49ers look to start season on winning note: Five burning questions for week 1

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) drops back next to running back Josh Hokit (40) against the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL preseason football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The San Francisco 49ers travel to Detroit to open their 2021 campaign at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon when they take on the Lions. Sunday’s game will mark the third time the two teams have met to open the season in the Motor City since 1981. The previous two matchups were split with Detroit winning in 1981 and San Francisco winning in 1984. Those two seasons may ring a bell, as each would end with the 49ers hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

This looks to be a lopsided affair. The oddsmakers have San Francisco near the top of the NFC while the Lions are at the bottom.

The Lions have won only 14 games over the last three seasons, and are led by a new head coach, Dan Campbell. Campbell has completely revamped the coaching staff, and along with the new general manager, Brad Holmes did the same to the Detroit roster.

Among the key changes was trading Matthew Stafford to the Rams in exchange for Jared Goff. In addition to the move of quarterback, the Lions added running back Jamaal Williams from the Packers and drafted offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round.

With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at the five burning questions that will likely determine the outcome on Sunday:

1. Can Kyle Shanahan figure out week 1?

Kyle Shanahan is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL. For some reason that hasn’t translated to success on opening weekend. Through his 13-year career as an offensive coordinator and head coach Shanahan’s offenses have been able to manage only 19.3 points per game. That number goes down to only 14 during his four seasons at the helm in San Francisco, his offense reaching its highest points total last season with 20 in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Shanahan’s best performance on opening weekend came in 2012 as offensive coordinator with Washington when they defeated New Orleans 40-32 with a rookie quarterback leading the way.

The low point totals from the offense are a big reason why Shanahan has only one opening week victory as a head coach. San Francisco is the more talented team in this matchup, and Shanahan’s offense needs to make sure they don’t give this one away.

2. Can Jimmy Garoppolo figure out week 1?

Just like the head coach, Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled during the opening week during his time in San Francisco. In three starts as a 49er, Garoppolo’s stat line is 52-93, 686 yards with four touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 55.9. That’s awful.

It’s very likely that the only way for San Francisco to lose this game is if they give it away. They need Garoppolo to be smarter with the football than he has been in his previous season-opening performances.

3. Can the 49ers defense continue to own Jared Goff?

The Lions made news this offseason when they sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams in exchange for Jared Goff. This move was one that should help the 49ers, at least in week one.

As a member of the Rams, Goff faced the San Francisco defense two times each season, and the 49ers have dominated the former Cal quarterback recently. Goff is 0-4 in his last four starts against San Francisco, going 78-139, 797 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions and a quarterback rating of only 70.4.

For the Lions to have any chance, Goff needs to be better. The problem is he will be facing a 49er pass rush featuring Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Samson Ebukam. The trio should be able to generate a good amount of pressure on Goff, which he struggles with. Over the last two seasons, Goff has managed a quarterback rating of only 54.4 when facing pressure.

4. Will Kyle Shanahan commit to the running game?

Kyle Shanahan’s offense begins with the running game which makes it odd that his play-calling on the opening week during his time with the 49er has been very pass heavy. In the four contests, Shanahan’s run the ball roughly on only roughly 40% of the plays.

For the 49ers to be successful on Sunday, the offense needs to be closer to an even 50-50 pass-run split.

By committing to the run, Shanahan will be utilizing the strength of the San Francisco offense. The offensive line is much better at run blocking than pass blocking, and the 49ers have a strong group of running backs that can handle the load. Grinding the game out on the ground may not always be exciting, but this will give the team its best chance to win.

5. How will the defense fill the gaps?

With Javon Kinlaw and Emmanuel Moseley not likely to play on Sunday, the depth of the 49ers’ defense will be tested early. To make the challenge even greater, backup defensive tackle Kevin Givens is likely to miss the game as well.

If Kinlaw does miss the game, look for Kentavius Street to step into the starting lineup. The 2018 fourth-round pick looked very good throughout training camp and started the final two games last season in place of Kinlaw.

The bigger question will likely be who replaces Moseley in the secondary. If he is unable to go the 49ers can turn to rookie Deommodore Lenoir, Josh Norman, or call Dontae Johnson up from the practice squad.

Lenoir started all three preseason games and looked good. Meanwhile, the 49ers signed Norman on Monday. The 33-year-old veteran missed all of the preseason, however, he kept himself in shape. According to defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Norman is picking the defense up quickly.

