Lions vs 49ers: 3 key matchups for the Week 1 game

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The new-look Detroit Lions will look to get off on the right foot playing the San Francisco 49ers at home in front of a fan base who are dying to step back into Ford Field.

With Dan Campbell driving the ship along with his band of former players on the Lions coaching staff, they are ready to bring Detroit out of a state of apathetic purgatory to one of competitiveness and drive. The players have been injected with newfound energy and are ready to fight every minute on the field. Even though most predictions don’t have the Lions mounting too much as they are transitioning, they will be a fun team to watch and compete in every game.

It will be hard to gauge or predict how the Lions will open their season with a whole slew of new personnel from the coaching staff to the players, especially with a vanilla preseason where most starters barely played. There are a few areas where the Lions can hang their hat, and others have massive questions surrounding them that could make it problematic through the season. With the Lions behind in the odds by 7.5 to open the season, many believe the bad will outweigh the good when it comes to their 49er matchup.

If they can pull ahead in this week’s three key matchups, they might have a fighting chance to pull off the upset to start the season.

49ers edges vs Lions tackles

The Lions have been dealt a big blow with the Taylor Decker injury that might sideline him for the opener. Some of speculated Penei Sewell could move over to his natural left tackle position. Still, the time and energy spent getting him ready for the right tackle and the coaches' focus on player development will be best to keep him there. It’ll either be Matt Nelson or potentially Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has played tackle in the past, sliding in the fill the spot. Either way, it’s a significant downgrade from Decker, and with the 49ers sporting one of the better edge tandems, in Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford, it couldn’t have come at the worst time. Bosa missed most of last season due to an ACL injury, and you can surely bet he is ready to go. Dan Campbell mentioned Bosa by name as a potential thorn in the Lions paw. Armstead has been a solid contributor with the 49ers since 2015, with 2019 being his best with 13 sacks, and it is no mere coincidence that was Bosa’s rookie season, where he recorded 14 sacks himself. Ford also missed most of last season with a back injury and will look to bounce back as a solid situational pass rusher. The Lions tackles will have their hands full with the 49ers edge rushers and could be a welcome to the NFL moment for Sewell if it goes sideways. On top of potentially losing Decker, it only matters worse throwing in a replacement to handle the star edge rushers. It will be a tough ask from the Lions, but if they want to walk away with a win, they will need to find a way to mitigate the edge rushers' effectiveness to create some offensive rhythm. For example, they might rely on their tight ends for extra help, extra blocking from the backs, or set a quicker pace on offense to limit the time Jared Goff is in the pocket. If they let Bosa and Armstead set the tone on the edges, the offense could be stopped in the tracks, but they can find a way around it, they could pull out that thorn.

Lions front 7 vs 49ers running game

If there is one area the Lions made the biggest changes from last year, it’s the revamped defensive front seven. They opted for more athleticism from their defensive players versus the big-bodied, gap-plugging players from the previous regime, which shows with their moves. From the acquisitions of Michael Brockers and Alex Anzalone to drafting Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, and Derrick Barnes, it was clear what direction they wanted to head towards with the retooling of the defensive front. They also brought in the players they know can work in Aaron Glenn’s 3-4 system. As a result, the days of hoping the opposing team makes mistakes are over. Instead, the Lions will look to dictate the tempo and force offenses into uncomfortable situations. Dan Campbell brought up the biggest challenge the Lions defense may face this week is the uniqueness of the 49ers offense with the variety of misdirection and play-action passes. He went on to say the best way to mitigate the effectiveness of play-action is to slow down the running game taking away a viable threat making it easier on the defense. In the short of it, if the Lions can find a way to slow down the 49er rushing attack, they can make them more one-dimensional and play to the defense's strengths. The 49ers will be relying on Raheem Mostert, rookie Trey Sermon, and one of the best fullbacks in the league, Kyle Juszczyk, to get the yards on the ground. The versatility these backs offer goes towards more than just rushing, as Kyle Shanahan loves to get his running backs involved in the receiving game. It makes opposing defenses stay honest, allowing potential gaps that Shanahan has no problem exploiting. Detroit had one of the worst rushing defenses last year, allowing nearly 135 yards per game on the ground, which led to a league's worst 419 total yards per game. Unfortunately, there is no way to go, but as long as the defensive front is as advertised, they can turn that ship around. If the Lions can slow down the 49er rushing attack mitigating their play action, it may help make the defense's job easier, especially for the Lions youthful secondary. They will need to stay disciplined with their assignments, not fall for the razzle-dazzle, and it might give them an edge to achieving victory.

Jared Goff vs expectations

When Matthew Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, everyone knew the rebuild had commenced. The previous regime left too many holes around the organization showing the Lions needed to start plugging them up. At the commencement of the trade, many were quite pleased with the draft compensation the Lions received, but there was an extra winkle thrown many were not expecting. Jared Goff being added to the trade caught many off guard, thinking he was a throw-in to remove the contract from the Rams book giving the Lions an extra first-round pick for their troubles. If you ask anyone in the Lions organization, that couldn’t be further from the truth. They believe Goff could help drive this team out of the cellar. Many know the expectations for the Lions are quite low concerning the state of the franchise, but if you ask Goff, he might fling a ball as hard as he can in your general direction. In his latest press conference, he was asked about the outside expectations expecting Detroit to be bad this year, and he almost broke character and swore to the reporter. Surely being asked and seeing the same negative connotation over and over could drive a person up and wall, and it looks like Goff has had the last of it. The Lions have shown they don’t care about the outside perception is all they care about is their expectations for themselves, and Goff made sure they knew this. Out of the players that will hit Ford Field on Sunday, all eyes will be on Goff and how well he performs. The expectation most have for Goff to be like Stafford is unfair as each has his own strengths and weaknesses. If fans continue to compare the two, it will be unjust to Goff to prove he could be the quarterback of the future. It is the first game of the season, and with very little preseason action, Goff will have hiccups along the way, getting his feet wet. But, as long as he shows poise, control of the offense, and making smart decisions, it should temper some of those negative expectations from the outside world and hopefully get of Stafford’s shadow in Detroit.

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