When the 49ers venture into Ford Field Sunday to play the Lions, they’ll have history on their side.
Which, of course, will be of as much use as a history textbook would be in blocking Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Niners have beaten the Lions seven straight times, with San Francisco winning the last matchup 20-6 in 2009. But these Niners and Lions have been nothing like their past incarnations.
Sunday’s game is one of the marquee matchups of this NFL weekend. The 5-0 Lions, coming off a Monday night victory over the Bears, are off to their best start since 1956. San Francisco, now 4-1, is off to its best start in nine seasons under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
Dealing with the Lions’ “Apocalypse Now” defensive line, anchored by Suh, presents a challenge for San Francisco, as does the Lions balanced offense that features young quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiving star Calvin Johnson – the first NFL player ever to have nine TD catches in the first five games of a season – and former Cal running back Jahvid Best, who rushed for a career-best 163 yards Monday night.
Stafford has thrown at least two TD passes for seven consecutive games, tying a Lions record.
As good as the Lions’ offense has been, however, it’s the Lions defense that has set the tone for the Detroit makeover.
Suh had 10 sacks as a rookie last season and has two more this season, but he’s not alone. The entire defensive front will present a challenge for San Francisco’s offensive line, which has improved markedly over the past three games in protecting quarterback Alex Smith and opening holes for Frank Gore, who’s had two straight 100-yard rushing games.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz told reporters this week that his defensive line “is the heart and soul of our team.”
“Obviously, Suh gets a lot of attention in the national media,” 49ers left offensive tackle Joe Staley told the Oakland Tribune. “But Corey Williams, the other defensive tackle, is a very good player. (Kyle) Vanden Bosch is an all-day guy, and we have to do a great job on him. Cliff Avril (the other end) is playing at a real high level, real explosive. … We’re going to have to be really on top of our game.”