SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Ted Ginn #19 of the San Francisco 49ers outruns Earl Thomas #29 and the rest of the Seattle Seahawks on his way to scoring a touchdown on a kickoff return during their season opener at Candlestick Park on September 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
If the 49ers are going to beat the Detroit Lions this Sunday, they are likely going to need to put together a fairly complete effort in the three phases of the game. They have proven they can win without hitting on all cylinders the entire game, but ideally they will just hammer this one out of the park.
In assessing the various strengths and weaknesses between the two teams, special teams is one area that stands out. Overall, the Lions are not particularly awful in special teams, but the 49ers have a decided advantage in a couple important areas. Football Outsiders puts together a special teams DVOA to compare teams in FGs/XPs, kicking, kick returns, punting, and punt returns.
The 49ers rank second overall in special teams and it is safe to say you have probably felt from watching the team that they have performed as well as anybody on special teams. There have been some hiccups (Akers in Philly), but for the most part, special teams has been dominant. The 49ers rank second in both kick returns and punt returns. Yes, Ted Ginn Jr. has been fairly solid thus far. On the other side of the coin, the Detroit Lions rank 29th in kicking and tied for tenth in punting.
Once again the 49ers find themselves in a position where the return units could help them win the field position battle. The 49ers have done well in field position thanks to both their strong special teams and their impressive turnover margin. The Lions are hanging tight in turnovers as well, ranking third to the 49ers second. However, the special teams is not as close.
What I do find myself wondering is how Ginn's playing time will be impacted, if at all, from returning kicks and punts. My guess is the team can go to Kyle Williams and Delanie Walker a bit more, but it will be interesting to see how Ginn juggles his various roles.