Harbaugh / Schwartz Handshake II: Lions vs. 49ers Preview of NFL Week 2 Matchup
Sunday night, primetime football. The Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers will be lined up head-to-head in “game of the week” fashion come 8pm tomorrow. Matthew Stafford will look to overpower Patrick Willis and the Niners defense with their yet-to-be-seen lethal offense. So what does each team need to do in order secure a victory?
Detroit, in my opinion, shouldn’t even fiddle with the run game. Despite being without their top two runners–Jahvid Best (PUP list) and Mikel Leshoure (suspension)–Kevin Smith handled the bulk of the carries well against the St. Louis Rams in week 1. Still, the Rams defense is nowhere near that of the 49ers. One of the most stout in all the NFL, the 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 1o consecutive games, nor have they allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 straight games at Candlestick Park. I wouldn’t look for that to change either. The Lions of course should attempt to run the ball, but the task seems much too difficult against this defense, especially when their real strength is through the air.
On the flip side, the Niners will be looking to establish the run game early. A rushing attack consisting of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter has already proved to be successful, both in week 1 against the Green Bay Packers–where Gore rushed for 112 yards and 1 score–as well as previous seasons. If the Niners can establish the run, it will setup nicely for the play-action pass, something that will prove costly to a scattered Detroit secondary.
In order for the Lions to succeed offensively Sunday night, they need to do two things: protect the football and move efficiently through the air. Despite San Francisco bulking up their offense while touting one of the leagues best defenses–second overall in 2011–the Lions have a shot with any team in the NFL, not something that could be said in previous seasons. The firepower between Stafford and Calvin Johnson can overcome nearly any deficit as they can torch defenses with what appears to be little effort. Even without rookie wide receiver Ryan Broyles, Stafford still has an array of weapons on offense. He managed to find 10 different receivers last Sunday–including a pass and catch to himself–on his way to 355 yards passing. Look for Stafford to protect the ball better and Johnson to cause more of an impact than he did in week 1.
Assuming San Fran can get the run game going, quarterback Alex Smith could have a relatively easy day. That is, unless Ndamukong Suh and company have anything to say about it. The Lions recorded 4 sacks last Sunday–all by different players–while stymying the run game to a poultry 3 yards per carry, a run game that featured all-pro Steven Jackson nonetheless. While the Niners are a more potent team than the Rams, the Lions still proved that they can step up and stop the run, which will cause issues for Smith throughout the game. The Lions have a fierce front four, with a strong pass rush penetration, which will help the Lions secondary.
Speaking of, the Lions secondary may surprise many. The 49ers are a better team than the Rams, and they have more threats down the field, something that will definitely challenge the Lions defensive backfield. Starting safety Louis Delmas will again miss this week, after having knee surgery before the season started. Chris Houston, who many expected to see this weekend, will likely miss this week’s start as well, after suffering an ankle injury in third preseason game. As if missing these two starters weren’t enough, the Lions rookie cornerback Bill Bentley, who started last week, suffered a concussion and will miss Sunday’s game as well.
Essentially it all boils down to is each team doing what they’re best at. They can’t, and shouldn’t try to be a team that they’re not. The Lions should look to effectively move the ball through the air, protect the football, and get deep penetration on defense. The 49ers need to focus on forcing turnovers, stopping the pass on defense, and establish the running game early and often on offense.
If each team can build momentum off their play makers, while dealing blows to the opposing teams strengths, this could be an interesting matchup. The Niners have established themselves as the team–or at least one of them–to beat in the NFC. If Detroit can overcome, it would be a huge early season victory. Remember, this was a tight game last season, with San Fran leaving Ford Field victorious, 25-19.
Prediction: Lions 27 49ers 31
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