A potent Green Bay Packers offense stalled at home against the Niners last weekend, scoring just seven points through the first three quarters. A punt return for a touchdown and an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass in the fourth quarter closed the gap, but the San Francisco defense held and protected a victory.
But this week, the Lions will pose a much different challenge. While the Niners have talent at every position on defense, the unit excels most at stopping the run.
Last season, the team set an NFL record by not allowing a rushing touchdown for the first 14 games of the season. Against Green Bay, the defense held Cedric Benson to just 18 yards on nine carries.
The Packers attempted to run the ball early, with five of Benson's nine carries coming in the first quarter. It clearly did not work, as he gained just 11 yards, and this forced Green Bay to become a one-dimensional team.
But Detroit will not be attempting to establish a presence in the ground game this week.
The Lions ranked 31st in the league last season in rushing attempts. They ran the ball just 18 times last week—with three carries going to wide receivers—against a St. Louis Rams defense that ranked 31st in the league in rushing yardage allowed in 2011.
Detroit also threw the ball more often than any other team last year. The Lions offense already is one-dimensional, negating the Niners' most effective weapon on defense—their ability to stop the run.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson presents an incredibly difficult challenge for any defense. Double-teaming him is often not enough to limit his production, and using more than two defenders to guard him leaves gaping holes for other players to take advantage of, as was evident in the Lions' game-winning touchdown pass to Kevin Smith last week.
Johnson is the engine behind the Lions' potent passing attack, and even the Niners may not be able to contain him.
When the 49ers and Lions played last season, Matthew Stafford threw the ball 50 times and gained 293 yards through the air; Johnson had 113 reception yards. The Lions only put up 19 points, but did get a touchdown and a field goal in the first quarter.
San Francisco ranked 16th in passing yardage allowed last season. The team still has an excellent secondary, but it is significantly more vulnerable through the air than on the ground.
If Detroit can get off to a quick start in the passing game and Stafford can get in rhythm, then the Lions offense will be able to move the ball in this game.