Lions want to force the 49ers into passing the ball

Posted Oct 13, 2011

San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith ranks third amongst NFL passers with a 104.1 quarterback rating.

His stats are polarizing, but the argument can be made that he ranks well in the statistics that count - the most important being that his team is 4-1.

He is tied for first in the NFL for fewest interceptions thrown and is second in percentage of passes intercepted. But he is tied for 25th in the NFL in completions, 29th in attempts and 26th in yards.

All that to say he is picking his spots very carefully.

"They're a very conservative offense," said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. "They don't take very many risks and that's something I think is good for us when we shut down what they want to do, which is their run game and force them into long-yardage situations."

Running back Frank Gore is definitely San Francisco's top weapon.

After getting off to a slow start, Gore has rushed for 127 and 125 yards in wins at Philadelpha and against Tampa Bay. He ranks fourth in the NFC and ninth in the NFL with 400 rushing yards with two touchdowns.

"They're running the ball pretty good," said linebacker DeAndre Levy. "Their offense is taking care of the ball and their defense is taking care of the ball. They're playing into their strengths really well."

The Lions have been effective against the run even though their 574 net rushing yards allowed ranks 18th in the NFL.

The last three games, Detroit has surrendered 132, 113 and 122 rushing yards at Minnesota, at Dallas and against Chicago. Though the total yards don't speak to shutting down the opponent run game, the Lions have been effective.

"We always say yards don't win games, points do," said Levy. "They rank defenses by yards, but if a team has 400 or 500 yards but three points, that's a win for the defense."

At the same time, Levy acknowledges that continuing to contain the run without trying to stop it is not a recipe for success.

"That 'bend-but-don't-break' philosophy isn't really a good one," he said. "I think eventually you'll break."

Against Smith and the 49ers, the Lions will maintain the approach they take every week: try to take away the run to force the opponent into being one-dimensional.

"That puts them in situations they don't want to be in," said Suh. "I think that's something great for us to have. It's just a matter of us going out and executing and putting them in those tough situations."

Detroit's defensive line is proving that, given enough time, they can get to the quarterback.

Last week against Chicago, the Lions had quarterback Jay Cutler under duress, even though he made phenomenal plays despite the pressure.

"He did a good job of eluding us," said defensive end Cliff Avril. "He did a good job of getting rid of the ball even when we were wrapped around him."

The Lions want to force Smith to have to make that same type of play.

If he's going to beat the Lions with pressure in his face, so be it. But Detroit wants to make sure that pressure is constant.

"They want to run the ball and, in obvious passing situations where they have to, that is where they pass the ball," said Suh. "I think that's something big with San Francisco because even some traditional ways of being third-and-short, third-and-two-plus, they're running the ball and that's not really normal for NFL teams to do that.

"For us to be able to put them in third-and-six-plus, we're not allowing them to be on track in the running game."