Lions vs. 49ers
Can Stafford rebound from his Week One performance immediately?
If there is a harder team to analyze in the NFL at this point, then I would be shocked. The Detroit Lions came out last week and were obliterated by the full force of the New York Jets, a team that is expected to be on the receiving end of obliteration much more often than not. The players on the Jets came out and explained after the game that they knew the Lions’ playbook, including snap counts and route choice, which is perhaps the best possible news you could hear if you own a Lions offensive player.
The answer is probably yes, in this case. QB Matthew Stafford took a couple of rough hits in Week One that have him with probable status heading into Week Two, but they don’t seem to be hampering his ability to play. Outside of injury, the main question is how quickly he can rebound from the devastating four interception performance. In this decade, Stafford has only had two other four interception games. Both games were followed by 330+ yard, 3+ TD performances, although both follow-up performances were at home and he threw two picks again in both games.
The precedent is there for Stafford to blow up again, and, if the defense from the first week is any indicator, he’ll need to throw the ball plenty to keep the Lions in the game. The final issue to consider is match-up. The San Francisco 49ers look decent on the defensive side of the ball. DT DeForest Buckner is the animal on the line everyone expected him to be, and the pressure on QB Kirk Cousins during Week One was a constant animal. However, as Stafford has gotten it done week in and week out against pressure his entire career, I don’t expect that to be a major issue against him this week, either.
Will all three wide receivers maintain fantasy relevant roles?
This is probably the most important questions, as owners of WR Kenny Golladay were rejoicing last week while WR Marvin Jones owners were questioning why they spent such high draft capital and probably a starting roster spot in Week One on him. Meanwhile, WR Golden Tate owners are sitting by themselves off in match-up-proof land pretending that 15 targets every week is a guarantee.
The answer is, unfortunately, maybe. This is the main point I’m going to be looking at in Week Two, with a continued eye on Golladay’s snap percentage, Jones’ deep targets, and where Tate is lining up in the formation. However, after Week One, I’m leaning more toward them all being useable each week, including Week Two.
Last week, all three receivers lined up in over 80% of offensive snaps, with Golladay shockingly pacing the crowd at 93%. This is amazing news for Golladay owners, as being on the field in a Stafford-led offense is an almost guarantee for WR fantasy relevance. Tate and Jones should share similar benefits.
I’m not worried about Tate this week, he’s a clear start in most leagues. I am worried about the boom-bust potential of Jones, and the small sample size on Golladay. New head coaches seem to try and heavily out-scheme in their first few games instead of relying on talent, and the 49ers surrendered far more yardage and production to short passes to the slot and the running back. Minnesota Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, a receiver that may be more talented than everyone in the league (let alone Golladay), only had a productive day due to a touchdown catch on a perfect pass. It would be frustrating to watch the same game come out of Golladay if he doesn’t catch a touchdown this week.
Overall, I would give Jones and Golladay a tentative start status this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both end up having a very successful game, but the bust potential is there against this defense.
What’s going on in the Lions backfield?
It says a lot that in Detroit home leagues the average draft price of RB Kerryon Johnson was seemingly far later than in general consensus. The home crowd usually overdrafts their own players, but Lions fans everywhere can tell you that the Lions backfield just isn’t a place you want to put fantasy faith in. I hope you read last week’s preview of this game and chose not to start Johnson Week One, and will continue to leave him on your bench this week. Johnson isn’t going to explode into fantasy relevance, it will be a slow and painful road for owners.
RB LeGarrette Blount was the first running back in the offense on most drives, and has returned fully to practice after injuring his shoulder during the game against the Jets. The assumption is that he will continue in that role, as Johnson didn’t put up any incredible stats last week. However, Blount is still unstartable due to being part of a timeshare in the Lions offense.
The only potentially startable running back here is Theo Riddick in PPR and half-PPR leagues, who had an uninspiring performance in Week One but was targeted seven times. The Vikings game plan against the 49ers last week leaned heavily on targeting the running back and it worked incredibly well. Riddick is maybe the best receiving back in the NFL, to the point that many Detroit fans expect him to move into Tate’s spot heading into 2019 if Tate isn’t re-signed. I would expect him to have similar success with his targets that RB Dalvin Cook had last week, which would make him a solid floor flex play in most PPR leagues.
Will the Tight Ends st-
No. Stop asking about Lions tight ends.
Is Matt Prater still Matt Greater?
Yep. Every kicker in the history of the league has had a bad game before. They’ll still ask him to kick from 50+, he’ll still make a good portion of those and most of his kicks from below 50. This isn’t an easy defense by any means, but the Lions will still likely be able to move the ball on them enough to secure some field goal attempts. He’s not a great play this week, but he’s viable. Note that the San Francisco defense tightened up in the red zone on multiple occasions in Week One, which is a great sign for an opposing kicker.
The Lions D/ST… ?
I’m staying very far away from them this week and for a good while. It doesn’t really matter what happens this week, in my opinion. Letting the Jets hang 40+ on you at home is a wound that takes awhile to heal.
