The San Francisco 49ers became the first team to beat the Detroit Lions with a 25-19 win at Ford Field yesterday.
The headlines will focus on the postgame tiff between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, but the main takeaway is this: the 49ers created the blueprint for how to beat the Lions.
Here it is:
Defend against the deep ball. The 49ers sat back and forced Matthew Stafford to move the Lions down the field five yards at a time. The strategy paid off — Stafford completed 28 passes, but for just 293 yards. The Lions live on big plays, and San Fran simply wouldn’t allow any.
Make them prove that they can run. The Lions have the ability to break off highlight-reel runs. But their short running game is atrocious. Detroit gained only 66 yards on 18 rushes yesterday. This resulted in seven three-and-outs.
Stay with the running game. Everyone knows you can run on the Lions. But some for reason, teams like Dallas have stopped running the ball in the second half. The 49ers stayed consistent, using Frank Gore to melt away the clock on the last two drives of the game. They pounded out 203 yards on 29 rushes.
Take advantage of their questionable kick coverage. In three games this year (versus SF, MIN, and TB) Detroit has let up long kick or punt returns. Yesterday’s blunder was particularly bad, when Tedd Ginn used a 40-yard punt return to put the 49ers in position to win the game late in the fourth quarter.
Detroit is still a really strong team. And not every team has the ability to execute a game plan as well as San Fran did.
But yesterday showed that the NFL (or at least Jim Harbaugh) has figured them out. It’s now their turn to adjust.
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