It’s been two seasons since the 49ers and Lions last squared off. Since that meeting in Week 1 of the 2021 season Detroit has elevated itself into the NFC’s upper echelon alongside San Francisco, and now the two teams will face each other with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
To get some more insight into how the Lions have managed this turnaround, we got in touch with our buddy and Lions Wire managing editor Jeff Risdon. He answered a few questions for us to help grasp what the 49ers are up against Sunday at Levi’s Stadium:
Niners Wire: How has Jared Goff improved since coming to the Lions?
Jeff Risdon: The biggest difference is in his confidence in himself and the team around him. Goff arrived in Detroit as a beaten-down shell of the 2-time Pro Bowler he had been with the Rams. Working with Dan Campbell and OC Ben Johnson to tailor a scheme that plays to his strengths (middle of field throws, play action) and didn’t ask him to be something else.
His field vision and decision-making have both thrived in the last 25 or so games. The team has come to better embrace his low-key personality and leadership, too. Goff is a much better quarterback when he’s got some confidence and he’s earned that from his coaches and teammates.
NW: Do you think Dan Campbell is ever too aggressive?
JR: That’s a tricky question. In general football terms, yes I do. But it’s who he is, and it very often works. Campbell’s identity is playing to win and getting his team advantages however he can, and the fake punts from his own 27 and throwing on 4th-and-3 from midfield while milking the clock late are part of that. I’ll say this–the players absolutely love that he trusts them and allows them to control their own fate.
NW: Who's the Lions best DL aside from Aidan Hutchinson?
JR: Alim McNeill, without a doubt. He dropped some weight and became more of a full-time 3T this year. His overall PFF grade was higher than Arik Armstead or Javon Hargrave, whose game he kind of resembles. When he missed a month late in the year, the entire defense suffered.
NW: Is Jahmyr Gibbs or David Montgomery RB1 for Detroit?
JR: It depends on the situation. Early in games, it’s clearly Montgomery. He’s generally the closer, too. In between, Gibbs tends to take over. They are divergent enough to have their own specialties but also good enough to do one another’s role that it almost gets done by feel more than designated assignments. Montgomery is the much better pass protector, Gibbs a more dynamic receiver, if you’re looking for a usage tip-off.
NW: What's your biggest cause for concern for the Lions in this one?
JR: I don’t think the situation will be too big for them, nor do I think they will be fazed by playing outside. I do think that if they cannot pressure Purdy, he’s going to pick them apart on deeper routes. Detroit’s outside CBs are the biggest detriment on the team. If the pressure up front and the blitzing don’t impact the quarterback, it could be a very quiet day for the 49ers punt team.
NW: Hit me with a prediction.
JR: I think the point spread (currently 6.5 points) is way too high. These Lions are legit, and as Dan Campbell said, they are too young to know they’re not supposed to keep winning. But I do think the 49ers overall depth of talent proves a little too much. 49ers 30, Lions 27