Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers Week 16 opponent – the Detroit Lions.**
I would say the 49ers have a great chance to finish strong against two teams they can dominate. There's no reason they can't beat two teams who have been struggling in Detroit and St. Louis. The 49ers have been in that situation in the past, when you are in survival mode. That's what the Lions and the Rams are in right now.
The 49ers can't play down to the level of their competition. That's an important thing to note. They have to go out and dominate the Lions from start to finish.
Offensively, I think Alex Smith has to show more poise in the pocket. When you look at anyone from Peyton Manning to Carson Palmer to whoever, you're going to take hits. But, Donovan McNabb for example, a lot of times last week he had to move in the pocket, but he moved in a different direction every time. He was all over the place. But with Smith, you see the same response to the pressure and that's him dashing out to the right. It's the job of coaches to correct that and opposing coaches will surely be alerted on it.
If Smith uses that same escape route for the past eight weeks, or half season, you know where he's going to be. It's become a habit now, and unless it's a good one, habits become your demise in the NFL. It's important that Smith continues to develop in that area of the game.
A positive for Smith is that he's thrown 10 touchdowns in his last five games and now he's consistently finding the end zone and engineering scoring drives. His arm strength is as good as I've even seen it. His velocity on his passes on the tougher routes have improved too, especially those deep passes to Vernon Davis.
The 49ers got a boost with Joe Staley back in the lineup last week. He played very well. To be able to play in a game after seven weeks away, and play as well as he did was very impressive. The offensive line overall has improved and should continue to take strides with Staley settling back in his role.
I think Davis continues to improve as well. He's improved dramatically. His route running and his catching has improved. But he's also dropped some easy ones. You wonder why does that happen? Or how does that happen? It's real simple, it's about losing your concentration. A lot of players are concerned with running after the catch and Davis is no different.
The biggest positive is when you look at his stats and think about how he can get better. That's a scary thought.
Defensively, the 49ers had trouble last week getting to McNabb and it hurt them. The Eagles used a lot of max protect blocking schemes and Lions might do the same with a quarterback making his first-career NFL start. An answer to that for the 49ers could be using zone blitzes to disguise what Drew Stanton is seeing out there.
Limiting Calvin Johnson is important too. Detroit's talented wideout has amazing size and has very good speed. He's probably faster than Larry Fitzgerald. His hands might not be as good at Fitzgerald's but they're very close. Stopping him will be a key factor in Sunday's game. Because of his size, Johnson is able to get to seemingly unreachable balls like Fitzgerald can.
One thing people can appreciate is the effort the 49ers have shown under Mike Singletary. I talk to opposing coaches every week and the first thing I ask them is, "What did you see on tape?"
And they all say they're seeing a team who is flying around to the football. That's a compliment of the entire coaching staff of the 49ers and it should continue in these final two games starting against the Lions.