The San Francisco 49ers' defense likely will not see another offense quite like the one Detroit will field during the teams' matchup Sunday.
The same might be true in reverse.
2011 49ers-Lions Rankings
The Lions don't even try to establish a conventional ground game. They frequently run and pass from the shotgun formation. ESPN's Trent Dilfer explained the Lions' approach for his latest Insider column, noting that he could not recall another team "running a system closer to what, say, Kevin Wilson was running for years at Oklahoma, producing a run of great quarterbacks."
The 49ers' nickel defense should give the Lions problems in pass protection, at least in theory. The matchups along the lines favor the 49ers. But as the chart shows, Detroit ranks second in fewest sacks allowed per pass attempt. That means quarterback Matt Stafford, armed with favorable sight lines available to quarterbacks in the shotgun, has consistently identified pressure and gotten rid of the ball.
How the 49ers defend the Lions' Calvin Johnson will be key, of course. They'll likely have to double-team him. The Lions have completed 6 of 9 attempts to Johnson in the red zone, producing five touchdowns on the six completions. The 49ers' defense leads the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage allowed. Opponents have five touchdowns in 15 possessions there. The Lions have scored three touchdowns in their past seven red zone possessions after scoring seven in 10 chances over their first two games.
But the Lions can also hurt defenses with shorter passes to running back Jahvid Best, who ranks third among NFL running backs in pass targets (32).
The 49ers' inside linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, need to contain Best on handoffs and short passes. Both have speed and arrive at ball carriers with bad intentions. They are tone-setters. I think it's important for the 49ers to establish themselves early as the more violent team. They have done that in every game so far this season, including in the secondary, where Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers have been playing with attitude.
Back in a bit with some comparisons between the 49ers' offense and the Lions' defense.