49ers Opponent Preview - Lions: What to expect & Areas to Attack


The San Francisco 49ers paid the price for miscues in their season opener with the Vikings and will now look to return to winning ways against Minnesota's NFC North rivals the Detroit Lions.

Detroit suffered a 48-17 shellacking at the hands of the New York Jets on Monday Night Football in their Week 1 clash, which provided plenty of clues of what the Niners can expect from the Lions when they welcome them to Levi's Stadium.

Here we look at what can be gleaned from Detroit's first game and areas the Niners can look to attack in their bid to move to record their first win.

What to expect

More Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay

Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson and second-year receiver Kenny Golladay each served as bright spots for the Lions in their blowout loss.

Johnson may have only had 17 yards on five carries, but he outplayed veteran LeGarrette Blount, making more of the blocking he did receive and demonstrating both power and elusiveness as well as the contact balance to fall forward for extra yardage.

The former Auburn Tiger was also able to get to the second level both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. Detroit spent a second-round pick on Johnson and the promise he displayed should see receive more of a workload against the Niners.

With his size, athletic attributes and skills with the ball in his hands, Golladay can be a threat at every level of the defense and both he and Johnson figure to be more significant part of the Lions gameplan in Week 2.

Play-action

Johnson's best play as a receiver out of the backfield came on play-action and, after watching the Niners struggle to defend Dalvin Cook as a pass-catcher in their opener, expect that to be a more prominent feature of Detroit's attack.

Cook had six catches for 55 yards against San Francisco, regularly frustrating the Niners as he consistently slipped out of the backfield to make big plays and keep drives alive.

Johnson has the ability to do the same for a Detroit team that averaged a league-leading 9.4 net yards per pass on play action in 2017, per the Football Outsiders Almanac, meaning the Niners will have to be especially wary of short play-action passes to the rookie tailback if they are to succeed against an offense that on its day can be among the most potent in the league.

Four-man rushes

The 49ers appear set to start undrafted rookie Najee Toran at right guard because of injuries to Mike Person and Joshua Garnett, but that won't necessarily result in the Lions targeting him with blitzes on his debut.

Detroit only had two sacks of Sam Darnold, but the Lions were still able to frequently get pressure on the Jets rookie while rarely sending more than four pass rushers.

Toran will clearly be identified as the weak link on an offensive line otherwise high on pedigree and experience, but the Lions will likely bank on Ezekiel Ansah and Co. getting the better of him without having to send extra rushers on a regular basis.

Areas to attack

Offensive Line

The Jets did not sack Matthew Stafford once, but their dominance of the Lions O-Line was pivotal in their convincing triumph.

As a team the Lions averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, with those up front struggling to open up holes for Johnson and Blount.

First-round pick Frank Ragnow endured a nightmare debut, giving up six pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, with one leading to a Darron Lee pick-six that put New York up two touchdowns.

With right guard T.J. Lang out with a back injury, the odds appear stacked in the favor of San Francisco making it another difficult day for Stafford.

Jarrad Davis

Jarrad Davis was taken 10 picks before Reuben Foster in the 2017 but, despite having played five more games in his fledgling career, he has struggled to have the same impact.

Davis was a weak link for the Lions in coverage in his rookie year and there were signs against the Jets that he lacks the athletic ability many NFL teams are seeking at the linebacker position and could be a player the Niners can exploit in the run game as well as through the air.

The 49ers running game is one in which offensive linemen consistently have to get to the second level and take on linebackers for it to work. Davis' poor performance on Monday indicates they should have success in doing so against him, and that Shanahan will target him in the passing game with the likes of George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and Matt Breida.

Two-high safety looks

Matt Patricia's "multiple" defense in New England was known for giving opponents various different looks and relying on players who can play numerous positions. However, one thing that was prominent on the tape from the Jets game was Detroit's use of two deep safeties.

Yet Detroit's safety depth is far from convincing and that was laid bare on Sam Darnold's touchdown throw to Robby Anderson. Playing zone coverage, Darius Slay passed Anderson off to strong safety Tavon Wilson, who bit on the hitch route being run by the tight end in the slot, allowing Anderson to get over the top and beat him to Darnold's throw for the score.

The Niners may be without their primary speed threat in Marquise Goodwin, but they still have a receiver more than capable of punishing such mistakes in rookie Dante Pettis.

Two-deep looks should also help open the middle of the field for the 49ers, particularly given Davis' documented struggles in zone coverage, and that could mean huge days for Kittle and slot receiver Trent Taylor as San Francisco's offense looks to bounce back from a sloppy start.

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