Many will follow the Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz storyline, but expect the 49ers and Lions game to turn ugly.
Why? These two squads love to battle in the trenches. This will be a physical ballgame. We can expect a few injuries and a little blood in this inter-conference matchup.
While the 49ers boast a top five offensive line, their true strength lies in the front seven. The same can be said for the Lions, though their offensive line leaves a lot to be desired.
Let’s start with the Lions. This is a defensive line that is more of pass rushing threat, but who can deny the effectiveness and talent of this unit.
Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden-Bosch come off the edge at ends, and they can sure fly. When you have your edge rushers set, it opens up a lot of opportunities for other guys to step up.
In their traditional 4-3 front, the Lions have two monstrous defensive tackles in Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams.
Suh garners most of the attention, but Williams is a very underrated interior lineman. He is a solid run stuffer and complements Suh very well.
While Suh regressed a bit last season, I expect a big turnaround year for the former Nebraska Huskers.
This is a unit that doesn’t stop the run very well, but when you can put pressure on the quarterback, it’s a valuable asset, especially considering how much the league has shifted into an aerial game.
The 49ers, while potent, don’t boast the same amount of pass rushers as the Lions but the Niners are the more complete unit.
With the 49ers front seven, it revolves around the strength of their linebackers. In a 3-4 defense, a strong linebacker unit is a necessity.
Despite the talent they possess at linebacker, the 49ers defense would be nothing without the play of Justin Smith.
As a 3-4 defensive end, Smith doesn’t pad the stats, but his impact is felt on almost every play. Pass rushers can make an impact on a game, but high motor players can be game changers.
Smith is a high motor player, and his play elevates the game of his fellow teammates. The Lions offensive line will have trouble keeping the veteran in check during their matchup this Sunday.
On the other end, they have Ray McDonald, who proved himself to be elite after a breakout 2011 season.
McDonald is extremely underrated but respected among opponents. He is a true run stuffer and has the ability to make an impact as a pass rusher. A pro bowl may be in his near future if his play continues to rise.
At the outside linebacker position, you have Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. We know of Smith’s potential and ability, but his fellow teammate Brooks goes under the radar far too often.
In the 49ers win against the Green Bay Packers in week one, Brooks was dominant in the fourth quarter. When watching that game, it was Brooks, not Smith, who leaped off the TV.
Finally, you have Isaac Sopoaga who mans the nose tackle position for the 49ers. Sopoaga used to play at defensive end in the 49ers 3-4 scheme, but under Vic Fangio, he prefers athletic lineman to pure massiveness.
In a traditional 3-4 defense, a mammoth nose tackle is usually required, but Fangio wanted a guy with solid size but more athleticism.
Luckily for Fangio, he had his guy in Sopoaga when arriving in San Fran. Sopoaga, while up in age, was crucial in helping the 49ers become the leagues best rush-stopping unit.
The 49ers ranked first in stopping the run and allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in 2011.
The 49ers and Lions matchup will feature several storylines but the best one may lie in the trenches.