Overall, if this week goes pretty well on offense on the road, I’m willing to start throwing out the Week One tape. It’s doubtful that there will ever be proof that the Jets had the Lions’ signals, but playing significantly better against a better defense on the road is a good sign that it might have been true.
Will the real Jimmy Garoppolo please stand up?
A lot of critics came out of the weeds after QB Jimmy Garoppolo struggled in Week 1 on the road in Minnesota. As discussed in the Game Review, dropped passes didn’t help Garoppolo’s final stat line, even if it should be acknowledged that he didn’t play all that well overall. Moving forward, the question is whether or not he can rebound against a Detroit Lions team traveling across the country on a short week after being beaten to a pulp by the New York Jets on Monday night. Head coach Matt Patricia had to answer for allegations that the Jets’ defenders knew the Lions’ offensive plays before they happened, in addition to reports of discontent amongst veterans over his attempt to bring rule of law over from New England. Put simply, this is a team in prime position for Jimmy G to exploit, especially as they struggle with their new defensive scheme under Patricia. The Lions got torched by Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold, and HC Kyle Shanahan should be able to scheme the Niners to victory behind a productive day for Garoppolo. This Detroit defense also gave up the 6th most yards to opposing passers last year and were in the bottom half of the league in sacks. None of this figures to improve this week with DE Ziggy Ansah out and the fact they let Darnold throw for almost 200 yards on just 21 passes. One thing the Lions continue to do well is pick off the quarterback (top 5 in INTs last year, plus a pick-6 against Darnold last week), so they remain aggressive and opportunistic. Expect Shanahan’s gameplan to account for that, and plan on a solid return to form for Garoppolo, who should post QB1 numbers in this game with the run game still finding its way.
Is this run ready to take off yet?
The 49ers backfield might be better suited for a wait-and-see approach. RBs Alfred Morris and Matt Breida split snaps pretty evenly last week, and with the team playing from behind for most of the game, neither one of them really shined in the passing game. Garoppolo doesn’t really target the RBs much in the passing game, a rather odd development in Shanahan’s scheme which has historically relied on backs catching the ball, until you realize that the 49ers haven’t had a proficient pass-catching running back they can rely on since Garoppolo arrived. Tailback Jerick McKinnon was supposed to fill that void, but with his season-ending injury, Garoppolo seems keen on pushing the ball downfield more with his receivers or TE George Kittle instead. It’s not that Garoppolo won’t target his running backs, but you probably won’t see Breida or Morris catch the volume that other backs have seen in this system in the past. Thus, you’re looking at a full-blown committee in which neither back was able to separate himself last week, with limited pass-catching opportunities for both. Consider both players low-end RB2s or RB3s against Detroit.
If Marquise Goodwin sits, who will be the preferred target in the passing game?
So far, Garoppolo has not been able to establish any chemistry with WR Pierre Garcon. They may use this game to get that connection going, but it would be surprising if it led to high volume against Detroit. FB Kyle Juszczyk remains a dart throw for a red zone TD or surprise big play or two, but Garoppolo will most likely lean heavily on his TE Kittle, who would be the biggest beneficiary if Goodwin were to miss the game. Kittle was targeted all over the field in both the short and deep passing game, and he makes for a potentially top-5 TE play this week after receiving nine targets last week, the most on the team, while still posting 5/90 despite dropping two would-be TDs that would have totaled an additional 85 yards. For those willing to gamble, WR Dante Pettis could also have a big game if Goodwin sits (he’s missed practice two straight days thus far). Pettis demonstrated game-breaking ability on his 22-yard TD reception last week. He also out-snapped and out-targeted fellow slot WR Trent Taylor, so he appears to be the most likely receiver to start opposite Garcon if Goodwin misses time. And if that does happen, Lions’ CB Darius Slay will most likely lineup across from Garcon, making Pettis even more appealing.
After a respectable showing against Minnesota’s high-octane offense, should the 49ers defense be considered a streamer after the way the Jets manhandled the Lions?
Probably not. Despite the potential in-house feuding and “signal stealing” that occured on Monday night, the Lions returned OC Jim Bob Cooter, and all the primary skill position players have returned from last season to ensure continuity within the scheme. The Lions will look to rebound in a big way on the road, and any potential vulnerability to recognizable playcalling will almost certainly be fixed before Sunday. The Lions simply possess too much firepower in the passing game with WRs Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and emerging man-among-boys Kenny Golladay, for the 49ers unit to be trusted. QB Matthew Stafford, despite his atrocious week 1 performance, also brings a track record of QB1-level play. Where the 49ers should be successful is their ability to neutralize the Detroit’s rushing attack, as neither Dalvin Cook nor Latavius Murray could muster better than a 3.8 YPC average or more than 42 yards on the ground, respectively, last week. That duo is arguably better than what Detroit will start with the committee of Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount (who looks like a poor fit on the offense), and passing down maven Theo Riddick. This game has sneaky shootout potential, so the 49ers defense isn’t a recommended play, but for those who feel there’s blood in the water after Detroit’s rough open to the season, you can do worse than streaming San Francisco’s defense and hoping the short week and offensive struggles continue.