Obtaining a win against the 49ers may prove to be a tall task but one that could prove to be valuable in the Lions quest to return to the postseason.
Below are the four keys to victory against the 49ers.
Control Justin Smith
The 49ers veteran All Pro defensive end created havoc for the Lions in last year's matchup. Smith registered two sacks and helped apply constant pressure on the Lions passing game.
The Lions offensive line is fully aware of the challenges Smith poses to its unit and is amped for the challenge.
If the Lions hope to contain Smith, they will need contributions from the entire unit but guard Rob Sims will be the key. Sims bulked up in the offseason and said Smith was one of the reasons he wanted to play at a heavier weight. The Lions left guard struggled in the loss to the 49ers a year ago and he will have to improve his performance if the team hopes to win this Sunday.
Ultimately, the best way to neutralize Smith is schematically. The Lions need to get rid of the ball quickly and leverage the short passing game – something the Green Bay Packers attempted against the 49ers in an opening week loss – limiting the amount of time Smith has to create pressure.
Make Alex Smith Beat You
The difficulty in matching up to the 49ers offense is their talent at the skill positions. With wideouts Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham deserving of attention on the outside and tight end Veron Davis representing one of the league's top receiving threats at tight end, it is difficult for teams to stack the box and take away Frank Gore and the running game.
In order for the Lions to be successful defensively, they must minimize Gore's impact on the ground while taking away the short passing game.
Alex Smith is at his strongest when he is able to complete short, high-percentage passes and the 49ers' offensive strategy is completely predicated on Smith's success in that area along with the rushing attack.
Smith attempted only three passes beyond 20 yards against the Lions last year, and one of those three resulted in an interception.
The Lions need to force Smith into the deep ball and force the 49ers quarterback, not playmakers, to move the ball.
Protect The Ball
The Lions were minus-three in turnover differential against the St. Louis Rams last week yet still managed a win.
The fact that the team was able to steal a victory was aided by the Rams' inability to capitalize on the Lions mistakes as well as the Lions ability to shred the Rams defense.
Things will be different in San Francisco.
Not only are the 49ers better equipped to capitalize on any turnovers by the Lions but they are so defensively sound it will not be easy for the Lions to dig out of any real deficits.
This means smart decision-making by the Matthew Stafford and appropriate play-calling from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
The 49ers are going to want to control the clock, run the football and grind out a win. If the Lions fail to sustain drives, the 49ers will be successful in accomplishing those goals.
Running backs and tight ends for the Lions will need to be heavily involved in the short-passing game and the offensive unit will need to be patient and take what the defense gives them.
The dink-and-dunk offense may be in full effect for Detroit.