NFL Preview - Detroit (1-0) at San Francisco (1-0)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Two of the NFC's premier teams from last season will be on
display in front of a national audience when the NFL's Sunday Night Football
series converges on San Francisco's Candlestick Park during Week 2 of the 2012
campaign, though hardly any of the discussion surrounding the home-standing
49ers' impending clash with the Detroit Lions pertains to any of the long list
of talented players on both sides that will be taking part in this matchup.
Instead, the spotlight will be fixated solely on the head coaches that will be
leading their teams into battle when fiery 49ers sideline boss Jim Harbaugh
goes face-to-face with equally intense Lions commander Jim Schwartz for the
first time since the two engaged in a heated postgame dustup after the teams'
meeting from this past October.
The infamous incident took place following San Francisco's 25-19 victory over
then-unbeaten Lions at Ford Field during Week 6 of last season, with Schwartz
taking exception to Harbaugh's demonstrative exuberance when the two shook
hands at midfield.
As expected, both parties attempted to play down the matter during the week,
instead preferring to shift the focus onto the importance of this mid-
September showdown for each team.
"I really think it's just a mini-controversy that's completely irrelevant,"
said Harbaugh. "To put it next to the game itself is missing the point, in my
opinion. I don't know that I really have any more that I could possibly add to
Harbaugh does have a good argument, as Sunday's tilt features a pair of 2011
playoff participants that each orchestrated dramatic turnarounds from the
previous year and began their current postseason quests with a victory.
The 49ers delivered the bolder and more impressive of the two Week 1 wins,
vanquishing last season's top playoff seed Green Bay by a 30-22 count on the
Packers' home turf of Lambeau Field.
San Francisco used largely the same formula that produced a glossy 13-3 record
and a run to the NFC Championship Game during Harbaugh's first year at the
helm. The 49ers ran the ball with authority, piling up 186 yards on the ground
against the Packers, and received heady and efficient play under center from
quarterback Alex Smith as well as a yeoman-like effort from a dependable
defense that frustrated Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's powerful passing attack
all afternoon long.
The Lions had to scratch and claw to enter the contest with a 1-0 mark,
rallying from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to register a tougher-than-
expected 27-23 home triumph over a game St. Louis squad. The deciding margin
came on a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to
running back Kevin Smith with a mere 10 seconds left on the clock.
Stafford helped put Detroit in a hole by tossing three first-half
interceptions, two of which occurred in the red zone. The prolific young
passer redeemed himself later on, however, by engineering a pair of 80-yard
touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes in which he completed 11-of-12
attempts for 142 yards.
"The good news is that the last two times we had the ball, I don't know if
anyone has ever played better," said Schwartz of Stafford's heroics.
A defense that limited the Rams to 77 rushing yards and 250 total also had a
big hand in the comeback, but the group figures to face a sterner challenge
from San Francisco's physical ground attack this week. The Niners churned out
203 rushing yards, including 141 from lead back Frank Gore, in last year's
encounter with Detroit.
The Lions will also be attempting to buck history, as Detroit has lost eight
straight games to the 49ers and is 1-12 all-time at Candlestick Park, with the
lone positive result coming all the way back in 1975. The Lions last topped
San Francisco in 1995.
49ers lead 25-26-1
Streak: 49ers have won last eight meetings
Last Meeting: 49ers 25, Lions 19 (Oct. 16, 2011 at Detroit)
Last Meeting at Site: 49ers 20, Lions 6 (Dec. 27, 2009)
Lions HC Jim Schwartz vs. 49ers: 0-2
49ers HC Jim Harbaugh vs. Lions: 1-0
Schwartz vs. Harbaugh Head-to-Head: Harbaugh leads, 1-0
Notes: Lions last bested the 49ers on Sept. 25, 1995, a 27-24 decision at the
Silverdome, and have lost 11 consecutive times in San Francisco. That includes
a 24-23 setback to the Niners in a 1983 NFC Divisional Playoff, one of two
all-time postseason meetings between the clubs. Detroit dealt San Francisco a
31-27 loss in the Motor City in a 1957 playoff clash. Lions are also 1-12
lifetime at Candlestick Park, with their lone win a 28-17 result on Nov. 2,
1975. Harbaugh was the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback in 1998, when
Schwartz was on that team's staff as a defensive assistant.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Detroit: 5th overall (429.0 ypg), tied 19th rushing (83.0 ypg), 1st passing
(346.0 ypg), 12th scoring (27.0 ppg)
San Francisco: 12th overall (377.0 ypg), 2nd rushing (186.0 ypg), 27th passing
(193.0 ypg), tied 9th scoring (30.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Detroit: 2nd overall (250.0 ypg), 10th rushing (77.0 ypg), 4th passing (173.0
ypg), tied 16th scoring (23.0 ppg)
San Francisco: 14th overall (324.0 ypg), tied 6th rushing (45.0 ypg), 22nd
passing (279.0 ypg), tied 14th scoring (22.0 ppg)
Detroit: -3 (0 takeaways, 3 giveaways)
San Francisco: +1 (1 takeaway, 0 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Detroit: 60.0 percent (5 possessions, 3 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 10th overall
San Francisco: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 1st overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Detroit: 0.0 percent (1 possession, 0 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 1st overall
San Francisco: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 26th overall
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Detroit lived and died on the strong right arm of Stafford (355 passing yards,
1 TD, 3 INT last week) all throughout last season's breakthrough, and that's
shaping up to be the case once more this week with San Francisco boasting one
of the league's stingiest defenses against the run. The 2009 No. 1 overall
pick's primary aim will be to get the ball downfield to All-Pro receiver
Calvin Johnson, the Lions' best playmaker who toasted the Niners for 113 yards
on seven catches in last year's bout and compiled 111 yards on six grabs this
past Sunday. San Francisco did an excellent job of neutralizing Green Bay's
vertical game a week ago, however, meaning Stafford may have to settle for
shorter gains from the intermediate targets of veteran slot receiver Nate
Burleson (6 receptions, 69 yards) and the tight-end combo of Brandon Pettigrew
(5 receptions, 77 yards) and Tony Schaeffer (5 receptions). Making judicious
decisions will be a must as well for the standout quarterback, as the 49ers
usually haven't beaten themselves with turnovers during the Harbaugh era.
