is going to do what's best for his football team. And we're going to line up and run our concepts and do the things we feel gives us the best chance to be productive."
Fangio, the 49ers' defensive coordinator, opted to play the 49ers' fourth cornerback, Perrish Cox, instead of Willis because of the matchups. In fact, Fangio said the Packers featured four-receiver sets more against the 49ers in the opener than at any point this season. And that meant that Cox played a season-high 51 snaps on defense.
"They've mixed it in there," Fangio said. "They probably played it the most against us in the first game. But they still mix it in every now and then. But they did play it more against us than they did the other games we've studied."
Of course, it's a difficult call to take Willis off the field. But Fangio said he must determine what combination of defenders gives the 49ers the best chance to compete against the Packers' personnel.
"It is (difficult) from the aspect that you don't want to take out one of those inside linebackers if you don't have to,' Fangio said. "But when it becomes a matchup that an inside 'backer maybe can't handle or is at a deficit that somebody else can handle better then you always do what's best for the team."
NaVorro Bowman played 10 snaps more than Willis in the season opener because the one linebacker spot in the 49ers' "dime" package has the same responsibilities as his normal position. Therefore, Bowman remained on the field for most of the game.
"The competitor side of me, of course, I want to be out there," said Willis, who has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his six NFL seasons. "But at the same time, too, it doesn't hurt when you see the guy playing that position can play just as good as you can play it. I have complete confidence when NaVorro is in there playing.
"Believe me, if there was any doubt in my mind that he couldn't play the way it should be played, of course, it would be one of those things I'd go to coach and talk to him. Obviously, he plays it well enough as anyone I've seen play it."