It finally caught up to them. I have been saying for weeks that the Lions needed to stop conceding the rush and selling out to stop the pass because teams will take the run and attack with the short passes. The 49ers did exactly that and handed the Lions their first loss of the year.
The Lions defense was shredded by Frank Gore on a handful of carries, and what made it more aggravating was the fact that it was the same play that did it. The 49ers would let Suh come barreling through an open gap and then trap block him behind the line. This opened the middle of the defense up wide enough for an 18 wheeler to fit through. Gore would hit the hole fast enough that the linebackers couldn’t fill the gap and he was free into the secondary. I can see letting this happen once, but the Lions kept allowing it and whenever the 49ers needed a spark they went back to that trap play. I’d put more blame on Suh if the coaching staff had not acknowledged that they want the line to continue after the quarterback at all costs. It’s been costing them big the last several weeks but the offense was able to pick up the slack. Not today.
Offensively, the other point I have been hammering home finally bit the Lions. Their pass heavy attack has made them too one sided and they have become extremely predictable. The Lions are unable to sustain drives because they can’t pick up more than two yards running out of the shotgun on first downs. The 49ers had the Lions in 2nd and 3rd and long situations all day and the Lions could not sustain a drive because they converted just 2 of 15 3rd down opportunities.
The Lions issues on offense are reminiscent of what they went through with Mike Martz when they set the NFL record for fewest rushing attempts in a season, and then had the second fewest the next season. The offense is one sided, the defense knows they can just rush the quarterback with little regard for the run and the offensive line struggles to hold up under the onslaught. The only difference so far is the Lions have better talent than when Martz was there, so they can cover up some of the deficiencies with big plays. Matthew Stafford is struggling to hit the big plays now because he has been getting hit hard the last couple of games. Now he is throwing side armed and off his back foot instead of setting up in the pocket and stepping into his throws and his accuracy is affected.
The Lions had the 49ers backed up several times, but as Moose Johnson pointed out, the 49ers mixed up their run and pass calls to the point where the Lions’ defense was slow to react because they were kept off balance by the unpredictability of the 49er offense. The Vikings, Cowboys and Bears all did the same to the Lions, but made mistakes of defense that allowed the Lions to bounce back. The 49ers didn’t make those mistakes and they got the win.
I wasn’t going to address it, but since it has gained a life of it’s own I just wanted to say my piece on the Schwartz vs Harbaugh confrontation. I wholeheartedly agree with Schwartz that Harbaugh was being unprofessional when shaking Schwartz’s hand. Schwartz was well within his rights’ to be upset, but he should have let it go there. Harbaugh has accepted blame and said he was out of line, but nobody will remember that, they will remember the confrontation. While some say the team will be fired up to see their coach so fired up, it actually appeared more that Schwartz lost his composure which this team has been doing for a couple weeks now.
The Lions have been teetering on the edge of collapse for three weeks and it finally caught up to them today. This is a young team with a young coaching staff that is experiencing success for the first time. Both the coaches and players had a little too much faith in themselves and needed a wake up call. It would have been nice to get the wake up call and still win, but this loss gives the team an opportunity to re-evaluate and make changes. The Atlanta Falcons come to town next week, with a very similar offensive and defensive strategy, we will see if the Lions make the changes they need to, or if they will continue to stick to a pair of flawed strategies.