Niners defensive end blew through Detroit’s offensive line last year

Getty Images File PhotoOwnage: Niners defensive end Justin Smith (94) got the best of his Lions counterpart Rob Sims when they met last season

Getty Images File PhotoOwnage: Niners defensive end Justin Smith (94) got the best of his Lions counterpart Rob Sims when they met last season

To most, the headline for the game Sunday is Lions vs. 49ers, a battle between two young and dynamic contenders in the NFC. It’s Jim Harbaugh vs. Jim Schwartz, two young and brash head coaches whose post-game handshake at the end of last season’s game nearly triggered a brawl.

Still to others, it’s Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Lions’ explosive offense vs. the 49ers’ punishing and unyielding defense.

For Detroit’s Rob Sims, it’s more personal than that. Lions-49ers means only one thing — Justin Smith, the 49ers’ three-time Pro Bowl defensive end.

“This is a game you put on your list before the season even starts,” Sims said Wednesday. “You knew when that schedule came out, Week 2, you play Justin Smith. It might not sound like much to everybody, but to me, I mean, this is big.”

Sims has butted heads with Smith the last six seasons, going back to his early years with the Seahawks. To Sims, Smith is the standard by which he judges his growth as an offensive lineman.

“I’m not saying he’s everything I work for during the offseason, but he’s one of them,” Sims said.

Sims struggled to keep his weight at 300 pounds last season and he felt it hurt his ability to block strong power rushers like Smith. In the game last season, Smith dominated Sims. He had nine tackles against the Lions and
1½ sacks.

It would be hard to watch Smith play on film — or, more to the point, play against him for the last six seasons like Sims has — without getting a little amped about the challenge. Smith has not missed a start in 10 seasons. He’s posted six or more sacks the last four seasons and since 2001, he’s posted more tackles than any other defensive tackle in the game (727) since 2001.

Ball control: Including three preseason and two postseason games since 49ers quarterback Alex Smith’s last interception Thanksgiving night 2011 at Baltimore, he’s gone 10 games without throwing a pick. While many credit coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers’ top-ranked defense, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Smith is to blame. “Gotta have a really smart quarterback to do it, and Alex Smith is a smart quarterback,” Schwartz said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the 49ers went 13-3 last year and also led the NFL in turnover margin.”

Series history: The Lions haven’t won in San Francisco since Nov. 2, 1975, and are 1-12 historically at Candlestick. The 49ers have won the past eight meetings against the Lions, including a 25-19 victory at Ford Field last season.

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