The Detroit Lions (0-1) will make the long trek to the West Coast to face the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. It's a trip that has not been kind to the visiting Lions in the past. Detroit has lost each of its last 12 games in San Francisco, dating all the way back to 1975.
Week 1 also was very unkind to the Lions. It was an even ruder awakening for longtime Patriots assistant Matt Patricia, who was making his head-coaching debut in the Motor City on "Monday Night Football." His Lions stumbled in catastrophic fashion in a 48-17 loss to the Jets in front of the home crowd and a national TV audience. Patricia, who has never started a season 0-2 in his 14-year NFL coaching career, will look to pick up the pieces on the road against the 49ers.
It was a rough start to the season for San Francisco as well. The 49ers closed out their 2017 campaign by winning five straight games. They hoped to pick up in Week 1 where they left off. Unfortunately, turnovers and dropped passes would plague second-year head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense in a 24-16 loss to the defending NFC North champion Vikings on the road. The loss also snapped Jimmy Garoppolo’s perfect record as a starting NFL quarterback (previously 7-0). The 49ers will attempt to bounce back at home against their second NFC North opponent in as many weeks.
Detroit at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: San Francisco -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Jimmy Garoppolo find his mojo in Week 2?
It was a tough season opener for the 49ers signal caller. Garoppolo only managed to complete 45 percent of his passes; he threw a career-high three interceptions; and he lost for the first time ever as a starting NFL quarterback. To be fair, he was facing arguably the best defense in the NFL on the road. And his afternoon would have gone much better if not for tight end George Kittle's drop of a surefire 80-yard touchdown pass. Wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Dante Pettis also had key drops that negatively impacted Garoppolo’s performance. That said, Garoppolo’s gambling nature also led to several self-inflicted miscues.
Garoppolo should fare much better in Week 2 against the Lions at home. In his first NFL start, Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold made fairly easy work of Detroit's pass defense in Week 1, completing 76 percent of his passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions do have a capable secondary, led by All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin. But Detroit’s lack of pass rush (particularly if DE Ziggy Ansah is unable to play) should allow Garoppolo time to find open receivers. He should also receive more help from the running game this week to open up the play-action passing game. More importantly, the three and a half years Garoppolo spent as the Patriots’ scout team quarterback should provide plenty of insight into Matt Patricia’s defense.
There is a chance that Garoppolo will be without go-to receiver Marquise Goodwin (thigh injury) on Sunday, which doesn’t help his cause. But the 49er quarterback should have no trouble taking advantage of the Lions’ pass defense with quality targets like George Kittle, Pierre Garcon and rookie Dante Pettis. All signs point to Garoppolo rebounding nicely in Week 2.
2. Can Matthew Stafford return to form against the 49ers?
Matthew Stafford would like nothing more than to forget that Week 1 ever happened. The Lions' quarterback endured one of the worst outings of his 10-year NFL career, tossing four interceptions in the blowout loss to the Jets. It’s difficult to know for sure if Stafford’s implosion was completely of his own doing, or if there were other factors at play. Several Jets defensive players claimed after the game that they had picked up on Stafford’s signals and knew what the Lions were going to do on offense before the ball was even snapped. Regardless, Stafford made several errant throws that were simply inexcusable under any circumstance. The Lions will be switching up their signals this week. So, that should be a non-factor against the 49ers.
Stafford should bounce back with a much-improved effort in Week 2 as well. The 49ers pass defense was by no means terrible last week, but they didn’t exactly shine either. Kirk Cousins threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns against them in his first-ever start under center as a Viking. San Francisco also didn’t generate much in the way of a consistent pass rush, although, 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner did have 2.5 sacks. And that is something of a concern, given that the middle of the Lions' offensive line struggled at times last week. Stafford was never sacked by the Jets, but he took some big shots.
A receiving corps consisting of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay provides Stafford with more than enough quality weapons against a good, but not great, 49ers' secondary led by Richard Sherman. Stafford should find plenty of opportunity with his running backs in the passing game this week as well. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook hauled in six receptions for 55 yards against the 49ers last week. Stafford will need a lot more help from the running game in general. Offensive balance is a necessity for Stafford to be at his best in Week 2.
3. The running game
An anemic Detroit ground game has been an issue for far too long. The Lions ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing last season and have not ranked higher than 28th in that department since 2013. In an effort to address this lingering problem, the Lions selected road-grading center Frank Ragnow in the first round of the NFL Draft and added Auburn standout running back Kerryon Johnson in the second round. They also brought in a proven performer in LeGarrette Blount via free agency. Unfortunately, the new-look Detroit rushing attack failed miserably in its first audition, earning just 39 rushing yards on 15 attempts against the Jets. The good news is that there is still hope.
The Lions might be able to get a little something going on the ground in Week 2. Injuries have wreaked havoc on San Francisco’s linebacker corps, and starting middle linebacker Reuben Foster is still serving a suspension. The 49ers' run defense wasn’t terrible in Week 1, giving up 116 rushing yards and no touchdowns against a quality Minnesota ground attack. And rookie Fred Warner filled in admirably at linebacker for the 49ers with 12 tackles. Regardless, the Lions' run game should garner an edge with San Francisco's shortage at linebacker on Sunday.
The 49ers run game took a big hit, losing Jerick McKinnon to an ACL tear in the preseason. However, there are still quality options in place with Alfred Morris and Matt Breida. Morris and Breida combined for just 84 rushing yards last week. But keep in mind that they were facing an unfavorable matchup against a very stingy Vikings' run defense.
The Week 2 matchup appears far more promising for San Francisco's ground game. Jets running backs Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell combined for 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Lions’ leaky run defense in Week 1. Detroit will probably batten down the hatches with a better performance this week. But Morris and Breida should be able to find ample running room en route to a solid day.
Both teams struggled on their way to losses in Week 1. The 49ers were sloppy, but they were facing an uphill battle from the start against a very good Minnesota team on the road. The Lions’ meltdown on Monday night reached almost epic proportions.
It’s probably safe to say that the Lions’ disastrous season opener was nothing more than an anomaly that snowballed out of control. There is nothing in Matt Patricia’s resume to suggest that he is a bad football coach, and the Lions do not lack for talent. I suspect that they will bounce back with a much better performance in Week 2. Unfortunately, it still won’t be good enough to beat San Francisco on the road coming off a short week of practice.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Lions 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.