The San Francisco 49ers will encounter another very strong offensive team when they line up against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The 49ers, who defeated the favored Green Bay Packers last week, will look to add on to their already terrifying array of accolades shown in the Packers win by knocking off Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and the Lions in the Candlestick Park home opener.
Detroit needed a come-from-behind win against he Rams in Week 1 and will look to exploit the 49ers at the one wavering aspect of their entire package: the secondary.
Just like the Packers, the Lions will let Stafford throw the ball, just as he did when he threw 48 times in Week 1. Stafford found 10 different receivers on Sunday, with five of them tallying over four receptions. In comparison, Aaron Rodgers accomplished the same feat last week.
This will be a pass-happy offense coming at the 49ers on Sunday.
The problem here: It may be the only chance at defeating San Francisco.
It is not that the 49ers have a weak secondary, but that it happens to be the weakest part of an extremely strong football team suddenly thrust into Super Bowl aspirations.
Stafford will attempt to exploit the secondary based on the fact that Kevin Jones and company will not be able to run the ball on San Francisco’s front line at all. Detroit gave Kevin Smith the ball only 13 times against St. Louis.
The goal here for the clear underdog Detroit Lions is similar to the Packers in last week’s game against the 49ers: Force San Francisco to take Patrick Willis out of the game and add another defensive back, whom they will take advantage of.
However, that defensive back is Perrish Cox, and he played a strong game against the Packers in place of Willis. Odds are if Rodgers and the Packers couldn’t pull it off, then we shouldn’t see much resistance from the Lions either.
For the 49ers, the game plan would appear to be focused on Alex Smith and the slew of wide receiver weapons this team now has. The Lions looked awfully stingy against Steven Jackson and the Rams in Week 1 (Jackson: 21 carries for 53 yards), but Sam Bradford was able to find a good amount of success in the air in his 25 pass attempts, one of which was a touchdown.
The Detroit secondary should not be a problem for Smith, a quarterback who has shown he can take care of the ball at all costs.
In order for Smith to continue his successful streak at quarterback under Jim Harbaugh, he will once again need help from his offensive line.
The Lions were able to get to Bradford last week a total of four times. Smith was sacked a total of four times by a lousy Packers defense. Detroit will be better.
With pressure coming early and often on Sunday, we should see Smith recognize the defense and dump short passes off to release some of the pressure he is sure to encounter from Detroit’s front line.
Look for dump passes to Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in the backfield, or slants across the middle for Michael Crabtree that seemed to be successful against the Packers.
Also, limiting Calvin Johnson when possible will be a key task on Sunday for the 49ers.
They do not have to shut him down -- Johnson will get his catches. But limiting him when it matters and creating stops are all part of a big day for the San Francisco secondary on Sunday.
In such an important game for Harbaugh and the post-game handshake that cannot come soon enough, look for the 49ers to be ultra-prepared -- as if they have not been prepared in any game in the Harbaugh Era.
Both rushing attacks should be fairly limited on Sunday, so we should expect a ton of strategy from Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff this week against a tougher defense and a wide receiver in Calvin Johnson that will be a test throughout the game.
49ers 27, Lions 21