Lions Have What It Takes to Whip Niners

The Lions can break an eighteen game road losing streak if they follow the blueprint they established last week in Denver and avoid costly mistakes.

(ALLEN PARK) - That 700-lb gorilla that used to be just a monkey on the Lions' back is about to come off.

That would be the 18 game road losing streak that the Lions established under former coach Marty Mornhinweg and have continued for two games under Steve Mariucci.

The Lions not only have a chance of winning a road game this month, they have a good chance of putting together something unheard of; a road winning streak.

In fact, the Lions have a chance to do the unthinkable in October, complete an undefeated month, something they haven't done since 1999, but first things first, Detroit needs to get the first road win, and they couldn't have picked a more ripe opponent that the feuding, fussing, banged up San Francisco 49ers.

Star receiver Terrell Owens and quarterback Jeff Garcia's recent feud bubbled over into the media last week when Owens inferred that it might be time to insert Tim Rattay as the starting quarterback over the slumping Garcia. Garcia fired back by terming Owens' attitude as "a sickness" that the rest of the team was trying to avoid.

While some have suggested the 49ers will channel this energy into an offensive outburst this weekend, that seems unlikely. Owens and Garcia have not spoken to each other since their word of words went public.

"Either we're all in this together, or some changes have to be made," Garcia said in a thinly veiled reference to Owens. "This is a team effort, and there's not any one individual that is above the team."

Meanwhile, some of the 49ers secondary are still fuming over the very public dressing down they received at the hands of former San Francisco safety Brett Maxie, now the team's secondary coach.

Maxie lit into his charges in full view of the fans and several players privately approached Erickson to express their displeasure. Erickson defended Maxie but the damage appears to have been done.

Don't expect any circling of the wagons by this fractious group of 49ers this week.

Defending the 49ers Despite their public fued, Owens (#7 in the NFC in receiving yardage, 299 yds., #4 in receptions with 25) is highly motivated to play well as he is in a contract year and wants desperately to land a big payday at the end of the season. The player who has really struggled is Garcia (rank #12 in the NFC) who is fighting off an assortment of injuries. Still Garcia is a player the 49ers have supported and is a leader in the clubhouse.

If he doesn't want to throw to Owens he still has Tai Streets and Cedrick Wilson as options. Detroit must take advantage of a beaten up 49ers offensive line to put pressure on Garcia and force him to throw early. James Hall leads the team with only 1.5 sacks.

Lions corner Dre' Bly (third in the NFC in interceptions) will likely be matched up against Owens as much as possible, while veteran Otis Smith will draw Streets. Detroit may use rookie Rod Babers in dime coverage. They were happy with the play of both Jimmy Wyrick and Alex Molden in nickle coverage.

The 49ers have been more effective rushing the football than throwing it. Currently second in the NFC in rush yardage, Detroit must slow the 49ers dynamic duo of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow (10th in the NFC in rushing, 193 yards). Hearst is averaging five yards per carry (rank #8 in the NFC in rush yards gained).

The onus will be on the Detroit front four to do what they did in Denver, stay in their gaps and not be fooled by mis-direction and traps. Lions defensive tackles Dan Wilkinson and Shaun Rogers did a nice job of caving the Denver offensive front allowing linebackers Earl Holmes, rookie James Davis, Barrett Green and Boss Bailey to clean up.

Detroit must at all cost avoid over running plays the way they did in Green Bay which spelled doom to any chances they had in Lambeau Field.

The Lions must be sound against the run and force the 49ers into passing situations while keeping everything in front of them.

Offensively Speaking When Detroit has the ball, they really need to get their run game going. When Detroit put together a semblance of a run game last week in Denver, it gave them a chance at winning the football game. Only a few late miscues took that chance away.

The Lions must not give up on the run even if they get behind early. While Shawn Bryson (rank 14th in the NFC, 173 yards rushing) isn't going to set the league on fire, he ran hard and with a purpose. Rookie Avon Cobourne is showing signs that he is ready to be the back Detroit envisioned when they signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent. Cobourne could be the change-of-pace threat Detroit needs.

A good running game sets up the passing attack. Look for Az-Zahir Hakim to get more involved in the passing game as he shakes off the rust in his second game back from injury. Detroit's underrated Scotty Anderson is a legitimate deep threat when he gets the ball, but Charles Rogers (10th in the NFC with 18 receptions) is Detroit's go-to guy. The 49ers will likely double cover Rogers and attempt to jam him at the line of scrimmage, which is fast becoming the book on the speedy wideout. Up and down Bill Schroeder is the "x" factor for Detroit

A strong game by tight end Mikhael Ricks would really help Detroit to keep San Francisco's outstanding linebackers Derek Smith, Julian Peterson and Jamie Wilborn busy. Smith would love to be able to ignore Ricks and concentrate on harassing quarterback Joey Harrington and stuffing the Detroit run game.

No matter how everyone else plays, they cannot win without a strong game from Joey Harrington. Harrington has begun receiving criticism for the Lions fortune and his play. A strong game from Harrington would mute the naysayers and cement him as a real leader in the Lions clubhouse. It would also raise his worth in the eyes of head coach Steve Mariucci who would love nothing more than to come into his old diggs and stuff it in his former boss John York's face.

PICK: Detroit gets the gorilla off their back and start marching toward a 3-0 month while the 49ers self destruct and the drums beat for Dennis Green in the Bay Area.

Lions 23 - 49ers 21

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