Know Thy Enemy 2008: Detroit Lions - Sunday, September 21

Prideofdetroit_medium

Week 3 will see the 49ers hosting the fighting Matt Millens, also known as the Detroit Lions.  The Lions are represented here at SB Nation by Pride of Detroit, a blog written by Sean Yuille.  The Lions are an interesting team to analyze, in part because of the talent on the field and in part because of the ineptitude that seems to follow Matt Millen.  This is, after all, a general manager that selected a wide receiver with their first round pick in 4 out of 5 drafts.  Will the Lions draft another receiver is a joke that will not get old anytime soon.

Overview
A 6-2 start last season had many Lions fans thinking the team was finally turning the corner to respectability.  A subsequent 6-game losing streak brought the Lions crashing back to earth, resulting in a 7-9 finish.  While the offense was stocked with some solid playmakers, the defense was abysmal, giving up the most points in the league.  While Calvin Johnson flashed amazing skills, he also struggled as rookie receivers are prone to do.  Kitna continued his resurgence finishing with 4,068 passing yards.  However, the lack of any consistent rushing attacked (Kevin Jones led the team with 581 yards) definitely hurt the team.  A more consistent rushing attack might have kept the defense off the field a little more, but the Lions offensive line struggled making that a no-go.

Additions
The man who could conceivably make the biggest impact is 3rd round draft pick, Kevin Smith.  Smith was an absolute beast at Central Florida, finishing with 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns for the season.  We'll see how he handles top notch competition, but it seems like people expect Smith to be starting pretty quickly.  Gosder Cherilus, a guy projected to the 49ers in many mocks, looks to be their starting right tackle, while 2nd round pick Jordan Dizon is projected at middle linebacker.

Free agency brought in three potential starters on defense: Dwight Smith, Brian Kelly and Chuck Darby.  All three are seasoned veterans which could certainly help a Lions team in need of some defensive leadership.

Subtractions
The biggest lost is Boss Bailey, although that's certainly not the end of the world.  They lost TJ Duckett, but considering the hype coming out of Michigan State, Duckett hasn't done much with his career and Kevin Smith has plenty more upside anyways.  And of course J.T. O'Sullivan split town for the greener pastures of the Bay Area, so I'm sure he'll have revenge on his mind when he's carrying a clipboard (if even that).

2008 Questions & Answers
The Lions offensive line was rather woeful last season, so I'd imagine they're expecting big things from Gosder Cherilus.  If the Lions are too develop a legitimate rushing attack, the offensive line is going to have take control of the trenches.  If not, defenses will be able to tee off on Jon Kitna all game long.

The Lions passing attack should continue to improve with Calvin Johnson having a full year under his belt.  Of course, two questions arise here.  One revolves around the fact that Jon Kitna will turn 36 the day of this game.  At some point he'll run into the wall and the stats will come back to earth.  The other question is how Roy Williams' contract situation will play out.  He apparently has been saying all the right things, which has to make Lions fans happy.  Maybe he figures if he just keeps his mouth shut and performs the money will come.

vs. San Francisco
Over at Pride of Detroit, Sean did a preview of the schedule, month-by-month.  My favorite prediction is his prediction of a victory over the 49ers culminating the Lions 3-0 start (although to be fair, he does predict a 6-10 season overall):

I don't know if this is the Kool-Aid talking or what, but believe it or not, I have the Lions starting off the season 3-0.  Out of the first three games this one worries me the most as being a possible letdown, but the 49ers aren't very good.  Look for a low-scoring affair hopefully resulting in a Lions victory.  This is one of those games where Jason Hanson will be a busy man, and in a battle of kickers he will lead Detroit to victory.

He feels the new Martz offense might still have some kinks to work out and I think he would like the revenge win over Martz, who's been talking a bit of smack about his former team.  Coming off divisional games versus Arizona and at Seattle, I think the 49ers will be looking to get to 2-1.  Considering the weapons they have, I think the Lions can be just as explosive without Martz running the offense.  This will be a big test for the relatively new look defense.  On offense, I think we'll have a pretty good idea of what the season has in store for us at this point. 

I actually think this is one of the hardest games to predict on the schedule.  The Lions can be god-awful at times and they can look like the most amazing world-beaters at times.  They're the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team.  I'm going to predict a win though.  If the 49ers are going to make some noise this year, games like this are absolutely must-win.  2007 record-wise, the Lions are the "worst" team the 49ers face through the first 11 weeks, as everybody else was at least 8-8 in 2007. 

I'm thinking the offense connects as Martz wants to get a little obnoxious against his former employer.  Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster will be keys to this game as the 49ers must do everything they can to keep the high octane Lions offense off the field.  Pre-training camp, I'll predict a 26-24 49ers victory, thanks in large part to the leg of Joe Nedney.

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