Seriously, you can't bounce a kick off the crossbar and in.
That shit doesn't happen. Oh wait, I guess they can and it does.
The 49ers will enjoy the national spotlight in a few hours, having been anointed as worthy of Prime Time Marquee Matchup status by virtue of that most accurate predictor of the future, the past. That's some pretty ill-tempered sarcasm to start an article with, particularly when I'm actually so optimistic about where the 49ers sit these days. Last week continued the pattern established last year, where each week and each game forces me to expand my range of reasonable expectations and take a long, arcing piss on prognostication and playing The Schedule Game back before the season starts ("That's a win, that one might be a win, no way they'll win that game though, this one's a loss too"). After eight years of the 49ers losing virtually every road game against a non-divisional opponent, they're now beating the Packers in Green Bay. Nothing seems beyond the pale in the wake of this result. When the schedule came out, I looked at those three ominous road games that seemed pre-destined to mark the 49ers for "regression" to 10-6 even if they didn't actually regress as a team, because the opposition was that much tougher: @ Green Bay, @ New Orleans, and @ New England towards the end of the year right in the middle of Snow Time. But midway through the afternoon of Week 2 and suddenly those Patriots and Saints look decidedly more mortal even with the massive qualifier of "its still early" and the 49ers won their first game in Green Bay in 22 years. With one "can't" irrevocably transformed into a "can and did" that infectious optimism we were introduced to at the party that was 2011 has held on to our phone number and called us to ask "D'you wanna hang out?" in 2012.
No, I'm not in a snippy mood over the 49ers. Nor am I in one over the looming opponent, although Detroit is very much a dangerous opponent and they already have that feel of a burgeoning Rivalry Game -- I expect to see at least one playoff game between these teams in the next 2-3 years -- and the Lions very much illustrate the idea that can does not mean will. The 49ers beat Detroit in Detroit last year and the 49ers looked last year like they can win a home game no matter who the opponent (and they kinda did). They should win this game: that's not outlandish to say at all. And yet, losing would also not be a great surprise. Paradoxical? Yeah. But big games between really good teams create that.
I am snippy because, as you have no doubt noticed if you cast a wide net over internet and television to get your NFL information, discussion of this Lions @ 49ers Sunday Night main event game has been high in volume but low in content. How low in content? I can sum everything every other football website will write about this game for you in one efficient paragraph, potentially saving you the fan tons of web-surfing and data-absorbing time and freeing you up to go about your Sunday.
Stand in front of a mirror (any size). Hold your hand flat. Start karate chopping yourself in the chest and yell "HERP DERP HANDSHAKE" as loudly and obnoxiously as you can, like you were trying to make fun of retarded people. Repeat until you despise the face in the mirror staring back at you.
There. Now you're caught up on what the rest of the web is saying about this game. If you play a "handshake" drinking game during tonight's contest, harvest a spare liver and acquire a working knowledge of invasive surgery beforehand. You'll need both.
Both these teams are way too good to be overshadowed by this fake-ass bullshit non-controversy. The handshake is a fake tradition fabricated a few years ago, ostensibly to mimic the camraderie of college football, but in reality it exists to create "content" such as this, to better facilitate the de-evolution of journalists into gossiping high school students, running around the country saying the equivalent of "Oooh did you hear what so and so said about you? You're not gonna take that, right?" instead of actually reporting news. It's not real. It's a custom that's designed to be violated, and we we got more proof of that a couple hours ago when the Giants vs Buccaneers game ended and those coaches came together and yelled at each other. Cynically, I find myself hoping against hope that will manage to work its way into the rotation and cut down on the number of times they re-run the clip of the stupid handshake from last year, just to have anything to spare me that. Artificial Traditions like this are the New Americanism and the NFL As Corporatized Entertainment Program (and not sport) envisioned by Roger Goodell and his TV Network Executive Bedfellows in a nutshell. Do you think John Madden and Chuck Noll shook hands after a game? THE FUCK NO.
Anyway, the Lions pose the same problems for the 49ers this year as they did last year. The 49ers offensive line never seems to be as strong as it should be, and for all the jumbo packages and 7-Tight End Sets and Defensive Ends Reporting Eligible To Play Fullback and the 49ers identity as ostensibly a power running team wherein Frank Gore punches your defense to death while Alex Smith Avoids The Big Fuck Up, the 49ers tend to get stopped in power running situations a lot. And Alex steps up into sacks a lot, demonstrating his skill at Avoiding The Big Fuck Up by usually no longer fumbling when this happens. One notable exception would be the first play of the game in Detroit last year, wherin Kyle Vanden Bosch flattened him as he punched the ball out, which led to 3 immediate points. Detroit's Pass Rush is really good. That is a farcical understatement, as they actually have two complete starting defensive lines' worth of defensive linemen, and they rotate them in and out to keep them coming in continuously fresh and rested waves. While the 49ers generally do not beat themselves by turning the ball over, their offense tends to move down the field gradually and the hoped for improvement at WR has yet to be conclusively proved or disproved. So a sack can easily kill a drive, and sure enough, their losses last year came against teams (Dallas, Baltimore, a blitz-happy Arizona) that rushed Alex well and sacked him a lot. On the other side of the ball, the Lions are set up to throw and throw often, just like New Orleans and Green Bay do. The scar Detroit still bears from the Matt Millen: GM era, the scar that has now become the talking point for the happy war story, is Detroit's wealth of pass catching talent. Calvin Johnson is the best known, but I still remember the less heralded pass catcher, Pettigrew, running the same short over the middle TE 6-yard route over and over again in last year's game. While the 49ers kept Calvin Johnson off the scoreboard last year, and they have proven their ability to hamstring the video game offenses so currently en vogue in the modern league (including last week), it is also true that the secondary still resemble Lilleputians next to the larger receivers in the game -- Calvin Johnson, for instance -- and while it pains me to see the negative side of the way Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner play the game: Safeties that go for the loud hit more so than the ball, and look like they might like hurting people when they play, one must admit there are risks to playing that way. We've all seen many a highlight reel play where a DB gambles on going for the big hit or the strip instead of the conservative arm tackle, and the WR ends up running 70 yards plus for the score.
So the 49ers must needs be wary of Detroit, because the former's weaknesses match up with the latter's strengths. To ward against this, the 49ers must do as they did last year, all season in general and against Detroit in particular. The 49ers' find their strength and success in the unglamorous facet of the game. The facet where field position is important, and The Punter matters. Where the defense bends for yards but does not break for points because the opposition must go 90 yards to score: not one time -- which is doable -- but repeatedly, which odds dictate is not. The more plays they must execute to score, the more components that must repeatedly go right, the more likely one will not, and the drive will fail, provided you the defense continue to contest everything.
The face of a man who is absolutely willing to contest absolutely EVERYTHING.
This is after unsuccessfully challenging whether or not a 5 yard pass on 2nd and
10 on the first drive of the game was caught. I guess he needs to be that way so they will be that way.
In other words, do what they've been doing since last September. There is no mystery in how the 49ers can, will, must, try to defeat any and all opponents. And you know what? More often than not it works.