Things to Watch When the Detroit Lions Play the 49ers

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Coming Off A Surprise Blowout Loss To The New York Jets On Monday Night, The Detroit Lions Look To Right The Ship Against The San Francisco 49ers.

The loss to the New York Jets in primetime on Monday night was about as bad a loss as I can remember in all of my years as a Detroit Lions fan. We’ve already seen fans calling for the head of Matt Patricia, calling for the Detroit Lions to trade their franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, and advocating for firing their general manager Bob Quinn.

I think that it is safe to say that the vast majority of the fanbase was let down by the Detroit Lions performance on Monday night. Rightfully so. The Lions performed poorly in just about every aspect of the game, and it was tough to single out individual positive performances.

It’s a new day when the Detroit Lions face off against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and a lot has to change for this game to be more successful than the last.

Week one of the regular season always draws overreactions from fans, and the Lions gave fans a lot to overreact to. A strong showing in week two could go a long way toward easing some of the fan base’s completely justified concerns. Week two is going to show the fans a lot about this team’s identity and give fans a better idea of where this team is headed this year.

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How Do The Detroit Lions Handle Adversity

A loss like the one that the Detroit Lions suffered on Monday night can completely derail a season. It’s tough to go into a game with any semblance of confidence after getting completely dominated in all facets of the game like the Lions were by the New York Jets. Lack of confidence tends to snowball into self-destruction.

The way that the Detroit Lions carry themselves against the San Francisco 49ers will tell us a lot about this team.

There have been reports that not all players are happy with the way that head coach Matt Patricia is running things.

Glover Quin makes sure to stress that this is how it always is with a new coach, but after a brutal loss like we witnessed on Monday I think that the way that individual players, as well as the team as a whole, rises to the occasion will give us a much better idea about what direction this team is headed.

Perhaps more important than how the individual players handle adversity is how head coach Matt Patricia handles his failure from week one. How did he handle the team during the week of practice following the crushing lost? What adjustments does he make? Does he learn from his mistakes?

The way that Matt Patricia recovers from his first loss as the head coach of the Detroit Lions is by far the most interesting thing that I will be following in the week two match-up against the San Francisco 49ers.

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Does Matthew Stafford Bounce Back?

To me, the clear answer to this question is yes. We’ve seen enough of Matthew Stafford to know that he is a competitor and that he is going to do everything in his power to carry this team and sometimes limp his way to victory.

Matthew Stafford had an abysmal performance on Monday night against the New York Jets. It was one of the worst starts that he has had in his entire time as the quarterback of the Detroit Lions. He’s bounced back from bad games before, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is both mentally and physically capable of coming out on Sunday and dominating the San Francisco 49ers.

The question I have is whether there is something else going on.

Predictability of the offensive play calling has been an issue for some time now, and reports were that the New York Jets knew the Detroit Lions plays before the snap.

Whether it is play calling, just a bad game, or something else – probably a combination of a lot of things – Matthew Stafford needs to rebound this week. Without Matthew Stafford playing to his potential, this is going to be a long year for Detroit Lions fans. Stafford clearly had a poor performance against the New York Jets, and he is going to need to play better against the San Francisco 49ers, but I can’t help but wonder if there were other factors that played into Matthew Stafford having as atrocious a performance as he had on Monday.

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How Does Ziggy Ansah Look Following His Injury?

Ziggy Ansah started the game against the New York Jets on Monday with a very strong showing. He showed flashes of his old healthy self with a sack early in the game. Unfortunately, healthy Ziggy Ansah didn’t last long. He left with a shoulder injury and did not return.

It appears that Ziggy avoided any sort of serious injury, but Ansah has played through nagging injuries before, and he usually looks like a shell of the player that he is when he is healthy. This shoulder injury concerns me less than an ankle injury in terms of explosiveness, but it will probably affect him in some ways.

I’m interested to see, if he plays, whether Ziggy Ansah shows up closer to his elite pass rushing potential or is the ineffective and injury-battered player that we have seen in the past.

Many fans over the offseason assumed that the Detroit Lions would struggle to rush the passer this year. If Ziggy Ansah can’t play to his potential, that is a huge hit to the Detroit Lions in terms of pass rushing potential.

Getting pressure on the quarterback is going to be one of the Detroit Lions major keys to success on defense this year, and they are going to need all they can get out of their top pass rusher.

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Does Kerryon Johnson See More Touches?

Kerryon Johnson was used sparingly in the loss to the New York Jets on Monday night.

A lot of this had to do with game script. The Lions were behind for the majority of the game and were forced into a lot of long-distance conversion situations. This resulted in a lot of playing time for the Detroit Lions primary receiving back Theo Riddick.

