San Francisco 49ers Look to Shake Up Lions, Schwartz Sunday Night

Michael ErlerCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2012

"Tastes great!" "Less filling!" "Tastes great!" "Less filling!" (I am old.)
"Tastes great!" "Less filling!" "Tastes great!" "Less filling!" (I am old.)Leon Halip/Getty Images

To the national audience, the only detail anyone remembers from last season's 49ers win at Detroit was the postgame handshake between Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions skipper Jim Schwartz, an exchange that was a bit too aggressive for the latter's taste, so he let Harbaugh know about it.

In retrospect, yes, it was a bit impetuous of Harbaugh to expect Schwartz to be quite as enthusiastic about the 49ers rousing comeback win as he was. For some odd reason, Schwartz wasn't as thrilled for Harbaugh as Harbaugh was for Harbaugh.

C'est la vie and all that.

The thing is, the handshake marred what had been a great game, a gutty 25-19 comeback win for the Niners in a contest they trailed 10-0 on the road after the opening quarter against an upstart Lions team that was undefeated at the time and playing in front of their raucous home crowd in their deafening dome.

While Frank Gore had a couple of big runs in the game, it was hardly a masterpiece for Alex Smith, who tossed what looked like a game-clinching interception to the Lions early in the fourth quarter and completed 17-of-32 passes for just 125 yards overall. 

Yet Smith put together a drive late in the game, and he made what was to that point the biggest play of his career, drilling a slant to Delanie Walker on 4th-and-goal from the 6-yard line with 1:51 to go, turning a 19-15 deficit into a 22-19 lead. 

The game served as a clear line of demarcation for the two teams, and their fortunes went in opposite directions from that point forward.

The Lions, who had been 5-0, split their final ten games the rest of the way to finish 10-6, and they were one-and-done in the playoffs, the victims of Drew Brees' aerial assault at New Orleans. 

Oh, and they surrendered six touchdown passes and a million yards to Matt Flynn in a Week 17 loss, prompting Seattle to waste a bunch of cap space on Flynn before realizing they like Russell Wilson, the rookie they drafted in the third round, more. 

The Niners, meanwhile, proved to themselves that their 24-23 comeback win at Philadelphia a couple weeks prior to the Detroit game was not a fluke and that they had firmly established their bona fides as contenders.

Smith showed that he can be a poor man's version of Eli Manning, someone whose numbers can look downright ugly for three quarters but can still rally when the team needs him most in the fourth quarter.

In fact, Smith did just that, producing not one but two long touchdown drives in the final three minutes to beat Brees and his Saints a week after New Orleans had sent the Lions golfing. 

Here we are nine months later, and not much has changed. 

The Lions still have Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, a fearsome front four, a deranged Schwartz and virtually nothing else.

Jahvid Best can't stay on the field and they're still waiting to see if Mikel Leshoure, who's been injured or suspended since Detroit spent a second-round pick on him last year, can give them anything. 

The secondary is so patchwork that their hopes for respectability teeter on the availability of Chris Houston. 

The 49ers, on the other hand, look like the most complete team in the league, one able to pass and run—they had 191 pass yards and 186 rushing yards last week—and able to shut down the same on defense. 

They had little difficulty in throttling a Packers team at Green Bay that hung a cool 45 on the Lions last season at Lambeau, although to be fair, the Niners only had to face Aaron Rodgers and not mighty Matt Flynn. 

It's difficult to see a different outcome in "The Handshake Bowl," where the 49ers will host the Lions at Candlestick Sunday night for their home opener. 

San Francisco's defense will double Johnson, harass Stafford and dare Detroit to beat them with Kevin Smith. 

Detroit's only chance is for their front four to overwhelm the Niners wobbly front line, for Ndamukong Suh to give new starting guard Alex Boone a proper "welcome to the NFL" experience.

Maybe if Kyle Vanden Bosch can do to Joe Staley what Clay Matthews did a week ago, and the Lions can force a turnover or three from a San Francisco offense that hasn't given up the ball since grandma asked you to pass the gravy boat, Detroit can produce an upset. 

But I don't see it.

Regardless of how they choose to exchange pleasantries before or after the game, Schwartz will be left shaken once more by the result. 


Quick thoughts about Thursday's game

Packers 23, Bears 10

First off, don't waste time comparing this game to the Packers opening loss vs. the 49ers. It's apples and oranges. 

Green Bay's game plan was completely different. They trotted out multiple tight ends and fullback John Kuhn far more against the Bears than San Francisco, and looked much more like a conventional pro offense than the college-spread one they were a week before.

Obviously, not having Greg Jennings affected them somewhat, but I think it was rather apparent that not only did the Packers respect the Bears run defense far less than they respected San Francisco's, but also that coach Mike McCarthy had come to the realization that no matter how good Rodgers is, the offense needs a semblance of balance to keep defenses honest.

The Packers offense was far too predictable against the Niners, and last night they made a concerted effort to get Cedric Benson going, if for no other reason than to keep Julius Peppers off Rodgers.

The headlines in Chicago will be about Jay Cutler's impetuous behavior, about the way he visibly called out and castigated his offensive linemen time and again, particularly left tackle J'Marcus Webb.

Honestly, while Cutler's behavior was over the top, I can see where he's coming from. Webb is clearly not a starting-caliber tackle, but the Bears have trotted him out there all the same for 30 games over the past two seasons and change. 

That's 30 games of beatings that Cutler has had to absorb as a result. 

The mistake Cutler made was venting his anger at Webb, instead of at coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice. 

It was asinine of them to formulate a game plan that left Webb blocking Matthews one-on-one, with no help. That's the kind of thing that former coordinator Mike Martz might have done, but Tice should've known better.

Cutler made plenty of mistakes too. He did a horrible job of reading the Packers zone blitz schemes, he threw a handful of avoidable interceptions and generally looked to all the world as a man who mentally checked out of the game after the first of seven sacks he suffered.

But at least something bad like a Matt Forte ankle sprain didn't happen, right? 


Week 2 Picks

49ers (-7) 27, Lions 16

Ravens 24 (+3), Eagles 13

Colts 30 (+2), Vikings 24

Bills 24 (-3), Chiefs 20

Bengals 24 (-7), Browns 10

Dolphins 23 (+3), Raiders 17

Patriots 31, Cardinals 20 (+14)

Giants 27 (-7), Buccaneers 17

Panthers 31 (+3), Saints 30

Texans 30 (-8), Jaguars 16

Redskins 23 (-3), Rams 16

Cowboys 20 (-3), Seahawks 13

Steelers 24 (-5), Jets 13

Titans 20 (+6), Chargers 17

Falcons 27 (-3), Broncos 20

2012 Record W-L: 9-8

2012 Record vs. Spread: 7-10


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