If you are not a 49ers fan or a Lions fan, you still had a kick when these two teams last met.
The San Francisco 49ers host the Detroit Lions in their home opener at Candlestick Park. Both of these teams started out the season with a win and against each other rivals: the 49ers beat the Packers 30-22 while the Lions beat the Rams 27-23. However, to enjoy this upcoming match up one has to recall the game they played against each other in Detroit in week 6 of 2011. San Francisco won the game 25-19 and then 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh went across the field for a controversial handshake with Lions head coach Jim Schwartz that left Schwartz charging at Harbaugh. No doubt the fans will want an encore performance for this Sunday night game.
Looking back at that week 6 contest, the Lions seemed in control until Alex Smith managed to throw the game winning TD pass to Delanie Walker with 1:51 left in regulation. Despite the two turnovers committed by the 49ers, they managed to come out on top and even put up a few more yards than the Lions total (314 for 49ers, 310 for Lions). How those yards were achieved by each team last year were totally different. The 49ers focused on their ground game with 203 rushing yards while the Lions aired it out with 244 through passing.
This contest, however, might turnout differently for the 49ers at least as to how they accumulate their yardage. Alex Smith and the 49ers used an much improved passing game along with the rushing attack to beat the Packers. Smith had 196 yards accredited to the passing game while they ran for 186. This very balanced approach worked week 1 and should help week 2.
The 49ers, however, might need to rely on their pass a bit more. The Lions managed to hold Stephen Jackson of the Rams to just 53 yards in 21 carries. The Rams as a whole had 77 rushing yards. Despite Sam Bradford having a decent performance, the Lions defense limited the Rams to just 14 first downs compared to the Lions’ 28. While he didn’t turn the ball over, Bradford was still sacked four times by the Lions during that game, one of those sacks coming from Ndamukong Suh.
The 49ers are concerned about protection of the QB, especially after the Packers game. Alex Smith was sacked 4 times during that game and none of them came from defensive lineman. This front four of the Lions is a tough one to go up against as they will have have to figure out a way to protect Smith and open up holes for Frank Gore.
“Tough, aggressive defense, attacking style,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “Not a heavy blitz team, but at any point in time they’ll dial up a blitz. So, you’ve got to be ready for it. I think it’s really added to their profile.”
While this statement may be true of the Lions defense, there is no defense in the NFL so aggressive and in your face right now than the 49ers. They made the Packers one dimensional last week limited Cedric Benson to just 18 yards on 9 carries. The other 27 yards allowed on the ground were Aaron Rodgers running for his life. While I’m sure they are just as concerned with stopping the run like every week, they can’t be too worried seeing that Kevin Smith is the running back they are going to stop. Smith is not a fantastic runner getting 62 yards and a TD on 13 carries. They might need to be aware of the occasional hand off to a WR though. Three different Lions WRs ran the ball last week.
Of course the top priority is stopping the passing game led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. While he has the ability to make it to the upper echelon of QB’s, Stafford had a rough first week in 2012 getting picked off 3 times by the Rams, one of which was returned for a TD. Luckily for him, Stafford managed to throw his only TD of the day with 10 seconds left in regulation to win the game.
The way to take out Stafford might be similar to how the team dealt with Rodgers: take away the big play options, including any involving Calvin Johnson, while effectively rushing the QB. Stafford hit Johnson for 6 catches for 111 yards in week 1. Stafford also spread the ball around well with a couple other of those options being Brandon Pettigrew for 5 catches for 77 yards and Nate Burleson with 6 catches and 69 yards.
The Lions aerial attack means more work for those DB’s this week as well. That means more work for starting CB’s like Carlos Rogers and for back ups like Chris Culliver.
However, emphasis for disrupting the passing attack must be placed on the blitz. The 49ers made Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable all day sacking him 3 times in the process. Except a drive that led to a Rodgers TD pass in the 4th quarter, the 49ers brought the rush and disrupted his rhythm. If the 49ers defense can do the same this week, look for Jim Schwartz to be angry at the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh once more.
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Written by Daniel Trucios