• Robert Moore

X-Factors That Will Help 49ers Win Against Detroit

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Week 1 of the season is underway and the 49ers’ first opponent this Sunday will be the Detroit Lions.

A lot has changed with the Lions since the 2020 season concluded. The most notable is the new head coach, Dan Campbell. Campbell has created some interesting moments this offseason during his highly caffeinated press conferences in which he stated, among other things, that the Lions will “bite a kneecap off.”Detroit has made several offseason moves, the biggest of which is at quarterback. The Lions now have a familiar opponent, Jared Goff, as their starting quarterback after a trade that sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams. Another notable offseason addition was the first-round draft pick Penei Sewell. Sewell, a mauling offensive tackle at the collegiate level, was asked to switch positions from left tackle to right tackle in the NFL. Making this switch from the left to the right side of the line is extremely difficult. Geoff Schwartz, a former NFL lineman and current NFL analyst summed up some of the challenges Sewell will face while making the transition. This leads me into my first X-Factor for the 49ers:

The Defensive Ends:

The 49ers will need to quickly take advantage of Sewell’s lack of experience at the right tackle position. Sewell’s lack of experience showed up in this rep against Buffalo’s Gregory Rousseau in preseason action. Rousseau came with a bull rush, quickly getting Sewell off balance.

The 49ers should look to rotate Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Samson Ebukam against Sewell. It will be a tall task for a rookie offensive lineman to be able to stop the bull rushes of Ebukam, the speed rushes of Dee Ford and the pass rush moves of Nick Bosa. The 49ers should look to exploit this matchup quickly. If the team can put the Lions into third-and-long situations, the X-factors on the defensive line should pressure Goff enough and force him into some mistakes.

Coach Kyle Shanahan:

Shanahan will utilize his highly intelligent zone blocking scheme to exploit one of the Lions’ bigger weaknesses, their run defense. The Lions gave up an average of 134 yards rushing per game and 2,158 total yards rushing in 2020, ranking among the bottom five teams in the league.The 49ers’ lead running back, Raheem Mostert, looked explosive in his preseason debut, gashing the Raiders’ defense:

The offensive line will look to open big holes for Mostert to run through and quickly establish the run game. The run game is the biggest X-factor the 49ers will carry into this matchup, and I expect Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, and even wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to get carries early and often for big gains.

Linebacker Fred Warner:

On paper, the Lions’ offense will not strike fear into the hearts of opponents. However, one of its strengths is their tight end, rising star T.J. Hockenson. With the offseason losses of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola, I expect Hockenson to be a beneficiary of an increased target share in 2021. Unfortunately for Hockenson this week, he will have to face the NFL’s best coverage linebacker in Fred Warner. Last year, Pro Football Focus gave Warner its highest single-season coverage grade since 2017, and he will look to erase one of the Lions strengths in Hockenson with plays like this:

Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel:

I touched earlier on Aiyuk and Samuel being involved in the run game, but another weakness of the Lions is their cornerbacks. Defensive backs Jeff Okudah will enter his second season in the NFL after what many consider a letdown year in 2020. Starting opposite of Okudah is Amani Oruwariye. Oruwariye has received positive reviews throughout training camp this year, however the 49ers’ receivers will be a tall task for them to contain and a big test for Oruwariye early on in the season.

The 49ers’ recipe for a winning game will be exactly what it was during 2019: Establish the run early, setup the play-action passing game, get after the quarterback, and protect the football. If they can do all that, they will start the season 1-0.

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