Friday, September 14, 2012
Final Word: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
Five nuggets of knowledge about (what's left of) Week 2:
It's been a while: The Detroit Lions haven't won at the San Francisco 49ers since 1975, having lost 10 consecutive games at Candlestick Park. Overall, the 49ers have won 13 of the teams' past 14 meetings. The Lions have made a habit out of crushing longstanding milestones over the past year, and it will be fun to see how they do in a strength-on-strength matchup between their passing offense and the 49ers' pass defense. In the end, though, they face a difficult task against one of the best teams in football. The 49ers are seven-point favorites and all 14 ESPN analysts are picking them to win.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford shouldn't expect to see a lot of blitzes from the 49ers on Sunday.
Traditional defense: If form holds, you'll see a rare combination of defensive approaches in Sunday night's game. In an era of blitz-mad schemes, the Lions and 49ers send standard four-man rushes as often as any team in the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers blitzed the Lions only once in 56 snaps in the teams' 2011 meeting at Ford Field. And over the past two seasons, the 49ers have blitzed 19.4 percent of snaps and the Lions 21 percent. Those figures are the lowest and fourth-lowest in the league, respectively, over that span. Both teams trust their defensive lines, for good reason, and it means quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith will face maximum coverage more often than normal.
History making? Stafford could set an NFL record if he throws for at least 350 yards, which would be his fifth consecutive regular-season game matching that total. (At the moment, he's tied with Drew Bledsoe at four.) In his past five starts, including a playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, Stafford has grossed 2,019 passing yards. It would seem a tough task against the 49ers' defense, which has been hit for 350-plus yards only twice over the past four seasons. But both instances came last year. The Dallas Cowboys netted 427 yards in an overtime Week 2 game last season, while the Philadelphia Eagles netted 405 yards against them.
Optimism abounds: The Minnesota Vikings' matchup at the Indianapolis Colts is the kind of early-season game that makes the NFL interesting every week. For the Vikings, the rebuilding Colts represent a highly beatable opponent, one that could allow them to end their streak of five consecutive losses at AFC opponents and also give them a 2-0 start to the 2012 campaign. The Colts, meanwhile, know the Vikings needed overtime to dispatch the similarly rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars at home last week. The Colts would be justified in considering the Vikings ripe for their first 2012 victory. In fact, eight of ESPN's 14 analysts picked the Colts to win.
Peterson Power: Tailback Adrian Peterson was a full participant in practice this week after getting 17 carries (on 31 snaps) against the Jaguars. There is every reason to think the Vikings will increase his workload against the Colts. But I'm more intrigued to watch the continued development of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who completed 85 percent of his first- and second-down passes against the Jaguars. Ponder should look at this game as one in which he can establish an early rhythm. The Colts won't have pass-rusher Dwight Freeney (ankle) available, leaving the Vikings to account for one threat: linebacker Robert Mathis.