49ers 20 Lions 16

This article has 79 Comments

  1. #6 Will this team stay healthy?
    We seem to have a lot of key players being kept out of contention, to keep them healthy?
    Will this be a repeat of last season?

    1. Repeating myself here but the 49ers under this current ownership will never win another Super Bowl. They’re cursed. Verrett out for the year. Maybe Mostert too. And they picked Lance instead of Mac Jones who’s destined to succeed Brady & take the Patriots to the Super Bowl again and again. The dreadful Yorks, and all those associated with them, need to go.

  2. Just a poorly written blog post all around. Hope the improvement comes week by week. Might have to go to Kyle Posey just to get some ‘semblance of a professionally written article/blog post.

    It’s an interesting thing that’s happening in the Bay Area writing sports writing scene. Professionals like Maiocco and Barrows have moved to paywall or cable (pay tv) systems and that’s left a huge void to fill. Unfortunately that void had been filled by hacks like Jose Luis Sanchez III, Peter Panacy, and Jack Hammer.

    1. Hack, your self-evalution and name is spot on. Your post is poorly written e,g:
      -Never start a paragraph with ‘just’ when you use ‘just’ as a conclusion.
      -When expressing your POV, a verb needs a pronoun first person singular as in:”I hope the improvement…..”
      – ‘semblance is not a word, it is simply “semblance”

      Just to name a few of your glaring ‘writing’ mistakes…

        1. If you are not referring to Pseudoangiomatous stromal hyperplasia, then I definitely can get you some sacks!

      1. Dee, not to mention this odd phrasing.

        Unfortunately that void had been filled by hacks like Jose Luis Sanchez III, Peter Panacy, and Jack Hammer.

        had been filled? Does that mean the hacks are no longer filling the void? “…that void has been filled” more clearly conveys your douch-y criticism.

        So Hack, please learn the appropriate usage of verb tenses. You know, especially if you are going on record as criticizing others writing style.

        1. Rib, There is so much wrong with this Hack’s writing that I didn’t want spend the time pointing all of them out. This is where seb would come in handy . Indubitably!
          As far as Jack’s writing style goes, I kinda like it. Not much prose but plenty of facts to peruse. It leaves room for interpretation and for your own opinion.
          Keep It Simple Stupid.
          BTW great quote from Ricky!

    2. “It’s better to create something that others criticize than to create nothing and criticize others.” — Ricky Gervais

      1. +1

        Jack not only puts out interesting content but also attaches his name and face. That requires courage. It doesn’t take much talent to make up a fake internet identity and whine.

  3. My gosh, Jack, shouldn’t the 49ers pass rush be the #1 burning question? Aren’t we all dying to see how healthy Bosa and Ford look (as well as Key and Ebukam)? That’s the number one question, Jack!

    I mean, if this DL is as advertised (inside and out), everything else is moot because if the 49ers pass rush continues to own Jarred Goff, and I think they almost certainly will, the Lions have zero chance tomorrow!

    In fact, if this DL is as good as I think it is, they have the ability to carry this team if they have to, at least until the offense starts firing on all cylinders (Kyle’s offense is notoriously slow starting, mostly because of all of the different moving parts), just like in 2019!

    Take that to the bank!

  4. Can Jimmy Garoppolo figure out week 1?

    I would like to point out that 3 years ago the 49ers played the Vikings and Niner’s WR s were Garcon, Goodwin and Petis. Jimmy actually had a pretty good game and could have won if not for a fumble at the 1 yard line by Morris.
    2 years ago versus the Bucs Jimmy had 2 TD called back due to Oline holding calls. In fact poor Oline play was an anchor for much of the first half of 2019. His receivers were Goodwin and Petis in that first game.
    Last year versus the Cards Jimmy played poorly. No excuses.

    1. My apologies. There will be a live blog next week and the rest of the season. For today you can see my in-game analysis in the twitter feed that is connected to the blog.

  5. I get we just got a touch down and all. But I don’t like this quarterback shuffle at all.

    If Lance is good enough in the red zone, he’s good enough the other 80 yards.

    Conversely if Lance isn’t good enough for the other 80 yards, give Garoppolo the job.

    Stick with one.

    1. Lance needs NFL game snaps. Heck he needs football snaps period. Where else would you have him getting them? Victory formation?

