Harbaugh, 49ers Look to Tame Lions Again
By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
Three of the four quarterbacks slated to face NFC West defenses in Week 2 passed for over 300 yards in their season opener. The one exemption: Tom Brady.
The 49ers return home from an impressive—and rare—defeat of reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau, to face 2011 5,000-yard passer Matt Stafford and a hungry bunch of Lions knocking at their door, while Brady and the Patriots play host to Kolb and the high-flying (for now) Cardinals.
Elsewhere, St. Louis looks to keep one recent pattern on track, while Seattle desperately tries to leave years of Texas-sized struggles in their rear-view mirror.
Enough intro, let's rock and roll.
1. Hands Matter, But Not the Ones You're Thinking of in Lions-49ers Rematch
Head coach Jim Schwartz knows if he wants to be the one issuing a radical celebratory handshake Sunday night (for all of the country to see), his team must win the turnover battle.
Actually, it's unlikely we'll see either of these two things happen, because not only is Schwartz a firm believer that a "certain protocol" for coaches exists in this league (overly aggressive handshakes are a clear violation by the way), but Jim Harbaugh's 49ers haven't lost a turnover battle to any team outside of his brother's since the two met at Ford Field last October.
QB Alex Smith coughed the ball up twice in that game—a Kyle Vanden Bosch forced fumble (and recovery) on the offense's opening play and an INT later in the game—while the 49ers ball-hawking D wasn't able to force any takeaways of its own.
Thanks to a 6-yard pass from Smith on 4th down with under two minutes in the game, it wasn't enough for Detroit.
Last weekend, both of these squads actually look improved from 2011 playoff berths (more noticeably San Francisco), but it was Pro Bowl QB Matt Stafford who kept Detroit on the verge of near disaster.
Stafford tossed up three picks in the opener, each of them the result of poor decision-making. He did lead his team to victory in the final minute, but Stafford needs to be much safer with the ball against a stout 49ers defense. It's easy to forget that 2011 was the injury-prone signal-caller's first full NFL season, so he's still somewhat raw in terms of reading coverages. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a master at disguising his player's actions, such as seemingly dialing up pressure only to drop would-be blitzers back into coverage.
Fangio isn't the only D coordinator that does this, but it's the wide variety of tricks in his bag that makes his tactics so successful. He caught the Packers off guard in the 49ers 30-22 Week 1 victory by switching to a dime package for much of the game, keeping Rodgers out of his comfort zone all day.
The other concern that should be on Detroit's mind is how a relatively untested secondary will react to the presence of Randy Moss and numerous other capable pass-catchers Smith has at his disposal.
Detroit's dominant D-line must be in full gear and readily able to exploit the 49ers questionable pass-blocking abilities if there are any intentions of preventing San Fran's suddenly potent offense from dropping another 30-spot on an NFC North opponent.
2. Can RGIII Make Recent History, History?
Washington and St. Louis have faced off each of the last four seasons, and there seems to be a mini-trend developing.
2008: Rams, 19-17
2009: Skins, 9-7
2010: Rams, 30-16
2011: Skins, 17-10
2012: ????(?), ?-?
So, if recent history holds true, Washington's got no shot on Sunday. RGIII and the Skins' new-look passing attack shouldn't even make the trip.
The pattern may not stand for much now, but I feel like Jeff Fisher's squad has a shot to add some legitimacy to it. The seemingly dynamic duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins (mentioned in last week's preview) recorded an INT apiece against Detroit. Add strong play from Bradley Fletcher to the mix, and this St. Louis secondary is packed with the potential to make the former Heisman Trophy winner's Week 2 performance much less memorable than the stellar debut that launched Redskins' fans into hogette heaven.
Perhaps the more pertinent question, though, is whether or not Sam Bradford can maneuver through a Washington D that just frustrated Drew Brees more in 60 minutes than his recently solved contract dispute did all summer long.
3. Hawks' Haven't Trumped the Boys' in Some Time
The last three times these two have met, Seattle's entered with a record of two wins and a whole lot of losses, just to emerge with yet another loss. Last year the Cowboys defeated Seattle 23-13, dropping them to 2-6 overall.
In 2009 Tony Romo embarrassed the Seahawks' D to the tune of three touchdowns in a 38-17 rout, leaving them at 2-5 on the year. And back in 2008 Romo threw three TD passes in a 34-9 win that sent Seattle to 2-10.
Since we're only in Week 2, it's impossible for Seattle to boast their usual two wins in this game. Thanks to Kolb's unexpected heroics, they don't even have one.
Fortunately for the Seahawks, the twelfth man is on their side. The last three contests were played in Dallas, but not this one.
Romo and the Boys' will have to scratch and claw for a win at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, because Pete Carroll's squad wants to wash the sour taste of that Kolb-led comeback out of their mouths ASAP.
4. How Can Kolb and the Cards Avoid Leaving Foxborough With Broken Wings?
QB John Skelton's time under center proved to be short-lived when he went down in the 4th quarter with a high ankle sprain. It remains to be seen whether or not his spot will be waiting when he returns to health, and an expected return date isn't known either.
Ken Whisenhunt hasn't ruled Skelton out for this game, but one would have to assume he's trying to keep Bill Belichick and the Pats in the dark as long as possible.
As crazy as it sounds, Kolb's 12 plays of greatness in Week 1 likely forced a handful of his detractors to reconsider his future in the desert.
Fools, I tell you.
I'm not denying the impact Kolb's performance had on the game, when he picked apart a typically solid Seattle secondary by orchestrating an 11-play, 80-yard TD drive to down a divisional rival in front of the home crowd.
If Week 1 was any indication, an improved Patriots D won't be so friendly toward the easily startled signal-caller and his temporary stardom. Kolb was able to stand tall in the pocket and put the Hawks' away with his arm, but New England is far from home and a raucous crowd will test his mettle from start to finish.
Truth be told, it may not be up to Kolb. Or Skelton, if he somehow makes the start. The Cardinals have serious issues across the offensive line, starting at left tackle. The defense held its own against Seattle at home, but Tom Brady and the Pats in their house is a different animal altogether.
Zona's defensive line played a crucial factor in the Week 1 victory, and they'll need to step up even more to prevent Steven Ridley (21 car, 125 yards) and the New England run game from establishing itself the way it did at Tennessee last Sunday.
5. Predicting Post-Week 2 NFC West Standings
1. San Francisco 49ers (2-0)
It's going to take a monumental effort for Detroit to come away with a win in this game, but a disciplined and well-prepared Lions team can be capable of just that. I expect this clash to have a bar fight-type atmosphere, which ultimately plays right into the hands of San Fran.
2. Arizona Cardinals (1-1)
I don't care if the Cards had Kurt Warner under center for this game, I don't see any way for them to come out of this game undefeated. Belichick's defense is exiting the rebuilding phase and showing the ability to compliment the offense beautifully.
3. Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
There's just something about playing in Seattle that gives the Seahawks' an extra boost. A consistently rowdy crowd packed inside a stadium designed to hold sound helps, but there's something more.
I couldn't tell you what on earth it is and Romo likely won't be able to figure it out, either.
4. St. Louis Rams (0-2)
I desperately wanted to take the Rams at home in Week 2, but that pesky Robert Griffin III just won't allow it. I've always been quick to criticize the Redskins franchise and its management, but the arrival of this fearless new signal-caller and his insane veteran-like poise has me hesitant to call their Week 1 win over the Saints a fluke.
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