The 49ers host the Detroit Lions this weekend in a game many of us are feeling pretty good about. The Lions are struggling and the 49ers offense might finally be coming together. I exchanged five questions with Sean over at Pride of Detroit and he was kind enough to provide some insight on his beloved Lions. I answered five of his questions, so feel free to check out the answers over at Pride of Detroit.
NN: In the preseason the Lions gave up 32 points in going 4-0. Obviously that was only the preseason, but is there anything from those defensive efforts that would possibly show up on Sunday?
Pride of Detroit: The Lions looked great defensively in the preseason, but none of that has translated to the regular season. The defense was shredded by Aaron Rodgers last Sunday and even a little bit by Matt Ryan as well. Michael Turner set a franchise rushing record for Atlanta with well over 200 yards, and the defense really has looked pretty clueless at times. The secondary seems like it's just as bad as last year despite a few transactions that were supposed to improve it. Also, the defensive line actually looked better in the preseason without Shaun Rogers, but there has been no pass rush so far in a real game and I honestly don't see why that would change against San Francisco.
NN: Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams are absolute beasts and the guys I fear most. The 49ers have a solid secondary, but when you're top two corners are 6-0 and 5-11, you tend to worry about this sort of matchup. How do smaller (but still talented) corners hold their ground against Johnson and Williams?
PoD: Johnson and Williams really do feast on undersized (at least compared to them) defenders. The best example of what they do against smaller corners came when Calvin Johnson was matched up against Leon Hall in the preseason. Jon Kitna threw a lob downfield for Johnson. It wasn't a pretty pass or anything of the sort, but that's because it didn't need to be. Johnson simply jumped and took the ball out of the air, and Hall, who is only 5-11, didn't even have a chance to make a play. Roy Williams made a similar play on a touchdown against Atlanta where he took the ball out of the air over an undersized corner, so they definitely have to be licking their chops for a matchup like you described.
NN: Considering the early struggles of the running game, do you see Shaun Alexander or Cedric Benson signing on the dotted line? Is the weak performance thus far more a product of being behind big early? The Lions have talked about bringing a more balanced attack so how long will they try and establish the run if they fall behind early again?
PoD: The Lions don't appear to have any serious interest in Alexander or Benson. The team claimed that they were simply doing their homework and preparing a short list in case an injury happened. I was skeptical at first since the same thing was said when Rudi Johnson worked out, but the situation was different as the Lions weren't satisfied with Tatum Bell.
As far as the running game itself, it really hasn't had a chance to succeed. The balanced attack had to be abandoned in both games this season as Detroit got down 21-0 each time. Considering that, the Lions had to give up any hope of being balanced as passing the ball was required to get back into the game. I will be interested to see if balance exists if the Lions are playing a close game, so hopefully they will get a chance to do that on Sunday. One thing I will add is that I do like what I've seen from Kevin Smith, but there's only so much he can do with the Lions' below average offensive line. He is forced to make plays on his own far too many times, which really limits what he can do.
NN: The 49ers offensive line has been pretty rough at times. J.T. O'Sullivan has been sacked on approximately 23% of the pass plays, not a shocker in the Martz offense, as Kitna attests. Do you have certain guys that are a threat or is it a very tame defensive front 7?
PoD: Detroit's defensive line did look good in the preseason and did a great job of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. However, the regular season hasn't looked anything like that. The Lions only have 2 sacks so far this season and both of them were by Dewayne White. I'd say he is someone to look out for, but he isn't really a threat by any means. Out of the entire front 7, the best player by far is linebacker Ernie Sims. He flies around the field and does an excellent job of getting to the ball quickly. He isn't necessarily used for pass-rushing purposes, but he can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks every once in a while.
NN: How do you see this playing out? What do you see as best and worst case scenarios for the Lions on Sunday?
PoD: The best case scenario is that the Lions win. I don't care if they look ugly doing it, this team is desperate for a win as all hell will break loose if they lose again. That leads me to the worst case scenario. Should the Lions lose, meaning they would be 0-3 heading into their bye week, the only fans left on the bandwagon would likely disappear. Some would call for Rod Marinelli to be fired, and probably everyone would want Jon Kitna to be benched. Already 74% of the 860+ people that voted in a poll on Pride of Detroit earlier this week said they want Kitna to be benched, and that is without a healthy Drew Stanton. Once he returns from a thumb injury at the start of October, I guarantee nearly everyone would want him to play if the Lions lose this Sunday as Kitna has very few supporters left as is. A loss, especially if he plays poorly, could possibly end the Kitna era in Detroit, and considering there isn't much talent behind him, things would really get ugly for the Lions.
Thanks again to Sean from Pride of Detroit
. The Lions have the receivers to turn this into a track meet. This could be a test of both the defense's ability to shut down the big time receivers, or a test of the offense's ability to put up some serious points.