Dan Campbell's No. 1 focus to stop 49ers' offense is recipe to badly lose the NFC Championship Game

The 49ers offense will be a big challenge for the Detroit Lions defense, but Dan Campbell's professed sole focus to stop them is a recipe to lose the NFC Championship Game.

Across the board, the San Francisco 49ers' offense is very good. That's not a secret, with a top-end play caller (Kyle Shanahan), the best running back in the NFL (Christian McCaffrey) and array of other weapons (Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk).

It's also fair to say the Achilles' heel for the Detroit Lions is their defense, most especially their pass defense. From a net passing yards perspective, they've allowed over 345 yards through the air in five straight games-twice to Vikings' backup quarterback Nick Mullens in that span.

That generosity through the air hasn't yielded massive point totals allowed, as the red zone defense has been pretty good (see Wild Card game against the Rams especially). But allowing the volume of explosive plays in the passing game the Lions have has to be a concern.

It can argued the engine of the 49ers' offense is McCaffrey. The numbers, in terms of the difference with and without him, might better say that engine is Samuel (h/t to Justin Rogers of the Detroit News).

Dan Campbell's comments about Lions' defensive focus vs. 49ers toe a losing line

Lions head coach Dan Campbell spoke to the media before Wednesday's walkthrough practice. He was asked about what the defensive focus will be going against the 49ers' offense. San Francisco had the league's third-ranked rushing attack, and the Lions have been stout against the run. So it's not surprising Campbell said it starts there.

"Stop the run. Still the run," You got to stop the run, because if you don't, they'll rush for 250 on you and then they won't even worry about passing. Everything has to start there. And yes, that's what Shanahan does an unbelievable job of -- he's going to work one side and make you overreact. And then he counters off of it and then play passes off of it and it works the middle of the field," Campbell said.

Campbell continued, describing the ideal formula for the Lions' defense, rooted in generating takeaways, being aggressive and hitting.

We're disruptive. We're disruptive, we're aggressive and we hit," Campbell said. "That, to me, has got to be what we're about. Those are the principles."


"Look, we might get hit on a couple things, and I know for me, I'm willing to give up something to get something. And sometimes things may happen, but that's okay because it'll pay dividends by the time you hit the fourth quarter and I think that's what we're doing. It's a salty group, they play hard, they're pretty sound and we're competitive." 

"I'm willing to give up something to get something."

That "give up something" must be allowing piles of yards through the air, only to "get something", namely be tough against the run and stiffen up in the red zone. That can work, and has worked well through two playoff wins.

Leaving Samuel's iffy status for Sunday's game due to a shoulder injury aside and looking elsewhere at the passing game weapons, the 49ers have one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Kittle. Aiyuk was seventh in the league in receiving yards during the regular season, second in yards per catch and second in yards per target. Called on to step up when Samuel left the Divisional Round game against the Packers, Jauan Jennings had five catches for 61 yards. McCaffrey's prowess as a pass catcher also can't be forgotten.

Campbell is willing to have the Lions be a pass funnel defense, even with only one outside cornerback that's anywhere near starter-caliber right now. And that one (Cameron Sutton) has not looked good lately.

Against the 49ers, even if they don't have Samuel, the Lions being willing to just cede space (and yardage) in the passing game is not a winning idea. It's a recipe to come home with an ugly loss in the NFC Championship Game.

dark. Next. 5 potential head coaches the Detroit Lions are glad they chose Dan Campbell over in 2021. 5 potential head coaches the Detroit Lions are glad they chose Dan Campbell over in 2021