Detroit did get solid run production out of Kevin Smith (62 rushing yards, 4
receptions, 2 total TD) against St. Louis, and he'll carry the backfield load
again on Sunday with speedster Jahvid Best sidelined indefinitely with
concussion symptoms and second-year talent Mikel Leshoure still serving a two-
game suspension. Still, coordinator Scott Linehan probably plans to take to
the ground only enough to prevent the offense from becoming entirely
The 49ers were well-prepared for Green Bay's aerial show in the opener, with
the secondary effectively taking away the deep ball and the formidable outside
linebacker duo of Aldon Smith (3 tackles, 1 sack) and Ahmad Brooks (1 sack, 3
hurries) generating consistent pressure that often took Rodgers out of rhythm.
Defensive architect Vic Fangio also brought a lot of blitzes from the slot
defenders while deploying plenty of nickel and dime looks and could do so once
again, though that runs the risk of outside cornerbacks Tarell Brown (6
tackles, 1 PD) and Chris Culliver (4 tackles, 1 PD) having to be matched up
one-on-one with Johnson, a battle that the Detroit receiver is going to win
more times than not. San Francisco also limited the Packers to a scant 3.2
yards per rush despite difference-making inside linebacker Patrick Willis (6
tackles) seeing reduced snaps with all the extra defensive backs used, though
strong showings from counterpart NaVorro Bowman (11 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD) and
end Ray McDonald (4 tackles) were more than enough to compensate for his
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
Expect San Francisco to take a similar approach as it did in keeping Green
Bay's array of weapons off the field last week, with Gore (112 rushing yards,
1 TD) and backfield mate Kendall Hunter (41 rushing yards) grinding out hard
yards to control the clock and Alex Smith (211 passing yards, 2 TD) taking
what the defense will give him when mixing in the pass. The cerebral
quarterback may be labeled a game manager, but he was incredibly efficient in
completing 20-of-26 throws while routinely finding the open man. Veteran wide
receiver Randy Moss also made an impact in the first game of his comeback from
a one-year absence, with the seven-time Pro Bowler making four catches
totaling 47 yards and snaring a 14-yard touchdown strike from Smith despite
being out for only 21 plays. The go-to-guy still remains wideout Michael
Crabtree, however, with the 2009 first-round selection amassing a nine-catch,
77-yard effort against the Lions a year ago and posting team bests of seven
grabs and 76 receiving yards last week. The Niners also have a quality weapon
down the seam in athletic tight end Vernon Davis (3 receptions), but will need
to show better in protection after Smith was taken down four times by the
Packers, with usually reliable left tackle Joe Staley allowing two of those
sacks while struggling against Green Bay premier pass-rusher Clay Matthews.
The Lions were suspect against the run last season and especially so in their
matchup with San Francisco, in which Gore shredded the defense for 141 yards
on only 15 attempts. The defense fared far better in that area against the
Rams, however, limiting the dangerous Steven Jackson to a non-threatening 53
yards on 21 totes. Linebackers Justin Durant (12 tackles) and Stephen Tulloch
(9 tackles) keyed that effort with excellent reads and continuously flying to
the football, and the pair will be counted on for a repeat performance to
prohibit a reoccurrence of last year's problems. If Detroit is able to keep
Gore and Hunter under wraps, they'll be better equipped to unleash a furious
pass rush upon Alex Smith led by two proven disrupters in end Cliff Avril and
tackle Ndamukong Suh, both of whom have produced double-digit sack seasons
during their careers and combined for two of Detroit's four takedowns of St.
Louis' Sam Bradford last Sunday. Their contributions will be needed with the
secondary in a state of flux due to injuries, although starting cornerback
Chris Houston is expected to play after sitting out the opener with an ankle
sprain. Free safety Louis Delmas (knee) is likely to miss a second straight
game, though, while rookie corner Bill Bentley is doubtful after sustaining a
concussion last week.
Based on the first week's results, in which the 49ers outplayed a top-level
opponent on the road and the Lions encountered difficulty putting away a two-
win team from last year in their own venue, the advantage would seem to swing
well in the favor of San Francisco in its 2012 home opener. Don't completely
dismiss Detroit's chances here, however. The run defense appears to be
improved and shouldn't allow Gore to go ballistic like he did in the 2011
meeting, and the Lions shouldn't have much of a problem forcing Alex Smith
into some hasty decisions. And as great as the Packers' passing game can be,
even they don't have anyone on the roster capable of taking over a contest
like Johnson can. The key here is how Stafford plays. If the sometimes-erratic
quarterback is locked in like he was at the end of the St. Louis game, Detroit
has a real shot of ending its long winless streak in this series. If he's
giving the ball away in bunches, however, the Lions' chances will go up in
smoke. Chances are he'll be somewhere in between, which may not be quite good
enough to overtake a 49ers team that's better balanced and is rarely prone to
making foolish mistakes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 26, Lions 24
09/14 13:58:46 ET
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