I watched the first part of the 49ers-Lions game to get a sense of what to expect when we play them this week.
I didn't watch the whole game as the 49ers clearly took their foot off the gas once they built a huge lead, so I don't know if there is much to gain from watching at that point. I stopped after the long TD pass to Samuel that put them up 38-10.
My initial thought after watching is that Jared Goff isn't very good. There was one drop, but he missed a lot of open receivers despite not being under a lot of pressure.
But even with Goff being bad, the Lions still moved the ball well in the first half. They had their first drive derailed by a failed fourth down conversion, then got the ball right back and didn't move it at all before missing a field goal. Those two stalled drives were more Lions incompetence than 49ers brilliance as they only made one really good defensive play.
After the 49ers scored, the Lions marched right back down the field to answer. They also scored on their next drive, but it was only a field goal and the 49ers were scoring touchdowns.
On three of their first four drives they were able to move the ball, but the problem was that the Lions defense was really bad. So it was 21-10, and then Goff threw a pick six, which was actually caused by a good pass rush, and then the game was essentially over. Those were the only two really good plays I noticed on the defensive side of the ball for the 49ers in the first half. The rest were either wins by the Lions offense or bad throws by Goff.
The Lions were able to run the ball really well, particularly on inside runs, and I expect us to have similar success, especially with the threat of the qb run that Goff doesn't offer.
They are going to be missing a starting corner (Verrett) and a starting linebacker (Greenlaw.) In addition, another starting corner (Moseley) and a starting DT (Kinlaw) have been injured, though both are practicing today (Friday.)
It seems like we are in good position to both run the ball against them and take advantage of their banged up secondary. But we have to avoid making mistakes that will allow their excellent DEs and LBs (even without Greenlaw, they are good) to make plays against us. Unlike last week, when the Falcons were content to allow us to control the ball and complete short passes, I think we have to go deep this game to keep the safeties backed up from the line of scrimmage. I think the short screens plays that worked really well against the Falcons will be a lot tougher to execute, and that the passing game needs to be more vertical to attack the weakness of the defense. This feels like a Devonta Smith catching a lot of intermediate passes and Reagor/Watkins seeing some deep shots type of game.
We should be able to throw against their corners. Goff had opportunities, but he missed them. But he also had a worse receiving corps. Hockenson is their only decent target in the pass game. It's not often that we can say our receivers are better than another team's, but in this case it is obviously true.
The 49ers were impressive on offense, but the Lions are pretty bad. Garappolo ran a steady diet of play action pass rollouts that seemed to connect on every opportunity, and the run game kept rolling even after Mostert's injury.
But there is a pretty easy equation to stopping them, which is to stop the run game and take away Kittle and Samuel, which is obviously easier said than done. Brandon Aiyuk was a non-factor in the pass game last week, and it remains to be seen if he is 100 percent. The 49ers used a second tight end or a fullback on more than 60 percent of their plays, and I think this benefits us as I like TJ Edwards in those matchups.
Can we win this game? Personally, I think this is a must-win game. The 49ers are banged up. They are healthy on offense (to me, Mostert is a product of the system) but their defense is missing a lot. Even if they get a few guys back, it remains to be seen how much they will be able to play. And the Eagles have to be able to take advantage of facing rookie/inexperienced/injured/over-the-hill corners.
But this is a sterner test. Even at half-strength, this defense is better than the Falcons. They aren't going to miss tackles on screen plays or fall for misdirection. They will make you pay if you get careless with the ball, and their pass rush is formidable.
At the same time, our healthy defense should be better than their healthy offense. They drafted a qb in the first round for a reason, and the reason wasn't that Garappolo is elite. They win with scheme, not talent. And I will be disappointed if we can't shut them down. The Lions were simply outclassed, but our defense should be much better. They have a lot of the same faces from our game last year, with the obvious differences being at QB, RB and C. But I don't think their RB is an upgrade, and they didn't run well last year. And the team has already made its position clear on Garappolo. We have also upgraded our LB position significantly from Gerry and Riley last year.
If we win, I won't be too excited. This is a banged-up team, and we should beat them. At full strength, they 49ers are probably better than us. But they are missing a lot, especially if some of their better players like Kinlaw are limited.
In fact, we are getting a lot of favorable breaks right now. We are healthy and our next two opponents are not. A 3-0 start, once a pipe dream, is now realistic. But to get to 3-0, you first have to win the second game, which is the immediate challenge.