The Night Before: Unfamiliar Territory
“The 49ers are in an unfamiliar position heading into their week 2 game at home against the Detroit Lions, they are coming off of the first loss in the Jimmy Garoppolo era. Now obviously they were never going to go undefeated with Garoppolo under center but after the 5 game stretch to end the 2017 season and an offseason with a lot of positivity surrounding the organization it felt like they believed they could beat anyone. Well unfortunately for them they got cold water thrown in their faces by arguably the best team in the entire league, the Minnesota Vikings.
The week 1 loss was a showcase of how to win and how to lose a game in the NFL. The Vikings displayed what Championship football looks like, key plays made by star players at key moments combined with good coaching & limited mistakes. They played the type of game that will have they have them potentially playing into February.
Star performances by Sheldon Richardson, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter & Adam Thielen led the way for MIN. We also cannot forgot about the play of Kirk Cousins, who wasn’t anything special, he wasn’t “elite” but what he did do was play mistake free football and he added a couple of outstanding throws to round out a complete team victory.
The 49ers on the other hand showcased how teams lose games in the NFL. Drops, mental errors, errant throws, terrible tackling, injuries and turnovers were the story of the game for the 49ers. They couldn’t get out of their own way Sunday & even when Kyle Shanahan put them in great situations offensively and the defense shut the Vikings out in the 4th quarter all they could muster is 3 points in 4 drives which included 2 badly thrown interceptions by Jimmy Garoppolo. All in all the 49ers came away with a bad taste in their mouths and a lot of “what ifs”.
As we head into Sunday’s home opener against the Lions the team had to do answer a lot of questions, both publicly to the media/fans and internally to themselves. Can Jimmy Garoppolo solve some of the mechanical issues that led to the errant throws and turnovers? Can the OL who will see the team’s 4th string RG inserted into the lineup find some kind of consistency & stability? Can the skill players fix the drops issues? Has the defense worked on their tackling which the Vikings exploited for big gains last week? And probably the biggest question they have to answer is whether they can fix their issues in the redzone.
Now obviously not all of these questions will be answered before Sunday’s game but they now have a better understanding of the overall issues that the team will be facing during the 2018 season. Sunday will be a great opportunity to rectify some of these issues. The Lions are coming off of a terrible performance against the Jets on Monday Night and will be coming into the game dealing with their own set of issues including the media reporting that veterans are already unhappy with new Head Coach Matt Patricia and the way he runs their operation.
The 49ers are facing the Lions at a very favorable time in their own rebuild. Matt Patricia is very similar to his mentor Bill Belichick in wanting a defensive roster that is comprised of players that are intelligent and can run a variety of principles. They don’t have that at the moment and while Patricia will adjust to the talent he can there will still be that transition period where teams will exploit the holes in the scheme.
There is also the knowledge Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan have of Patricia. That knowledge should include Patricia’s reluctance to send more than 4 rushers at a time. During the 2017 season the Patriots ranked 21st in plays were they sent 5 or more rushers, which came out to 21.2%. They were 28th in sending 4 rushers, which was at a 55% clip. Conversely they were 1st in sending just 3 rushers, which they did 23.7% of the time. The 49ers should be expecting to see a defensive game plan where the Lions will drop 8 into coverage. I expect the goal to be to clog the passing lanes and use Garoppolo’s aggressiveness against them. Garoppolo and the rest of the offense will have to prove that they can overcome a game plan devised by someone that has intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the QB.
On paper the 49ers are the better team and with the better coaching staff and the higher upside as a team they just have to go out and prove that they can beat the teams thy should beat and that they can begin to solve the issues that led to their 0-1 start.”
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