Kerryon Johnson looked good while he was in the game and looks like a promising piece of the Detroit Lions future, but fans want to see more. I can’t say that I blame them. His incredibly light workload isn’t as surprising to me when you take into account the flow of the game, but ideally, the Detroit Lions put themselves in a far better position to run the football this week against the San Francisco 49ers.

I’m interested to see how the Detroit Lions utilize the skill sets of their different options at running back in a more neutral game script. Does LeGarrette Blount remain the Detroit Lions primary early-down back? Do the Detroit Lions start to work Kerryon Johnson more into the plan on clear passing downs?

I understand the idea of every back having their role, but the best teams get their best players on the field. Obviously the coaching staff has had a far better look at their second-round draft pick, and they obviously know their players better than we do, but from everything that we have seen from Kerryon Johnson, it’s hard to say that he doesn’t appear to be the most talented back on the roster by a wide margin.

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Can the Special Teams Clean Up Their Play Against the 49ers?

Special teams were a serious issue against the New York Jets. Between snaps, missed field goals, issues fielding punts, and atrocious punt coverage, the entire special teams unit for the Detroit Lions was a mess.

Fans usually focus on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, but special teams is a big part of football games. A punt return for a touchdown can change the entire course of a game.

A missed field goal takes points off the board and gives the opponent good field position. It’s essentially as detrimental as a turnover.

Poor snaps lead to missed field goals.

These are all things that fans take for granted until things go wrong.

The Detroit Lions usually have a solid special teams unit led by one of the league’s best kickers in Matt Prater. The Detroit Lions need to return to the level of consistency that they have seen in years past.

This team doesn’t look like a team that is going to blow teams out and run away with games. The little stuff matters. Special teams matters. Field position matters and the Detroit Lions need to make sure that they get points at every opportunity.

Judging a special teams unit off of one game can lead to fluky results. I want to see the Detroit Lions come out and return to form in this area and ease our concerns about the unit as a whole against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

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How Do The Detroit Lions Handle George Kittle?

The Detroit Lions have long struggled to cover opposing tight ends. San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle is a better pass-catching tight end than anything that the Detroit Lions had to face against the New York Jets.

Smart game planning, something that we can probably expect from Kyle Shanahan, would suggest that the San Francisco 49ers will attempt to exploit the Detroit Lions weaknesses in coverage from the linebacker position. Jarrad Davis has never been great in coverage and doesn’t look like he has improved much in that area over the offseason.

What is Matt Patricia going to do to try and take the tight end position away from the San Francisco 49ers and where do they have to sacrifice coverage to make it happen?

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Will The Detroit Lions Wide Receivers Have A Better Game?

Matthew Stafford’s poor play took most of the blame for the loss on Monday night, as it should. The Detroit Lions wide receivers didn’t do a whole lot to help the situation.

If Matthew Stafford bounces back, which I expect he will, he is still going to need solid play out of his pass catchers. He did not have that on Monday.

The Detroit Lions were credited with five drops, and there were at least a couple of other passes that were borderline.

Outside of second-year wide receiver Kenny Golladay, I think that it would be a stretch to say that any of the Detroit Lions wide receivers had a solid game against the Jets. That needs to change on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. If Matthew Stafford plays as poorly as he did on Monday, it is obviously going to be near impossible to win games, but when he is playing well, the Detroit Lions can’t afford drops and miscommunications from their receivers.

Despite the heavy investment in the running game, the Detroit Lions are still a passing team, and passing teams do not generally succeed with poor play from their pass catchers. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Theo Riddick are all very talented players, and I expect them to bounce back and have a much more efficient game on Sunday.

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How Does Matt Patricia Scheme Against Jimmy Garoppolo

Matt Patricia had a prime opportunity to demonstrate his defensive scheming against the New York Jets and their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.

I expected Patricia to run a lot of complex coverages and exotic blitzes to try and confuse the young quarterback and make his life difficult. After a pick six on his first attempt as an NFL quarterback, Sam Darnold was off to the races and handled everything that Matt Patricia threw at him with relative ease.

Whether this deserves to be a knock on Matt Patricia or an achievement for the young Sam Darnold remains to be seen.

Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t a rookie, but he is relatively inexperienced as a starter. Garoppolo played in New England when Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator, so it is very likely that Garoppolo has seen most of what Patricia is going to send at him. I’m interested to see what Matt Patricia does to adjust his game plan and try and create confusion for the inexperienced San Francisco 49ers quarterback on Sunday.

Thanks for checking out the article everyone. Go Lions! You can follow me on Twitter @Lanny1925 and be sure to join the community on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Sean Lanigan
I love fantasy football, fantasy baseball, music, books, video games, and all things nerd. I'm a big football fan and a bigger Detroit Lions fan. I was born in Michigan but have spent the vast majority of my life living in Viking and Packer country. If you are a Lions fan in Minnesota, hit me up, and let's watch some football.