49ers' opponent for this week? It's the 49ers

January 2, 2012, 10:35 pm
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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. But that does not mean the 49ers don't have an opponent lined up this week.
When the club returns to the practice field, it'll be 49ers vs. 49ers.Once the regular season begins, the 49ers' first-team offense rarely practices against the first-team defense. The reason is because every week NFL teams prepare to face an opponent.
The scout team -- both offense and defense -- is comprised of backups and practice-squad players. They use the projected plays and schemes that the coaches believe they'll see from the upcoming opponent.The 49ers changed up a few things several weeks ago when the offense continued to struggle inside the red zone."It actually something we've incorporated the last three weeks, going against our defense in the red zone," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday. "It has been good for us. We'll continue to build on that, especially this week, probably more than we had because we'll have the opportunity."The 49ers went through a six-game stretch in which they scored touchdowns on just 3 of 18 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Harbaugh decided to have sessions in which the 49ers practiced against their own defense, the top-ranked red-zone defense in the league.Since that time, the 49ers finished the season with six touchdowns on nine red-zone possessions."We had hit a little bit of a slump there, three or four weeks back, but it's been improving," Harbaugh said. "It's encouraging."When the 49ers return to practice Thursday, they'll practice starters vs. starters more during more than just red-zone drills."We don't know what opponent we're playing, so there will be periods in the practice where it's 49ers vs. 49ers -- us against us -- where you don't see that in the regular season," Harbaugh said. "You see that in training camp."The 49ers have started breaking down their three possible opponents for the Jan. 14 divisional-round game at Candlestick Park. If the New Orleans Saints defeat the Detroit Lions on Saturday, the 49ers will play the Saints. If not, the 49ers' first playoff opponent will be the winner of the Atlanta Falcons-New York Giants game.Harbaugh and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John, are in the same situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens are the No. 2 seeds. The brothers have spoken and compared notes how to handle this week's of work."We're each going to handle it accordingly," Jim Harbaugh said. "Yeah, there'll be some similar things. Basically, we're on a similar schedule. We compared notes. Some things are the same, some are different."