After last year’s meeting between the Lions and 49ers, it seemed that all anyone wanted to talk about was the “handshake heard ‘round the world"—the infamous postgame exchange between head coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh.
While the 49ers came away with the 25-19 victory, Schwartz came away with hurt feelings and a sore back after being enthusiastically shoved aside in what is usually a civil, unemotional handshake between head coaches. Schwartz, unappreciative of the sentiment, ran Harbaugh down on his way to the locker room, and all proverbial hell broke loose as the coaches needed to be separated.
In the shadows of that altercation was a great game between two playoff teams that came down to the final possession. The general expectation for the 2012 version of this showdown is another San Francisco victory.
Here are a few reasons why the general assessment is probably right on.
You usually don’t put a lot of weight on Week 1 of the regular season, but all signs point to this being a potentially lopsided outcome. In the opener, the 49ers marched into Lambeau Field like they owned the joint and handled last year's 15-1 Packers, along with reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers, with no questions asked.
On the flip side, Detroit barely escaped with a victory at home vs. the downtrodden St. Louis Rams (2-14 in 2011). Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford looked like a lost rookie in the first half, throwing three interceptions to a defense that disguised its double-coverage to perfection.
Three out of the four starting defensive backs are also questionable with injuries for an already thin Lions secondary. Seeing that this game is in San Francisco, it seems highly unlikely that Detroit can come away with a victory.
If the Lions hope to find a way to win Sunday night, here are a few keys to their success:
Stop Frank Gore
The 49ers offense revolves around their rushing attack. Harbaugh along with his offensive coaching staff are highly innovative in the ways that they throw complicated and creative blocking schemes at defenses that complement the run game.
Get Brandon Pettigrew Involved Early
The truth is, no team has an answer for Detroit’s athletic tight end. The problem is, the Lions rarely take advantage of it until late in the game. With double-coverage rolling to Calvin Johnson on the outside, the middle of the field is a potential hotbed for racking up chunks of yardage.
Avoid a Slow Start
Over the past couple of seasons, the Lions have found themselves in fourth-quarter deficits more often then they would have liked, making them well known for their comebacks. They couldn’t get the job done last year vs. the 49ers in Detroit, and if they find themselves down late at Candlestick Park on Sunday night, it’s hard to imagine Patrick Willis and company surrendering a late-game lead.
It’s not completely unfathomable to see the Lions bring a victory home with the ongoing unpredictability we see happen in the NFL week in and week out.
But barring a near-perfect game from the boys in Honolulu blue and silver, it’s going to be a long ride home to Detroit.