San Francisco 49ers: 3 Keys to This Weekend's Game Against the Detroit Lions
Are you a believer yet?
Did the obliteration of a respectable and healthy Buccaneers team by a score of 48-3 finally wake you up to the reality that this 49ers team is a legitimate competitor in any conference?
Were you not entertained?
In case there are lingering doubts, something coach Jim Harbaugh gladly welcomes, the San Francisco 49ers will once again have the opportunity to prove themselves against a surging contender as they head to Motown to face the yet-to-be-defeated Detroit Lions.
This will prove to be a highly intriguing matchup that pins a storied San Francisco franchise resurrecting itself under the guise of a new coach after years of mediocrity and a perennial losing-house transformed by the arrival of a franchise quarterback, a rabid defensive tackle, and an incredible specimen of human genetics called "Megatron."
After this match is over, one team will have solidified their case for a power-ranking slot, while the other will have to contend with the psychological effects of losing.
Here are three ways the 49ers can maintain their momentum and come out victorious in Detroit.
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On Monday night, the Detroit Lions gave up 116 yards on the ground to Matt Forte.
Despite having a notorious defensive line headlined by Ndamukong Suh, the Lions' 18th-ranked rush defense appeared to have difficulties handling the lone Chicago back.
This bodes well for a 49ers team that displayed its rushing prowess against the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 5. The 49ers' impressive victory score highlighted 213 total yards on the ground, 190 of which can be attributed to Frank Gore and stand-out rookie Kendall Hunter.
The heavy-duty tandem of Gore and Hunter, as well as their difference in running styles, should prove problematic for the Detroit Lions.
If we learned anything from last week's win, it was that Jim Harbaugh is slowly unwrapping a playbook filled with variety that favors the rushing potential of both Gore and Kendall.
The offensive production by the San Francisco running backs combined up the middle power with side-to-side speed. This rushing onslaught was reinforced by an improving offensive line and a commitment to physical blocking by San Francisco's tight ends and receivers.
A successful ground campaign will have the ultimate effect of keeping the other team's offense off the field and running down the clock.
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The Detroit Lions sport the 12th-ranked passing offense through five weeks.
By far, their biggest weapon is the 6'5" monster with a 44" vertical known as "Megatron."
While San Francisco's secondary has been improving, covering such an athletically-gifted freak of nature will prove highly problematic.
If the Niners hope to diminish the offensive value of Calvin Johnson, they will have to keep the heat on Matthew Stafford and not allow him the time to find his biggest weapon downfield.
The 49ers defense shined in Week 5 with three sacks, three takeaways, lots of pressure on Josh Freeman and hard hits on receivers after the catch. Their confidence should be even higher for this game, but they will have to work that much harder on concentrating when covering the speed and height of Calvin Johnson.
The 49ers rush defense is fourth in the league, allowing an average of 76.4 yards per game. The continued success against the run will in turn mean that the Lions will have to throw a lot more, especially on third downs.
Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver and Dashon Goldson played extremely well against the Tampa Bay receivers, snatching away two aerial mishaps and putting the hurt on any receiver willing to come down the middle. This type of effort will be a necessity against pass-heavy teams like the Lions.
Let's hope that whatever Jim Harbaugh is feeding his defenders doesn't deplete during this week's matchup. The physicality of this new brand of 49ers defense, coupled with an insatiable appetite for takeaways, greatly complements an offense willing to play just as hard.
If they can execute like they did in previous weeks, the Niners are looking at a 5-1 record heading into their bye week.
Playbook Variety: the Efficient Use of Vernnon Davis and Tight Ends
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The loss of Josh Morgan to injury means that the Vernon Davis' role will be that much more important during this week's bout against Detroit.
Like Megatron, Vernon Davis presents coverage problems for any defense.
Coming off a successful Week 5 with two touchdowns and plenty of tremendous blocks, Davis will prove to be an invaluable asset during Morgan's absence for Alex Smith.
As previously observed, Jim Harbaugh appears to gradually be opening up his playbook. The multi-tight-end formations proved highly effective against the Bucs.
The victory on all fronts by the 49ers in Week 5 wasn't just a beat-down—it was a beat-down in style and offensive beauty.
The many looks of an offense capable of running the ball at will, led by two or three tight end formations, opened up the passing lanes as the game wore on and increased Alex Smith's ability to throw downfield until the very end (unfortunately, this success is what led to Josh Morgan being injured at the end of the game).
The Lions will have to conduct much film review during a shortened week in order to compensate for the many looks that Harbaugh brings.
Niners fans should have faith that Harbaugh will continue to change, add and tweak his plays so as to increase his offense's chances of success.
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With each passing week, the 49ers have continued to prove everyone wrong, including their own fans.
Each successive week has brought on improvements over previous matches, and the culture change brought on by Harbaugh appears to be bearing fruit much sooner than expected.
These 49ers have bought into Harbaugh—and most importantly, they've bought into themselves.
The intensity, poise and dedication displayed in Week 5 commanded the obliteration of the opponent at hand.
The result? A rare sight on the sidelines, something that has been missing for almost a decade—smiles and high-fives.
If Harbaugh's curt post-game comments are any indication of his attitude toward success, one can rest assured that he will attempt to maintain the fury, vigor and passion that has led to a 4-1 team on the verge of taking the next step on the ladder of respectability.
The underdog mentality and heart that has catapulted this team from the dregs of the NFC West into the radar of relevancy must remain intact through 16 weeks.
Early success should be lauded, but if the Niners are to avoid a letdown against a team just as thirsty for a gulp of success, the will need to continue their commitment to each other on all fronts.