By: Rob Rubick
Ford Lions Report Live Analyst
Offensively I think the key to this week is “Whatchoo talkin’ about Willis?”
I think it’s how Brandon Pettigrew can work against Patrick Willis. Last year when the 49ers beat the Lions, Patrick Willis owned Brandon Pettigrew. Brandon really could not get open, and when you can do that, when you can lock a linebacker on a tight end and pretty much take him out of the game, you can do a lot with your coverage on the outside.
You can roll over coverage on Calvin Johnson and double on the high side and you can work the slots with your safeties. It gives you a lot of options. We saw how important the Lions tight ends are to the Lions passing game against St. Louis.
When they take Calvin away like Jeff Fisher did with the Rams, and when they shell outside, then your tight ends need to work the middle of the field. I guarantee that Jim Harbaugh watched that film and saw what the Rams did against the Lions. They had a lot of success if you look at what they did defensively.
It’s huge that Pettigrew comes up big or Tony Scheffler if he is in there. Also, Kevin Smith needs to be valuable out of the backfield again.
You have to be patient when you’re playing against this 49ers defense, because you can ill afford to turn the ball over in the NFL , especially on the road.
I’m not a proponent that the Lions have to run the ball to win this game.
I think the Lions are a team that throws to run. During the course of the year, they’re not built for a power running game up front. They don’t have this huge offensive line that’s going to maul people. They’re more of a finesse team built for the passing game and some screen game.
I think they can throw to run, but offensively they need to protect and serve.
They have to protect Matthew Stafford and let him serve the ball where it goes. They can’t force the big play if it’s not there. San Francisco is a very disciplined defensive team and very opportunistic, so if the Lions get impatient and Matthew tries to force the ball down the field when it’s not there and turns the ball over, that’s going to be trouble.
The Lions had three turnovers to none for the Rams. You win about 2% of your games in the NFL with that ratio. If it wasn’t for Stafford in those last two drives and playing so well, they would have come away with a loss.
Defensively, they can’t get “Gored.” They need to slow down the running game.
Jim Harbaugh is a master of the power running game, and the play action game with their quarterback. Alex Smith is a very average NFL quarterback, but they have good weapons when you look at Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.
If you can limit the running game like the Lions did against Steven Jackson, slowing Gore down and forcing Alex Smith into passing situations, you’ll be in good shape.
Put him into third and long or third and medium. That’s when the defensive linemen can pin their ears back and get after him a little bit. When that happens, he’s not as good.
When they’re running the ball and then play action, that’s when they’re at their best. That’s what this Harbaugh offense is built on. That’s what it was at Stanford - the same type of thing with Andrew Luck.
Defensively, the number one thing is to take Gore out of the game, slow him down so defensively you can predict better when they’re going to throw the ball.
Memories of Playing by The Bay
I distinctly recall watching Monte Clark fold his hands and pray as Eddie attempted a field goal in the playoff game when we lost to the 49ers (1983).
It was a game of two halves, Gary Danielson threw four picks in the first half - two or three weren’t even his fault. They did different things and guys were in blind spots that he didn’t see. In the second half, he threw about as well as I’ve ever seen a quarterback throw.
We were down big at halftime and came back and had the opportunity to win in the second half with a 41-yard field goal that we all knew was going to be made because Eddie (Murray) didn’t miss. It was like having Jason Hanson for a 41-yard field goal try.
To this day I never held it against Eddie because he won a lot of games for us, but it’s one of those things - we thought we’d won. We thought we were going to the NFC Championship Game. We had a good defense that year.
What I do remember about Candlestick is that the stands weren’t that close and back then it was a baseball field, too, and it was windy. It was always windy and it was a circular wind which made it tough for kickers.
If you’re a kicker and you have a direct wind, then you can play your shot, knowing where the wind is. When it circles a lot, like it does there, it’s tough. So I remember it being windy there and the last game I played there was when we lost in the playoff game.
They had Joe Montana, but we had a really good defense back then and we had the opportunity to win the game. We just didn’t get it done.