This game has been on the Lions fans' radar since the schedule was announced, hasn’t it? It’s about the players on the field, rather than the mercurial personalities of the coaches, despite anything the media says.
It’s too early in the 2012 NFL season to extrapolate anything meaningful from a statistical standpoint. Otherwise, we would be projecting QB Mathew Stafford to throw for 5,680 yards and 48 INTs.
Nevertheless, there are some impressions worthy of note and some talking points worthy of discussion:
Which Matt Stafford Will Show Up at the Stick?
Last Sunday, I suffered in my seat at Ford Field as Stafford threw three red-zone picks. I wondered how devastating a loss to the lowly Rams would be to the Lions' season, after what was quite possibly a 30- to 35-point swing by halftime. Brutal.
Give the Rams credit; they did an outstanding job on their homework and jumped some predictable routes. The Rams' 107 interception return yards eclipsed the 78 rushing yards that the Rams managed against a suddenly stingy Detroit run defense.
Going up against arguably the best defense on the planet in San Francisco, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be hard pressed to find a way for Stafford to prevail.
Were the 49ers That Good, or were the Packers That Bad?
This question might be somewhat resolved Thursday night when the Packers host the Chicago Bears, who seem to be on a mission this year.
Meanwhile, Pro Football Talk reported a quote by 49ers ILB NaVorro Bowman (11 tackles and an INT in Green Bay) regarding the “huge statement” made in Week 1, and that a similar statement would be made against Detroit when he said:
It was great going up against the Packers and now having the Lions coming into the Stick, we’re prepared for it. We know what to expect. We just have to go out there and approach this game with the same mindset that we did in the first one, and I’m sure we’ll be OK.
So, the 49ers are making statements and sending messages. It’s the “We know what to expect” quote that must be that chicken bone stuck in the throats of Lions coaches, players and fans.
Now is the time for the Lions to do the unexpected on both sides of the ball. An up-tempo, no-huddle offense and multiple defensive fronts would be a good place to start.
It’s no secret that stopping 49ers RB Frank Gore and punishing QB Alex Smith are the defensive keys to a Lions victory. On offense, the O-line has to play the perfect game, while the playmakers step up.
Is the Safety Tandem of Wendling and Coleman Better Than Delmas and Spievey?
Again, it might be too early to tell, but from what I’ve seen in training camp through Week 1, FS John Wendling and SS Erik Coleman have played all but perfect ball in run support and coverage.
Not only are they delivering some real shots, but they are not missing tackles. A very refreshing change—so far.
It can be argued that the much improved play of the linebackers is a contributing factor in the early success of the safeties. A point that has merit, but for me, it all goes back to making plays—tackles that really counts.
Speaking of Linebackers…
Two things stick out in my observations. First, the linebackers are stuffing the gaps much more aggressively than last season. Justin Durant, Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy seem to have gelled into what the coaching staff envisioned for the unit—cleaning up plays behind a disruptive defensive line.
The other thing that bears mentioning is the deep drops being made by the LBs that were all but nonexistent last year. The jury is still out on how this wrinkle in the scheme will play out, but at least it’s something that offensive coordinators now have to take under serious consideration.
49ers TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker should be taking notes as well.
Minimizing the Impact of 49ers Wide Receivers
This one is a toughie, folks. Michael Crabtree and now, Randy Moss are contributing enough to allow QB Alex Smith to make his primary targets—the tight ends, even more dangerous.
This analyst has no illusions regarding the ability of CBs Jacob Lacey, rookies Bill Bentley and Jonte Green, or Drayton Florence in shutting down the 49ers wideouts.
This is possibly the biggest mismatch other than Calvin Johnson vs. the world that you will find.
Thank goodness for the addition of Florence, who could be the X-factor in coverage as a natural LCB.
Florence has the size and experience to match up best against Crabtree.
We can only hope that Bentley’s concussion-like symptoms have dissipated enough for him to start, but where would he make the biggest impact? At RCB, Bentley has speed and raw skills. As a nickel CB, Bentley has been as effective as the other RCB, veteran Jacob Lacey. Both are 5’10”.
It will be interesting to see how the Lions secondary lines up versus the 49ers. Considering the 49ers' propensity for targeting tight ends and running backs, we might see some three safety looks by inserting Amari Spievey as a slot defender.
Memo to WR Titus Young:
Man up. Show up. Step up. Shut up. And, get that childish “YOUNG SR” off your jersey, you diva!
The Lions Special Teams' Play Could Make the Difference
No doubt, the kick and punt coverage units have allowed Lions fans to resume regular breathing since the coaching staff and front office’s concerted effort to improve the personnel. The memory of that Michael Crabtree return in last season’s loss to the 49ers still leaves a bitter aftertaste.
The return squads seem to be gaining some traction as well. Return specialist Stefan Logan has been doing well behind much improved legal blocking. Either that, or these replacement officials really suck.
We can only hope that this positive trend continues. Special teams could be the difference.
Prognostication? Not on Your Life!
No way will I predict a Lions win here. Especially, coming off of the Week 1 results where the Lions dominated the Rams statistically, but failed to dominate the Rams on the field.
Then what are we to make of the ‘Niners' manhandling of a consensus Super bowl contender in Green Bay?
As much as I’d like to be a Lions slappy here, this game will be, as golf analyst David Feherty says, “Tougher than picking a broken nose.”
The boys in Vegas have installed the 49ers as a 6.5 point favorite. Just sayin'.