49ers Expect Physical Matchup

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The Detroit Lions aren't just Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and 51 other guys. If anyone knows that it's the 49ers, who will host the Lions on Sunday night at Candlestick Park.

Behind a physical group of players and their intense coach Jim Schwartz, Detroit returned to the playoffs last year for the first time in 12 seasons. The 49ers escaped Ford Field with a thrilling 25-19 win in last season's matchup and are expecting another full-fledged battle at The 'Stick.

"There's no secret," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "They're kind of an old-school group. Here we go. It's man coverage, let's play football."

Much of Detroit's mean streak comes from its defensive front. Tackle Ndamukong Suh gets most of the attention, but his fellow linemen like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Corey Williams are no slouches, either.

Looking at his Week 2 opponent, Roman specifically noted the physical nature of the Detroit D-line.

"They are attacking and they are trying to destroy blocks and destroying blocking schemes on the way to the quarterback," Roman said.

Since these two teams last met, Roman said the Lions have changed up their defense a bit and become more multiple. Roman said he's not expecting to see as many blitzes as the 49ers saw in the Week 1 matchup with Green Bay, but that his offensive line should be ready to deal with constant pressure.

"Tough, aggressive defense, attacking style," Roman said. "Not a heavy blitz team, but at any point in time they'll dial up a blitz. So, you've got to be ready for it. I think it's really added to their profile."

Likewise, the 49ers offense has evolved since these two teams last met, as Roman has added several big wrinkles to the scheme. Namely, Leonard Davis has joined the fold.

Roman trotted out a host of different personnel packages in the season opener at Lambeau Field, including the "Giant" personnel group that featured seven offensive linemen. Davis and Daniel Kilgore joined the starting five linemen on select plays against Green Bay, including Frank Gore's game-changing touchdown play.

"He's a big, massive, powerful man," Roman said of Davis. "And when you get him in there, he gives you an opportunity to maybe get a size matchup on somebody, and take a really great offensive lineman like Leonard and get him into the game. Get him participating, getting him having a role towards us winning."

Roman's ability to change things up and keep the opposition on its toes fits right in line with one of Jim Harbaugh's favorite mantras: The Team. The Team. The Team.

Not only do the varying personnel groups give defenses fits, but it promotes a team-wide sense of camaraderie.

"Everybody has a role, everybody has a chance to contribute, everybody's excited about the week of practice," Roman said. "Everybody has a role in helping the team win. Thankfully we've got a lot of really good players that we can do that with."

While Roman certainly deserves a lot of credit for his innovation and creativity, he was quick to deflect any praise to the 11 men on the field.

"That's what we hang our hat on, is execution and want to," Roman said. "And scheme is way overrated. I don't care what play you call. It doesn't matter. Ultimately the players make it work."

On the flip side of things, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is tasked with trying to slow down one of the league's most prolific passing offenses for the second week in a row. Fangio said there is some carry over from last week, but that the Lions rarely use four wide receivers like the Packers often do.

That's because Detroit features Brandon Pettigrew, who has quietly become one of the best tight ends in the game.

"He's a tough cover," Fangio said. "He scored a touchdown on us last year down in the red zone. And he's one of the better all-around tight ends in this league. He's one of the few guys that is a confident receiver and a confident blocker."

Stafford, who completed 32-of-48 passes for 355 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions last week, will likely spend a lot of time in the shotgun formation on Sunday night. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Lions will be passing all the time.

Since he joined the NFL as a coach in 1986, Fangio said there has been a drastic evolution in the use of shotgun. When he first broke in the league, teams rarely used the formation. In the years since, it went from becoming a popular third-down look to a formation that teams can call running plays with.

"Everything evolves," Fangio said.

In last week's dramatic win over St. Louis, Detroit running back Kevin Smith carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards and an impressive 4.8 yards-per-carry while adding a touchdown.

But Detroit's bread and butter lies with its aerial attack, meaning third cornerback Chris Culliver will likely get a heavy dose of playing time again on Sunday. Culliver broke up an Aaron Rodgers pass with 49 seconds remaining to ice the season opener, showing the maturity of a player with a full year under his belt.

Fangio said Culliver has become a better student of the game in the classroom during his second NFL season and that it's translating onto the football field.

"Well, he's got confidence," Fangio said. "And you've got to have confidence if you're a corner in this league. … We had confidence in him when we drafted him in the third round and he's done nothing since he's got here to think that we shouldn't have confidence in him."

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