The 49ers come home after a poor showing in Week 1 to face the Detroit Lions, who will travel west on a short week. This is a very important game for both teams as they both try to avoid starting 0-2. This game features several intriguing match ups; here are some notable ones.
Buckner vs. Ragnow:
DeForest Buckner got off to a strong start in Week 1, recording 3 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks and generally making life miserable for the interior of the Vikings offensive line. Against the Lions Buckner will be facing off against rookie first-round pick Frank Ragnow, who started at left guard Monday night against the Jets and did not fare well. Per Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus (PFF), Ragnow allowed six pressures and finished with a grade of 31.5 (for those not familiar with the PFF grading scale: that is not good). I would look for Buckner to take advantage of the match up against the rookie and a potentially hobbled Matthew Stafford and add to his sack total.
Dante Pettis vs. the Lions’ Punt Coverage:
To say that the Lions punt coverage unit was awful on Monday night would be an understatement. The Lions allowed 45.67 yards per punt return including a 78-yard touchdown. Dante Pettis holds the NCAA record with 9 career punt returns for touchdown. In the preseason and through one regular season game Pettis has shown some elusiveness, so perhaps he can take advantage of a porous Lions special teams unit and set the offense up with good field position take one back for a score,
Theo Riddick vs. the 49ers Linebackers:
Without Reuben Foster, who is serving a two-game suspension, the Vikings were able to take advantage of the 49ers’ linebackers in coverage, specifically Brock Coyle. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook caught six passes for 55 yards against the 49ers last week and exposed Coyle as a liability in coverage. The Lions love to use running back Theo Riddick in the passing game (Riddick has 252 rushing attempts and 229 receptions in his career), and there is no doubt he will be a featured part of the Lions’ game plan against the 49ers, however Coyle will not factor into those plans; Coyle has been placed on injured reserve with a broken C4 vertebra in his back. Even though no starter has been named at Will linebacker for Sunday there is a decent chance that whoever it is will be better in pass coverage than Brock Coyle was last Sunday.
The Lions Passing Game vs. the 49ers Defensive Backs:
The Lions’ wide receiver group is not as good as the Vikings’ top two receivers Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs, however, the Lions’ triumvirate of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay are deeper than the top three receivers the 49ers faced last week, which will put pressure on the depth at defensive back. Tate excels after the catch and his shiftiness could pose a problem for the 49ers’ defensive backs. Golladay is a big, physical, receiver with the ability to make contested catches and Jones is a tall receiver (6’2”) with a knack for getting behind the defense. Last week the 49ers defensive backs had trouble playing the ball in the air, specifically, not turning to find the ball in the air while in coverage; this is something the Lions could exploit with Jones and Golladay.
Kyle Shanahan vs. Matt Patricia:
For the second straight week the 49ers’opponent features a head coach that is also the de facto defensive coordinator, this week it is Lions’ head coach Matt Patricia. The last time Kyle Shanahan faced a Matt Patricia-led defense was Super Bowl 51, and even though there has been much criticism of Shanahan’s late-game play calling in the 34-28 loss to the Patriots, it was his early-game play calling that gave Patricia fits in allowing the Falcons to take a 28-3 lead in the third quarter. Why is what happened in Super Bowl 51 significant? A lack of meaningful game tape on the Lions’ new coaching staff has forced Kyle Shanahan to go back to Super Bowl 51 to study his opponent (and hopefully do a little self-scouting). Shanahan told the Detroit Free Press that what the Lions run is “very similar” to what New England ran under Patricia.
The head coach that calls the better game will go a long way towards determining the winner of this football game. Can Matthew Stafford and his “gunslinger” mentality take advantage of his wide receivers against the 49ers’ defensive backs? Will Stafford have the time against Buckner and the interior rush of the 49ers? Can Dante Pettis and the special teams take some pressure off the offense by setting them up with good field position? All these will be things to watch for when the 49ers host the Lions on Sunday.
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