When The University Of Michigan opened up their season against the Alabama Crimson Tide, many in the state of Michigan were quite optimistic. Why shouldn’t they have been? They have Heisman hopeful Denard Robinson, and though he doesn’t have the best arm in all the land, he has pure athleticism that can torch almost any defense. Any, but perhaps Alabama’s. I will admit I was one of those optimists, though I tended to look at this as a “win-win.” Think about it for a second, playing a cupcake schedule for the first four weeks, then going head-to-head with the rest of the Big 10, that doesn’t really help most teams does it? Sort of like playing three or four preseasons games. Long story short, I thought even if the Wolverines lost, it was a win. A match up against the best team in the country–and most feared defense–the Maize and Blue had to take home a lot of experience, especially those younger guys. It also helps that it doesn’t effect their conference record, which will truly be what matters at the end of the season.
Now, what exactly does this have to do with the Detroit Lions? A lot, and well perhaps a little. While it’s true that the Lions don’t have a conference record–of any true meaning–and can’t just take non-conference games as learning lessons, they do get an early test and a hard one at that. The San Francisco 49ers just upended the Green Bay Packers, at Lambeau Field. Not an easy task for those of you who have failed to follow the NFL the last several years. The Packers were 15-1 last year and won the Super Bowl the year before that. Of course Aaron Rodgers and company struggled against the defense, but it was the Niners new, overloaded offense that got them through the game too.
While some of the same faces remain in San Fran–QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis, WR Michael Crabtree–new ones have also popped up as well. Randy Moss, who many thought of as “washed up,” performed well with 47 yards and touchdown. Not the Randy Moss we’ve known in the past, but still contributing to the team and always a vertical threat. With the addition of Mario Manningham and strong running combo of Gore and Kendall Hunter, the 49ers suddenly are as scary on offense as they are on defense, well almost.
They still have the same stout defense that is ruthless on running backs, rarely giving up 100 yards to anyone and almost never letting them see the sacred shrine, known as the end zone. But that’s probably fine in Matthew Stafford‘s eyes, the Detroit Lions QB who slung the ball 48 times in week 1 against the St. Louis Rams. Stafford will be looking to Calvin Johnson to move the rock down the field, as well as spread to the ball to other weapons on offense. Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles, Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young will likely see the ball quite often as the Lions are going to need to move the ball through the air if they want to score points.
It won’t likely matter much that Jahvid Best (PUP list) and Mikel Leshoure (suspension) are still missing from the line up, because the Lions aren’t going to move the ball well on the ground. If teams that rely on their running game can’t effectively rush against the 49ers, how will the Lions possibly succeed in doing so? They won’t, and that’s why the passing attack has to be ready.
Like I said before, this will be an early test. If the Lions win, great. In my mind, the 49ers are now the team to beat in the NFC. If they lose, that’s too bad, but I’m sure they’ll learn a lot after going against a team that was nearly in the Super Bowl last year. The Lions will have to cope with blocking a heck of a pass rush, while trying to slow down the Niners’ offense. With the Niners ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air, Ndamukong Suh, and the rest of the Lions interior defensive linemen will need to show up big for this match. An early test against the best will prep the Lions for success down the stretch.