Jump-started ground game will challenge 49ers

For the first time in five weeks, Lions coach Jim Schwartz wasn't answering questions about a lack of run production in his post-game press conference. For the season's first four weeks it's been "we're close" and "we're on the right track" and "we still have confidence in it." But Monday against the Bears, everything finally came together in the run game, an area the Lions will test the 49ers.


The Lions racked up 181 yards (163 by starting running back Jahvid Best ) on the ground during a comeback 24-13 victory.

It was something the Lions certainly needed to jump-start with the 49ers coming into Ford Field on Sunday. The 49ers have allowed the second fewest points in the league (15.6 per game) and come in ranked fifth against the run (76.4 yards per game).

The 49ers defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 27 games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

"We got a lot of confidence last week running the ball really well," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. "We had some big plays in the running game, so that's something that we're capable of. We knew we were capable of it; we just needed it to happen.

"(The 49ers) are really good at stopping the run, top five in the NFL at it, but we're still going to try and run the ball and hopefully we'll get some big plays out of it."

The undefeated, 5-0 Lions had gotten away with being a one-dimensional offense in their first four victories. It was only a matter of time, though, before defenses stopped respecting the threat of the run altogether and really came after Stafford and the passing attack.

Monday proved to teams that the Lions' run game can be a weapon, not just something used from time-to-time to keep a defense honest.

"I'd like to see more consistency but to see Jahvid shoot through the middle of the line of scrimmage and take off for 88 yards is pretty cool," Lions left tackle Jeff Backus said. "The fun thing about our offense is that we can score, like that, whether it's throwing the ball or running the ball and you're never really out of a game when you can do that."

Schwartz said this week that the 49ers could pose the best linebacking corps the Lions will play all season.

"Patrick Willis is good, but he's not the only one," Schwartz said. "NaVorro Bowman looks a lot like Lance Briggs, who we faced last week. He's very active and very fast. Aldon Smith is a rookie, and even though he isn't starting, he has 3.5 sacks and is leading their team. Ahmad Brooks is a size mismatch in a lot of ways. They have good players at all their positions and they're deep."

Schwartz knows that the best way to neutralize an aggressive 3-4 linebacking corps is to establish the run, which will and set up the play action pass and hopefully slow the 49ers' defense down some.

That's why Monday night's display on the ground was so important for the Lions. The 49ers have to respect the run now.

Stafford said he expects to see a lot of zone coverage with man techniques in the middle, making completions hard to come by. He said the one thing that would make things easier for everyone is if the Lions can establish a run game and turn it into a weapon.

And then there's the matter of stopping Johnson


It's no secret that teams are scheming to stop Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

But teams are finding that even when they have the right coverage, Johnson is so physically gifted he's beating good coverage. Johnson has nine touchdowns in five games, the most for any receiver in the history of the league through five games.

"Coverages still can dictate what we do on offense," Johnson said. "But there are ways we can move around that. We have different things and different packages that will attack different coverages. We have our ways around different coverages."

Johnson is a particularly imposing red-zone target, but the 49ers' defense has allowed touchdowns in only 26.7 percent of opponents' red-zone possessions, ranking first in the NFL.

"They are playing very well, especially on defense," Stafford said. "They're the No. 1 team in the red zone in the NFL and basically a top 10 defense. They do a good job of utilizing their strengths. They have a really good front seven and they stop the run really well all over the field, especially down there."

The Lions rank ninth in the league in red-zone offense, scoring a touchdown nearly 59 percent of the time in the red zone.

Lions quick-hit notes


--- Through five games, the Lions are the only team in the league ranked in the top five in points scored and points allowed. The team ranks fourth in scoring (31.8 points per game) and is tied for fourth in points allowed (17.8). Their 70-point scoring margin through five games is the best in the NFL.

--- Since 2005, 49ers running back Frank Gore has averaged 120.0 rushing yards per game vs. the Lions, ranking first in the NFL over that span (minimum of three games).

--- The 49ers secondary is third in the NFL with eight interceptions and first in passes defended. On the other side, Stafford has taken care of the ball pretty well this season with 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

--- On defense, the Lions have limited opponents to a passer rating of 79.5. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith comes into the game with a passer rating of 104.1.

--- According to Stats, LLC, penalty research that dates back to 1993, the nine false starts committed by Chicago at Ford Field Monday night tied for the second-most by a team in a single game over the past 19 seasons. The most was 11 by the New York Giants at Seattle on Nov. 27, 2005.

--- For the first time this season, the Lions had more than one starter miss a game Monday night. Starting outside linebacker Justin Durant missed his second consecutive game with concussion-like symptoms and safety Amari Spievey couldn't go because of a sore hamstring. Durant will be further evaluated on Thursday and will have to be cleared by an independent doctor before he returns to the practice field. Spievey was limited during the Lions walk-through practice Wednesday and his availability for Sunday is still in doubt.

--- Linebacker Bobby Carpenter could be in line for his third consecutive start if Durant isn't cleared from concussion-like symptoms. Carpenter had three tackles and two tackles for loss against the Bears, but was beaten by Bears tight end Kellen Davis for their only touchdown.

--- Safety John Wendling had three tackles against the Bears Monday and played well in coverage as he made his first career start in place of the injured Spievey. Wendling, a special-team ace, proved he can play defense, too.

--- DT Nick Fairley played in his first NFL game Monday after breaking his foot Aug. 1. Fairley said after the game that he was a little nervous and played "OK" but expects to play much better on Sunday now that the nerves are out of the way. Fairley was one of nine defensive lineman on the Lions' 46-man game roster.

--- Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy had a career-high 13 tackles against the Bears. He said this week that he's getting more and more comfortable on the outside after playing in the middle last season. Levy played outside his rookie year in 2009 but said there was still an adjustment period at the beginning of this year.

--- Wide receiver Titus Young is third among NFC rookies with 195 receiving yards. He has 14 catches and is averaging 13.9 yards as he continues to be a bigger part of the offense each week.

-- -Cornerback Aaron Berry (groin) did not participate in the Lions' walk-through practice on Wednesday. The team's starting nickel corner played through the injury Monday night, so it shouldn't be a big issue unless he aggravated it further.

--- Tight end Tony Scheffler (concussion) left Monday's game and did not return after being hit in the neck by Bears LB Brian Urlacher. Scheffler is in the same boat as Justin Durant in that he'll have to pass a concussion test to return to the field. The Lions would have confidence in reserve tight end Will Heller if Scheffler can't play.

--- S Vincent Fuller (elbow) looked stiff in the locker room Wednesday. He was certainly favoring his right elbow and had it heavily wrapped. He was just added to the roster last week and was a limited participant on the injury report Wednesday. That leaves John Wendling as the team's only healthy safety.

--- Defensive end Cliff Avril (elbow) was limited in practice. Avril played the entire game Monday and Wednesday was probably just a precaution. He should be ready for practice Thursday.

--- LB Doug Hogue (hamstring) is a new face to the injury report. The rookie linebacker was recently added to the 53-man roster from the practice squad after the Lions lost LB Isaiah Ekejiuba to a season-ending shoulder injury a couple weeks ago. Hogue has played well on special teams.


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