49ers vs. Lions: 5 Individual Matchups to Watch in Week 16

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Defensive back Jimmie Ward will look to shut down Lions wide receiver Golden Tate in Week 16. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Nickel Back Jimmie Ward

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson remains the best offensive threat Detroit has this season and boasts 1,000 even yards receiving in 2015.

But the Lions have a complementary threat in fellow receiver Golden Tate.

Tate boasts 720 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions on the year, and the 5’11” target will frequently be asked to run routes out of the slot for Detroit’s offense.

That means yet another challenging assignment for second-year defensive back Jimmie Ward.

While 2014 may have been a season to forget for Ward, 2015 is shaping up to be an entirely different matter. According to Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus, Ward has been the 49ers’ best cornerback over the past three weeks with a plus-9.0 grade over that stretch.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation described why Ward versus Tate would be such a crucial matchup for the 49ers:

"Ward will have a busy day on Sunday, as he can expect to see a lot of Golden Tate in the slot. Detroit uses 3+ WR personnel 70 percent of the time, and Tate runs 58 percent of his routes from the slot. Over the last three weeks, Tate has been the Lions leading pass-catcher, with 23 receptions on 26 targets, for 186 yards and four touchdowns. Calvin Johnson has only been targeted 14 times for five receptions, 79 yards and a touchdown the last three weeks. One of the interesting stats from PFF is that over the course of this season, 21 percent of Tate’s targets have been wide receiver screens. That means disciplined tackling technique is going to be critical for Ward and other 49ers defenders."

If the Lions expect to use Tate as much as they have been in recent weeks, Ward will be the primary defender responsible for shutting him down.

Doing so will be one of the most important aspects of the 49ers efforts this Sunday.

Next: 49ers vs. Lions: Previewing Week 16 for San Francisco

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.