Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Top 4 things to watch as the 49ers face the Lions

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 11, 2021 at 2:30 PM--

Week 1 has finally arrived as the 49ers are heading to Detroit to face the Lions as a part of a two-game road stretch to begin the season.

While this game figures to be a relatively easier game than most on San Francisco's schedule, let's take a look at the four key takeaways for the 49ers in lieu of Sunday's game.

1. Establishing the Run Early

In their final preseason game against the Raiders, the 49ers were able to establish a presence in the run game from the start, as starting RB Raheem Mostert got runs of 16 and 17 yards on the opening drive that led to a touchdown.

With essentially a two-back tandem in Mostert and rookie Trey Sermon, look for the 49ers to work both towards the outside and inside the tackles, opening up space for the rest of their offense.

With Lions DE Da'Shawn Hand starting the season on IR, the Lions have Michael Brockers, Trey Flowers, and rookie Alim McNeill manning the defensive line.

Brockers has been a solid interior presence as a part of the Los Angeles Rams prior to this season, so the usage of the outside run will likely be more effective, forcing a challenge to the Detroit linebackers.

In addition, establishing the run game would mean seeing the abilities of new 49er Alex Mack on display at center, as he faces a challenge against that interior at age 35.

For a smooth road to victory, having an effective running game from the start is the first key takeaway.

2. Getting Pressure

Before Sunday's game, the Detroit Lions placed their starting left tackle, and their best offensive lineman in Taylor Decker on IR, meaning that he isn't eligible to return for three weeks.

With backup Matt Nelson replacing him at left tackle on the depth chart, this unit is suddenly very shaky, especially with Penei Sewell going through growing pains in the preseason.

To make matters worse for the Lions, both of the 49ers' elite pass rushers, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, are returning from injury and playing in their first game action of the year.

While both will need some time to acclimate back to the NFL game speed potentially, going against average-level lineman, apart from Lions C Frank Ragnow, will help them.

However, with Javon Kinlaw likely out for Week 1 with a knee injury, look for Arik Armstead to slide into an interior lineman spot and work against guards, which he excelled at in 2019.

The circumstances certainly play to the 49ers favor in terms of quality of players along the line, and getting pressure on new Lions QB Jared Goff would make the game go much smoother.

Goff has two sides to him: quarterback play with a clean pocket and quarterback play under pressure.

While having a clean pocket, Goff is surprisingly good as a passer, as he had a 105.6 passer rating in 2020 in those moments, but when Goff becomes pressured, he instantly turns into a worse-than-league-average quarterback, as he posted a 45.9 passer rating in 2020 to go with four touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Getting pressure on Goff would certainly limit his game much further, allowing the 49ers to focus more on the run-game and be as effective defensively as possible.

3. Efficient Passing From Jimmy Garoppolo

As I said earlier, one of the key takeaways for Week 1 is establishing the run game early for the 49ers.

The implications of having that successful run game is that it opens up the field and forces the defense to prepare more for the run, making the passing offense more effective, so it is imperative that starter Jimmy Garoppolo capitalizes on those opportunities.

Along with an early run focus, I do believe the 49ers will try and throw a deep pass, likely as a part of play-action, on their first drive, as it would force Detroit to account for another aspect of San Francisco's offense, regardless of if the pass is completed or not.

But, as the course of the game goes along, Garoppolo will need to remain efficient in his minimal pass attempts to keep drives going and the defense guessing.

In addition, efficient passing would put the ball in the hands of playmakers like Deebo Samuel or Aiyuk, which would extend plays and keep the 49ers offense rolling to start the season.

Most of all, an efficient outing from Garoppolo should boost his confidence, which will be needed during the tougher stretches of the season, like Weeks 3-5.

4. CB Josh Norman

Norman signed with the 49ers earlier this week as Emmanuel Moseley remained out with his knee injury, although the team had been scouting the 33-year-old veteran for a few months prior.

With Moseley likely out for Week 1, Norman could be placed into the starting lineup instead of rookie Deommodore Lenoir or fellow veteran Dontae Johnson, and could be heavily targeted with Jason Verrett on the opposite side of the field.

To keep the Detroit offense stagnant, Norman will likely need to have a good outing against the below-average Lions receiving core, and will be a key player on the defense, as Goff will likely look to get the football out quickly to avoid pressure.

In addition, with one of the safeties likely paying attention to monster TE T.J. Hockenson and the other helping out on Tyrell Williams, the speedy receiver, Norman could be put into situations where he's alone, making his play much more important at a position with lack of depth for the 49ers.

Those are my four takeaways for San Francisco's Week 1 matchup against the Detroit Lions. Stay tuned after the game for the post-game breakdown and come back next week for San Francisco's key takeaways for their Week 2 game against Philadelphia.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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