  6. Watching them open up gaping holes in the middle of the DLine is not a good look.

    Let’s hope they can make an adjustment.

  7. This QB substitution is forcing Jimmy to take every snap seriously – 7 for 7 so far.

    There is no reason we shouldn’t be scoring 40 points a game .- Teams average around 11 or 12 possessions per game – 5 TDs should be easy

        1. Dinks into the flat isn’t going to help when Lions are down by this much and unable to slow Niners offense. 2nd half is about to get really ugly for Goff.

      1. But screen names like Gavin Nuisance and Patriot (insurrectionist day) all OK with you?

        Hypocrisy. Already started.

        1. Yeah you must have missed the part early in Jack’s tenure when I asked them to also cut it out. The hypocrisy is all yours.

          I don’t post political garbage trying to bring down a sports blog, but your record speaks for yourself my friend.

            1. Because Jack removed the entire thread from 1.6 (because it was political). Why is that too hard to understand?

              1. Well good for him. If he really wanted to keep the blog politics clean he’d remove all postings from blatantly political screen names. His call though.

                I’ve always been consistent in my stance that sports and politics are inseparable so I’m not going to whine about the odd political post. Still I’ll only respond, never initiate.

  8. Is Ward injured? On several big plays he’s waited for the ball carrier to come to him, and on this last one completely missed on the tackle. Not like Ward at all, as sure-handed as a tackler as they come.

    1. Hey Nuisance, candelabra supposedly told you to knock it off and quit bringing politics into a sports blog. Why do you insist?

  9. Verrett might be done. No contact, lower leg injury, and only speculating, but that did NOT look good.

    Hope for the best, but the man was crying going into the locker room. Shame.

    Ward is also out.

  10. Have to wonder why we still have issues running out of gas in the 4th quarter. No pash rush. Same old 49ers from the Super Bowl. Completely gassed late.

    Bosa is looking totally gassed.

  11. Verrett likely torn ACL. Maybe his last down as a 49er, and quite possibly as an NFL player. :-(

  12. I got so tired last week , hearing that anyone can be a great run stopper. Well after today maybe some of you will finally admit that Kinlaw fills a highly important role that very few are able to fill. Kinlaw does a remarkable job clogging the middle on 1st and 2nd down creating 2nd/3rd and long situations. Kinlaw is very good at what he does and they have no one on this team who can fill his role. Verrett going down is bad it looks like its going to be Mosley and Lenior at the corners. Looks like Sherm is coming back.

    1. OC: It’s a good point. The wide nine exacerbates the need for run stoppers with a wide range given that the gaps between lineman are huge. But I still wished the team could have kept Buckner. Armstead is way overpaid for what he provides, imo.

    2. Not just anyone can be a run stopper… it’s just a much easier skill set to find. Thats why you don’t draft a DT in the first that can only be a run stopper. Kinlaw is a big, explosive athlete who can be a good pass rusher… but he also needs to be in order to live up to that draft selection.

      That said, most of the other interior linemen are undersized for this type of front.

      1. I’m not so sure if Kinlaw has a skill set that is easy to find. Very few DT’s draw consistent double teams on running plays like Kinlaw did in the 2nd half of last season. imho

  13. Initial thoughts:

    1. Maiocco confirms that Shanaha has been in touch with Sherman. Sherman is old but still better than #27
    2. We dominated for 50 minutes and played sloppy for 10. How many times does Kittle mishandle an onside kick and Deebo fumble in a clutch situation.
    3. Where was Aiyuk? Punished for the drops during preseason?
    4. Why was Sermon a healthy scratch?
    5. We are deep at RB. Congrats to Mitchell and Hasty.
    6. Hat tip to Jimmy. He had a solid day and remained composed as the end of the game.

  14. Rollo,
    From what I have heard Aiyuk’s hammy isn’t 100% so they wanted to be careful and they thought that Sherfield had earned a chance. Sermon was healthy but they thought that at this point Mitchell and Hasty are just better. I’m sure we will see our share of Sermon next week.

  15. Can’t believe I lost the $5 I bet for the Niners to cover the spread. I’m looking at you, Ryans!

    1. Man that’s a tough loss. Right up there with the Verrett ACL.

      Thoughts and prayers, my friend. :-)

  16. Verrett out for the year. Maybe Mostert too. And they picked Lance instead of Mac Jones who’s destined to succeed Brady & take the Patriots to the Super Bowl again and again.

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