This weekend, the San Francisco 49ers go on the road to face the 5-0 Detroit Lions in the Motor City. The Lions present a challenging offense but their revamped 12th ranked defense led by defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh may present the biggest challenge on the day.
Ever since Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and Suh got to town, that defense has been singing a different tune. All of a sudden they began playing fast, getting pressure, forcing turnovers and even scoring points. Luckily, the 49ers offense appears to be built to combat what makes the Lions defense so successful; which is primarily ball security.
Thus far, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has shown he can efficiently gameplan against his NFL opponents. The problem with the Lions is that they present a fierce pass rush that could disrupt the things that San Francisco wants to do on offense. It's conceivable that this week, Harbaugh has gameplanned to counter Detroit's strengths.
What We're Likely to See
1. Getting the Ball Out Quick:
The 49ers offensive line has been holding up better since the coaches made a personnel change by inserting Adam Snyder at right guard in place of Chilo Rachal. I still believe Harbaugh is going to have Alex Smith getting the ball out quicker this week to eliminate what the Lions want to do, which is getting hits on the quarterback. Smith has one of the better passer ratings in the league when facing the blitz so this week could bode well for his stat column.
2. Screens, Screens and More Screens:
I think we'll see more than the traditional halfback screens this game. I would expect some tight end throwback screens, wide receiver screens and other creative ways to the playmakers the ball in space. The effect of the screen is that it slows down the pass rush which is exactly what the 49ers will need to do if they hope to come away with a win. This would also be a great way to insert rookie Kendall Hunter into the offensive gameplan because he can get lost behind a sea of blockers and shoot out the other end before the defense knows what hit it.
3. Frank Gore Does It All:
Frank Gore will need to be a big-time contributor this game; in both the running and passing game. The difficulty to predict what Gore will be doing on a given play will present problems for the Lions defense that takes pride in limiting the opposing teams runningbacks. I think Gore will need to be the all-purpose machine that he has proven to be in this league. His ability to pose a threat will only open things up for the other receivers in the passing game.
4. Time of Possession and Turnovers:
I believe San Francisco needs to put an emphasis on controlling the clock and keeping the ball away from the Lions offense; particularly Calvin Johnson. Their offense has to be treated the same as other elite squads, as if they wanted to keep Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers off the field. If the Niners can control the time of possession, they can wear down the defense -- which will prove to be difficult, given how deep they are at defensive line.
The winner of the turnover ratio in this game will likely be the winner of the ball game. Both of these sports clubs pride themselves with similar football virtues, including the ideal of not beating themselves. This could either turn into a back and forth or a real stalemate.
Now, with a Lions defense that averages an allowed 17.8 points per game and a 49ers offense that puts up 28.4 points a game, San Francisco could find a way to dismantle a challenging Detroit team. Harbaugh's strength as an offensive-minded gameplanner and the players' abilities to execute his vision could mean 5-1 for the 49ers going into the bye week.
I guess we'll find out Sunday when the 49ers (4-1) and Lions (5-0) face off in the game of the week.
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