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10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What are three keys to victory for Detroit?

Every week during the season Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

1. Stop the run: The 49ers were third in the NFL in rushing with 140.5 yards per game, and like Detroit, that's where they want to start on offense and build the rest of their plan off it. When San Francisco rushed for 125 yards or less this season they were 3-5 on the year. One of those was a come-from-behind win vs. Green Bay last week.

2. Run the football: This is too good of a San Francisco defense to try and beat them being one-dimensional on offense. The 49ers are 3-4 on the season when allowing an opponent to rush for at least 100 yards. They are 10-1 when teams are under 100 rushing yards. The Lions averaged 135.9 yards per game on the ground. Detroit's only failed to reach 100 rushing yards in a game four times this season and they are 5-0 on the year when they have a 100-yard rusher.

3. Tackle: The 49ers have some dangerous weapons at the skill positions with the ability to turn a short gain into a long touchdown. If he plays, wide receiver Deebo Samuel (shoulder) is one of the best in the business running after the catch. One broken tackle and running back Christian McCaffrey can take it to the house. Same with tight end George Kittle. The 49ers had the fourth most YAC in the NFL this season with 2,237. Only Kansas City, Cincinnati and Miami had more. Detroit has to tackle well in space and rally to the football.

20man: Unless 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks really switches things up, more often than not we'll get a monster matchup between All-Pro right tackle Penei Sewell and All-Pro defensive lineman Nick Bosa on the right side. Bosa will go over to the left side but he's matched up with the right tackle more than twice as much this season (596 reps vs. 246).

Sewell has done a terrific job handling whoever he matches up with this season. Whether it's been Maxx Crosby, Danielle Hunter, Brian Burns, Micah Parsons or Rashan Gary, Sewell has allowed one sack and six quarterback hits all season.

20man: Aidan Hutchinson is a big reason why that pass rush has been so productive over the last month. He's consistently pressured the quarterback all season – his 118 total pressures currently leads the NFL – but over the last month in particular he's finished at the quarterback and that's made a big impact on this defense.
Hutchinson had eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits over his last four games. He will likely see right tackle Colton McKivitz most often on Sunday.

McKivitz has allowed nine sacks, 38 hurries and 52 total pressures this season. He's graded as the 57th best tackle in football this season by Pro Football Focus.
San Francisco's Trent Williams is the best left tackle in football and hasn't allowed a sack all season. Anything the Lions get from the other side is a huge bonus.

20man: I have a ton of respect for the 49ers' defense and when I look closer into the matchup, I think it's strength on strength between their defense and Detroit's offense in the middle of the field. Detroit loves the deep in routes and a lot of what they do in the pass game comes in the middle of the field.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff was 18-of-24 for 191 yards and a touchdown throwing over the middle of the field vs. Tampa Bay. He was 11-of-12 for 158 yards against the Rams. His highest passer rating all year (96.6) came on intermediate throws over the middle.

San Francisco's defense is particularly good up the middle. Linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are two of the best in the business. Safety Tashaun Gipson is productive and nickel cornerback Deommodore Lenoir is a playmaker with 84 tackles, 10 passes defended and three interceptions.

Can the Lions continue to utilize the middle of the field, or will the 49ers make it difficult?

20man: With Brock Wright headed to IR, only Sam LaPorta, Anthony Firkser and Zach Ertz are on the roster at tight end. I don't see a scenario where the Lions bring only two tight ends into the game, especially with LaPorta still dealing with a knee injury.

How much Ertz plays will really depend on how much he's picked up the scheme and playbook over the last couple days. One thing he has going for him is Lions tight ends coach Steve Heiden also coached him in Arizona, so there's familiarity there. I suspect we'll see Ertz in a limited role this week with his most work potentially coming in the red zone.

20man: For me, it has to be whoever takes over the starting left guard spot in place of Jonah Jackson. Kayode Awosika filled in for Jackson when he left the game last Sunday. We've seen him, Colby Sorsdal and Dan Skipper all play inside at guard at points this season.

Whoever it is, they'll have their work cut out for them. Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw are a formidable trio on the inside of the 49ers' d-line with 15.5 sacks, 33 quarterback hits and 16 tackles for loss between them.

I suspect whoever starts at left guard will get their fair share of help from center Frank Ragnow, but an offensive line is only as good as its weakest link and the Lions can't afford to have any weak links against the 49ers' front seven on Sunday.

20man: It's not a huge component of this offense but you'll see a shot or two to wide receiver Jameson Williams in this game. You have to take a couple against this defense to keep their safeties honest.

I could also see Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson dipping into his bag of tricks against an aggressive defense like the 49ers, and usually when he does that there's a deep shot component to it.

20man: Just do what they've been doing all year. The Lions were No. 2 in the NFL stopping the run this season allowing on average just 88.8 rushing yards per contest. Detroit hasn't allowed 100 rushing yards in six straight games, and they are 5-1 over that stretch with their only loss to Dallas.

This is a very different rushing attack the 49ers employ. Lions head coach Dan Campbell explained really well Thursday why stopping the 49ers' rushing offense is so difficult between Kyle Shanahan's scheme and the personnel they have. He explains it better than I can:

"I think their system and what he's done for years and how it's evolved – everything kind of began I think with a wide zone, something that they really leaned on. But then it kind of evolved into more of the fast flock-motion with the tight ends and now you're blasting the edges.

"And then once you've done that enough, you get good at it and they start changing fronts on you. You're able to adjust between the tackle, the tight end and the other tight end that's moving on whose got what. So, any front you get into, they adjust on the fly because you do it, you just rep it, rep it and they're really good at it.

"So you get enough of that, then you get the counter off of it. You get that and then you'll get gap scheme back this way. You'll get boot back this way, then you get play-pack this way. You pull the guard and its hard action and here comes the dagger, here goes the post over the top.

"He just does an unbelievable job of setting you up. He's going to make you stop it and if you don't stop it, you keep getting it. And then once you feel like you're about to stop it, he counters. And he's just always been great about that, the way he sets it up. They have a mentality about the way they do it. You can't do what they do without the mentality either. I mean it's physical.

"There's nothing easy about what they do. And then when you have a back like McCaffrey who's got – we know the athlete that he is, but he's got really good vision. He understands the blocking scheme. He understands what they're trying to do, 'I've got to pull this MIKE all the way to this block, the MIKE linebacker before I put my foot in the ground. And if I do that, I'll find the crease back here and then the rest is up to him, he's on the safety.'"

Detroit's front seven and safeties have to be on their game Sunday.

20man: Not looking good for Kalif Raymond after he missed practice again Thursday. That's no practice for him on Wednesday and Thursday after missing the last two games with a knee injury suffered Week 18 vs. Minnesota. I'd think he'd have to take part at least as a limited participant on Friday to have a chance of playing Sunday.

Donovan Peoples-Jones has done a nice job being sure-handed like Raymond on punt returns and that's job No. 1. Hopefully, if the Lions advance to the Super Bowl, the extra two weeks would give Raymond a chance to return.

20man: This is a game where Detroit's safeties need to play really well. Not only being the last line of defense in the pass game but coming up and supporting the run and the short pass game that Shanahan loves to utilize.

How they defend All-Pro tight end George Kittle will be a huge factor in this game as well. This has to be a good game Sunday for Kerby Joseph, Ifeatu Melifonwu and C.J. Gardner-Johnson if the Lions are going to win.

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