The San Francisco 49ers (4-10) and Detroit Lions (5-9) won't be battling for a playoff berth when they meet at Ford Field this weekend, but both teams still have their sights set on a win. Two of the 49ers' four wins this season have come against NFC North opponents, and the Lions have won four of their last six games.
Will the 49ers find the winning formula that has eluded them for most of this season, or will the Lions make it up to their disappointed fanbase with one last win at home?
Here are three keys to the game for both the 49ers and the Lions.
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1. Try the risk/reward system
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert acknowledged his unwillingness to take chances in the passing game, particularly in the opening two quarters. That's one reason why the 49ers failed to convert on their first 12 third-down chances in last weekend's loss to Cincinnati. Gabbert consistently settles for underneath throws that fall well short of the first-down markers, leading to grumbling from some his teammates over the conservative play-calling.
2. Manufacture a running game
A one-dimensional offense typically spells doom for any team and that particularly holds true for the 49ers, who rank last in the league in scoring and 31st in passing. With Shaun Draughn dealing with a knee injury, the backfield options are not inspiring. The only healthy backs on the roster are Kendall Gaskins -- promoted from the practice squad at midseason -- and DuJuan Harris, who was signed Tuesday and joined his third team in eight days.
3. Make an appearance on defense
Some players questioned the 49ers' effort and preparation following a 24-10 loss at Cleveland on Dec. 13, a game in which the Browns rushed for 230 yards after entering with the league's worst running attack. The disparity between San Francisco's performances at home and away is alarming. The team has surrendered 119 points in seven home games and 220 in seven road contests.
1. Spread the ball around on offense
The Lions have a ton of offensive weapons, and the unit works best when quarterback Matthew Stafford disperses touches to each of them. Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15, he completed a career-high 88 percent of his pass attempts and hit nine different targets. He has shifty pass-catchers in wide receiver Golden Tate and running back Theo Riddick, as well as super-sized pass-catchers in wide receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron. Stafford can keep San Francisco's defense off balance by mixing up his targets again this Sunday.
2. Disrupt Blaine Gabbert's passing game
Blaine Gabbert is a fairly efficient passer (his completion percentage is 62.4), but he's also susceptible to making mistakes. He has six interceptions in six games, including three in last Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who's tied with Houston's J.J. Watt for second in the NFL in sacks (13.5), has to get after Gabbert in Week 16. If he can't, the Lions need to do a better job deflecting balls at the line. Detroit's defensive backfield will have a better chance to pick off some passes with disruption up front.
3. Avoid a major coaching blunder
Jim Caldwell hasn't been impressive in his second season as the Lions' head coach. His mistakes have been befuddling at times, ranging from an awful Hail Mary defense in Week 13 to repeated instances of not having the right number of players on the field. Megatron has mysteriously disappeared from the game plan with only one catch in each of the past two games; that's certainly not a recipe for sustained success. Caldwell must focus on beating the 49ers and not his future with the team, which looks dim.