Game-planning in the NFL is all about matchups. It is like playing chess -- only in this case, the chess pieces are football players.
How does Detroit match up against San Francisco?
Detroit is seven-point underdogs: Will the Lions be able to cover that spread?
The chess masters in this one will be Detroit defensive coordinator, Aaron Glenn, vs. the play-calling wizardry of San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Glenn is a new defensive coordinator, with a strong defensive background -- both as a player and assistant coach. Shanahan, meanwhile, is widely regarded as someone who is highly adept schematically at creating mismatches.
This preseason, Shanahan had been busy creating a gameday advantage by installing a two-QB system, alternating veteran QB Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie QB Trey Lance. But, that will have to wait, as Lance is inactive for this game with a hand injury.
It leaves Garoppolo under center, who is most effective at working the intermediate parts of the field.
San Francisco has offensive weapons all over the place, with receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Mohamed Sanu, who is best in the red zone. Shanahan really likes reserve Jalen Hurd, too. But, Hurd had a tough time hanging onto the ball this preseason.
The 49ers' featured back is Raheem Mostert, a vicious, inside-out runner with good hands.
Look for San Francisco to immediately target George Kittle and to attack Detroit's new 3-4 defensive philosophy (three down linemen and four linebackers). Kittle will be drawing coverage from Detroit OLB Trey Flowers, who has spent the past couple seasons as a 4-3 rush end. While Flowers is a good athlete, it has been a while since he last played the "Jack" LB spot in New England (a player who specializes in rushing the QB and dropping into coverage). Flowers will draw help from safeties Tracy Walker and Will Harris, but this matchup by itself could make or break the game.
It will also be tough for Detroit to get heat on Garoppolo, because the Lions' front seven does not match up well against San Francisco's offensive line.
Detroit's two best pass-rushers are Flowers and fellow OLB Romeo Okwara, and they will be drawing veteran stalwart and left tackle Trent Williams and a good young player in right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Detroit's only real hope of applying any heat will be to blitz, and that is not advisable against Shanahan.
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New Lions signal-caller Jared Goff is the headliner for Detroit on the other side of the ball, and the two key matchups here will be the two Oregon guys against the two Ohio State guys.
San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa and Lions left tackle Taylor Decker are Ohio State guys, and 49ers DE Arik Armstead and Lions right tackle Penei Sewell are Oregon guys.
Bosa can flat out wreck a game, and new 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will move him and Armstead, who is a big power guy, back and forth at both ends.
If Detroit is going to stay in the game and keep those guys off Goff, it's going to have to pound the rock. Fortunately for Detroit's sake, that is what new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn loves to do.
Detroit matches up well in the interior of the line, but it still will need to find an answer for 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner, who can also blitz.
No question, new Lions RB Jamaal Williams thrives on physicality and if he can maintain a decent average, it will open up the ability for Goff to go play-action, where the real test will come for the Lions' young receivers. Detroit could get something going here, because San Francisco does not have elite corners.
49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is also drawing a tough matchup, going up against Detroit TE and Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson.
The Lions will not cover the spread, as they could get beat by as many as 14-17 points. Detroit does not have the personnel or scheme to deal with a team like San Francisco.
The Lions' best chance is to keep the game close. However, if the 49ers are able to pick up large chunks of yardage often, it will spell trouble, because Detroit does not have the offensive firepower to match. Look for Detroit to play a lot of zone defense in pass coverage, to try to keep everything in front of it.
Hopes are high in Detroit. However, this game will be a real measuring stick, revealing where this team is really at and what Lions fans can expect this season.
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