New-look Lions welcome healthy 49ers
The Dan Campbell era kicks off Sunday afternoon when the Detroit Lions and new quarterback Jared Goff open the 2021 season against the visiting San Francisco 49ers.
The matchup pairs Goff, a San Francisco Bay Area product, against a former NFC West rival he faced eight times in the last five seasons, going 3-5 in those games.
Goff is expected to go head-to-head for a fourth time with 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who survived a challenge from Trey Lance in the preseason to retain the starting job on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Garoppolo has won all three previous duels with Goff, including a 34-31 shootout at home in Week 16 of the 2019 season that helped springboard the 49ers to a Super Bowl meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Jimmy has had as sharp of an offseason as he’s had since I’ve been around him,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of the seven-year veteran, who missed 10 of 16 games last season because of a sprained right ankle. “I feel that, he feels that, I think our team feels that. And so, I feel he’s in as good of a spot as he has been going into a season.”
Shanahan hasn’t let the Lions know if they’ll be seeing Lance on Sunday. The No. 3 pick of the 2021 draft suffered a chipped bone in his right index finger in San Francisco’s final preseason game and has been only a limited participant in practice this week.
The 49ers otherwise expect to be at full strength, with Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert, tight end George Kittle and defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford all given green lights to return from 2020 injuries that transformed the defending NFC champions into a 6-10, fourth-place club.
One of the benefits of a last-place landing is a watered-down schedule the following year, which will result in the 49ers drawing five fellow fourth-place finishers this season, starting with the Lions and Philadelphia Eagles.
Detroit has made significant changes since its 5-11 campaign, its third straight losing season under Matt Patricia, and surely since the last time it faced San Francisco in September of 2018, a game the 49ers won 30-27.
Campbell, who will be making his head-coaching debut after having served as a New Orleans Saints assistant for five seasons, has brought in not only a new quarterback, but also a new defensive scheme.
“Obviously there has been a lack of success around here for a long time,” Goff noted. “We hope to change that. We hope to change that quickly. It doesn’t happen overnight, but every day is a new day to get better. Keep doing the right things, eventually the tide will change.”
The Lions’ defense ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed last season, 30th in passing yards and dead-last in total yards.
Cornerback Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 pick of the 2020 draft, is healthy to start this season after having been able to start just six games last year due to injuries. And the Lions are hoping this year’s top pick, tackle Penei Sewell, helps keep the offense on the field longer … and that in turn flips time of possession after the club ranked just 29th in that category a year ago.
The 49ers have won six of their last nine season openers. The last time they opened at Detroit, they won 30-27 in 1984 to begin a 15-1 regular season en route to a Super Bowl championship.
The Lions have lost their last two Week 1 home openers, to the New York Jets in 2018 in Patricia’s debut and to the Chicago Bears last season.
–Field Level Media