After spending five seasons in the NFC West, quarterback Jared Goff has a pretty good idea of what will work – and more specifically, what won’t – against the San Francisco 49ers’ defense.
“Obviously you want to run the ball,” said Goff, who was traded by the Rams to the Detroit Lions in March in a blockbuster deal that saw Matthew Stafford sent to Los Angeles.
“You want to be downhill. Staying efficient on first down is going to be important. Staying efficient, staying out of third-and-long situations where those guys can pin their ears back. I think that’s pretty standard for every week but definitely specific with these guys and the pass rush they can bring.”
That’ll be easier said than done for a Lions team undergoing yet another rebuild under new general manager Brad Holmes and first-year coach Dan Campbell.
Detroit is among the youngest teams in the NFL with an average age of 24.6 and Goff, 26, will be counted on to provide leadership to an offense that ranked 20th in the NFL last season — even with Stafford.
The Marin County native and former Cal standout is getting a fresh start after his up-and-down tenure with the Rams came to an end six months ago. Goff was a Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018 and led Los Angeles to the Super Bowl three years ago. But he has also thrown 29 interceptions the last two seasons.
“I was disappointed for two minutes, and then I spoke to these guys on the phone, and it was like a breath of fresh air,” Goff said after the trade. “What I feel every day being here so far is how badly this city wants and needs to win, and wants and needs their football team to win.”
Sunday, Goff will play San Francisco for the ninth time in his NFL career. In eight previous games against the Niners, Goff is 3-5 with 1,580 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Goff’s also been sacked 11 times in his career by the 49ers.
Even though his childhood team has a new defensive coordinator, with Demeco Ryans taking over for Robert Saleh, now the New York Jets head coach, Goff feels the Niners’ overall defensive scheme won’t be radically rebuilt.
“It’s always different (with a new coordinator),” Goff said, “but you’ve got to think that some of the principles for the years they’ve been successful will remain.”
Here’s a closer look at what to expect from the Lions, who are hosting the 49ers for just the third time in the last 25 years.
GAME ESSENTIALS: 49ers (0-0) vs. Lions (0-0) at Ford Field, Sunday, 10 a.m., FOX (Ch. 2). ODDS: 49ers -7.5 (as of Thursday morning).
BIGGEST OFFENSIVE STRENGTH: The offensive line should be key to a Lions team that wants to pound the rock under new coordinator Anthony Lynn. Center Frank Ragnow was a Pro Bowl selection last season and is one of four starters that return. Right tackle Penei Sewell is new, but there were concerns about his pass protection in training camp. Detroit allowed 42 sacks last season, 10th most in the NHL, so establishing the run with backs Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift will be paramount, especially to keep Goff healthy and upright.
BIGGEST OFFENSIVE WEAKNESS: The Lions’ receiving corps is young, to say the least. Last season’s leading receiver, Marvin Jones Jr., is now with Jacksonville. Kenny Golladay, the leader in 2019, is with the Giants. This season, Kalif Raymond, Amon Ra-St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, and Tom Kennedy will be among those trying to pick up the slack. Those five, though, have a combined 36 career NFL catches. Fair to say, then, that tight end T.J. Hockenson will become a favorite target of Goff. Hockenson had 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 16 games last season.
OFFENSIVE X-FACTOR: One wonders if Swift can turn into a greater weapon for the Lions in his second pro season. Swift had a stellar career at Georgia from 2017 to 2019 and the Lions spent a second-round draft pick on him last year. As a rookie, he combined for close to 900 total yards rushing and receiving.
BIGGEST DEFENSIVE STRENGTH: Even though the Lions had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL last season, and an atrocious defense overall, their defensive line could be a bright spot this year. Michael Brockers, who had five sacks and 51 tackles in 15 games for the Rams last season, brings some needed experience to a unit that also features 2021 draft picks Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill.
BIGGEST DEFENSIVE WEAKNESS: Like their receiving corps, the Lions’ secondary is mostly young and inexperienced. Former starting cornerback Desmond Trufant is now with New Orleans, so safety Dean Marlowe, who spent the last three seasons with Buffalo, is now the elder statesman of a secondary that includes rookies Ifeatu Melifonwu, A.J. Parker and Jerry Jacobs.
DEFENSIVE X-FACTOR: Rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round pick out of Purdue, has looked good in training camp and preseason games. He’ll likely be needed to play a big role for the Lions right away and will have his hands full Sunday.
Contributed by local news sources