April 20, 2024

3 keys for Lions to upset 49ers in NFC Championship

While the Detroit Lions are enjoying their best season in a couple of generations, they open as 7-point underdogs in the NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers. The Lions have lost 11 straight road playoff games, an NFL record.

The 49ers open as heavy favorites over the Lions in the NFC Championship, but Detroit has a path to victory if it can follow these steps. Photo Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Is there any reason to believe they can snap that streak?

The 49ers have a history of postseason success, are loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball, have one of the best NFL coaches of this generation (Kyle Shanahan) and are playing at home.

But they can be beaten. The Green Bay Packers could have defeated them in the Divisional Round with a break or two. And the 49ers did lose three straight games in October.

So there is plenty of reason for hope for the Lions. Here are three keys for them to beat the 49ers.

The Lions were certainly watching after seeing how the Packers’ pressure put quarterback Brock Purdy on his heels early in the Divisional Round. Of course, some of his early struggles might have been due to the wet conditions, not to mention the loss of versatile wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Yet despite leading the NFL in passer rating and several other metrics this season, Purdy is still young, and the NFC Championship is a huge stage. Putting defenders in his face could force a critical mistake or two.

The problem here is the Lions aren’t known for their pass defense. Detroit tied for 24th in the NFL in sacks (41) this season. The Lions yielded a terrible 7.8 yards per pass, the second-worst figure in the league, generally meaning they gave QBs plenty of time for downfield routes to develop. Those figures do not bode well against the high-powered 49ers. The 49ers will also look to neutralize pass-rushing beast Aidan Hutchinson, so other players will have to step up here.

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The Lions two-headed running back tandem of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs helped Detroit finish fifth in team rushing yards and in yards per carry (4.6) this season. One way to shut down Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, and the other 49ers offensive stars is to keep them on the bench.

Gibbs has seemed like a big play waiting to happen almost every time he touched the ball in space this season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Get him the ball and see what he can do against an average 49ers run defense that gave up 108 yards to Packers star Aaron Jones in the Divisional Round. This is an opportunity for him to explode on the national stage.

The 49ers will obviously gear up to stop the Lions rushing attack. That’s where head coach Dan Campbell, a notorious risk-taker, can make a difference, by having quarterback Jared Goff take some big shots downfield early to open up the run. Downfield threats Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta have excelled in big plays against some excellent pass defenses this season.

In fact, Campbell would be well-served to take some risks in this game. No one should expect him to go for a two-point conversion from the 7-yard line, as the Lions did recently. But a flea-flicker here or there, a deep shot or two downfield on first down makes sense. Here’s where the Lions could benefit. They have nothing to lose. They’re big underdogs, they’ve already exceeded everyone’s expectations and posted the team’s best season in decades. Playing it safe, against the heavily favored 49ers in Levi’s Stadium, won’t be enough.

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