By Jerrell Richardson
The 49ers will continue their tour of the NFC North when they take on the Detroit Lions Sunday Night. The Lions are coming off a 27-23 victory over the St. Louis Rams, and looking to pay back the 49ers for last year’s 25-19 loss.
That defeat was the first of the year for the Lions and seemed to send them into a tailspin after they had raced to a 5-0 record, while the 49ers used the momentum from that victory to carry them to their 13-3 regular season record. The two keys to the game are simple and the same as in the previous meeting: turn the Lions into an one-dimensional team by containing wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and use the battle in the trenches to take the fight out of the Detroit defense.
Lions Are Dangerous Through The Air
Head coach Jim Schwartz leads a pass-happy Lions team, backed by a physical, nasty and at times dirty defensive unit. After racking up 346 yards in their season opener, the Lions are leading the NFL in passing yards and most likely will remain near the top of this category for the entire year. The big name is Johnson, but they also have tight end Brandon Pettigrew to go along with the other receivers Titus Young and Nate Burelson, all of whom are capable of making big plays in the passing game.
In Matt Stafford, Detroit has one of the best young quarterbacks in the league to spread the ball around. Stafford has continued to show improvement since his entering the league in 2009 and if he can remain healthy, will soon be a consistent name brought up in MVP conversations. The former number one overall draft pick has lived up to the hype he had around him after leaving college, helping transform the Detroit franchise from one that had been struggling to sustain any type of success in recent years, to a team in 2011 that made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The Lions offense though revolves around number 81. Johnson has been limited in practice this week, and may sit out the game, but neither side seems to be banking on that. The 49ers know that they will need to keep an eye on Johnson, and all week have used A.J. Jenkins in practice to help them get ready for “Megatron,” though no preparation can fully prepare the 49ers as Johnson is flat out unstoppable. He is 6’5″ tall, faster then most cornerbacks, stronger than most safeties, and a nightmare on the goal line or any type of jump ball situation.
49ers Offense Will Face Stiffer Competition
The 49ers offense looked solid in Week One, but seemed to let its foot off the gas late. Despite the big names across the board, the Packers’ defense figures to be one of the worst in the league this year. Detroit’s defense, on the other hand, has a unit that is very similar to the 49ers, at least at the point of attack. They are led by Ndamukong Suh, who is probably the most dominant defensive tackle in the game when he is playing with a clear mind. The problem with Suh, Nick Fairley and the rest of the Lions team in general is a lack of discipline and mental toughness (see Titus Young and the Lions’ entire offseason). There is no denying the talent that they have on defense, but if they fall behind early it would not be a surprise to see them concede the game to San Francisco. Regardless of the direction of the game, the 49ers offense will need to show more consistency for the entire game and utilize their Jumbo Package and physical play by both lines, especially the offensive line, to out muscle the Lions up front and take away their will to compete.
What separates the 49ers from the Lions is discipline. They are two teams that mirror each other in many aspects on the field, but are complete opposites in their approach to the game and their conduct off the field. What will make the difference at the end of the game on Sunday will be the 49ers desire and willingness to leave it all on the field for themselves and their fans.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.