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NFL Conference Championships Upset Alert: Lions Are On The Prowl

Detroit Lions vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, January 28, 2024 at 6:30 p.m. ET at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara

Detroit's Defensive Kryptonite

My point here is that Detroit has one truly significant weakness on defense and that San Francisco lacks the personnel to exploit it.

Namely, the Lions are terrible at defending mobile quarterbacks.

Two prominent examples of mobile quarterbacks who have plagued Detroit's defense this year are Chicago's Justin Fields and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.

Quarterbacks who pose a significant threat as runners, in addition to posing one as passers, are too much for the Lions to handle.

San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy doesn't pose a threat to Detroit's chances of winning this game, because he is not a quarterback who will beat a defense with his legs.

Detroit's Pass Defense

Now, looking at the stats, it sure looks like a lot of quarterbacks – not just mobile ones – have had their way with Detroit's defense.

To be clear, I like the Lions in this game and am well-aware that they rank 31st at limiting opposing passing yardage.

49ers backers who use this ugly-looking statistic as support are misguided, and here's why.

Detroit subscribes to the old-school philosophy of running the ball and stopping the run.

It believes that it will win as long as the opposing team struggles to run the ball.

Since losing to Chicago with mobile Fields, the Lions have lost one game – by a point on the road in Dallas, and controversially so. Consider the quarterbacks and wide receivers who, during this stretch, have gone off on them.

Minnesota's Nick Mullens exceeded 400 passing yards against them. His star wide receiver Justin Jefferson amassed 141 yards.

Sizzling Matt Stafford threw for 367 yards and Puka Nacua had 181 receiving yards.

Most recently, Baker Mayfield threw for 347 yards and Mike Evans caught eight passes for 147 yards.

Detroit's defense is absorbing tremendous passing performances from quarterbacks and wide receivers that are more or less dangerous than San Francisco's, because the Lions' philosophy says that these passing performances are superficial, though they look great on paper.

Indeed, Detroit's ability to win these games while holding these opponents to the low 20's in scoring suggests that these passing performances are superficial.

Brock Purdy's Outlook

Brock Purdy's numbers might be rather good, and Detroit's defense will be fine with that.

But a tremendous consideration that exists in Detroit's favor is that star wide receiver Deebo Samuel might not play.

Playing with Deebo, the 49ers average over 30 points per game (minus the Week 18 backup game).

In three games without Deebo, the 49ers are 0-3 and averaging 17 points per game.

His status for Sunday's game remains up in the air.

While he might play, the dubiousness of his ability to do so at all suggests that he will be far from 100% if he does play.

Purdy's ability to rely on Deebo will thus be limited with significantly deleterious consequences for his outlook.

Detroit's Run Defense

My key point here is that, especially without a healthy Deebo, Purdy won't pose the same threat through the air that the Lions' recent victims did.

And yet the 49ers won't be able to rely on the ground game to win for them.

This is because Detroit's run defense is elite: the Lions rank second at limiting opposing rush yards and fifth at limiting opposing YPC.

While the Lions do have talented defenders who have measured strongly for their run-stopping – tackle Alim McNeill being one prominent example – the keys to Detroit's success against the run include having good gap discipline and making tackles.

San Francisco's Run Defense

Looking at the surface-level statistics, it looks like San Francisco's run defense is just as good as Detroit's.

49ers backers will want to say that Detroit also wants to rely on its rush attack and that the 49ers' defense looks good on Sunday because it ranks one spot behind Detroit, third, at limiting opposing rush yardage.

But the 49ers' run defense stat line is superficial.

San Francisco's rush defense has benefited from its team enjoying huge leads in many of its games, which required opposing offenses to abandon the run, such that they ended games with few rushing yards.

The metrics indicate that the 49ers' run defense is actually not good.

According to EPA/play, which means estimated points added per play and measures the effect of plays on an offense's probability level of scoring, San Fran's run defense ranks 26th.

Measured in terms of success rate, which is more self-explanatory, the 49ers' run defense ranks 24th.

We already saw last week what teams who can stick to the run – because they are not getting blown out – can do to the 49ers.

Last week, Green Bay running back Aaron Jones amassed 108 rushing yards on 18 carries.

Detroit's Rush Attack

San Francisco will face on Sunday the toughest rush attack that it's seen all year.

Jahmyr Gibbs presents a vicious combination of strength and speed that gives him big-play potential, as evident in the way in which he made Tampa Bay's safety looked silly in space last week, and the ability to help sustain drives consistently.

While Gibbs reached 945 rushing yards on 5.2 YPC last year, fellow running back David Montgomery exceeded 1,000 yards, adding more physicality to the mix that makes him an added weapon in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

This duo will be the most dangerous source of scoring on Sunday that either team will be capable of fielding.

On-Fire Jared Goff

I like Detroit in this game because its offense will also possess the second-most dangerous source of scoring on Sunday in the form of quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff enters Sunday's game in sizzling form: his passer rating in his last three games was 124.5 against Minnesota, 121.8 against the Rams, and 103.5 against Tampa Bay.

He is primed to continue thriving, as he faces a defense plagued by a vulnerable secondary filled with liabilities.

Dealing With San Francisco's Pass Defense

The 49ers want to rely on their pass rush, although the soft zone coverages that they lean on in order to help their vulnerable cornerbacks deflate their sack total.

Goff will need to get the ball out before San Francisco's high-profile pass rushers will attack him.

Chase Young might not get much playing time because he is vulnerable at stopping the run, but edge rusher Nick Bosa will be critical to San Francisco's chances.

But Goff doesn't have to worry about San Francisco's pass rush for two main reasons.

One, he has a great offensive line, one that ranks fourth at limiting its sack rate.

Even with injuries last week and even while facing a blitz-heavy defense, Goff was able to remain upright in the pocket against Tampa Bay.

Two, he will counter the 49ers' pass rushing endeavors with a screen game.

Screens have given the 49ers' defense a lot of problems, and the Lions have plenty of weapons to utilize for them.

Best Bet: Lions +7 at -115 with Bet365 & Lions ML at +265 with Bet365
Terrific stuff.

Some notes:

Detroit has only played one 'true' outdoor game since October 22nd. I am not counting the SoFi game as 'outdoor'.

The games on grass this year:

  • Close in win KC to start the season
  • Blew out GB in September
  • Blown out by BAL in October
  • Comfortable in at TB in October

Goff leads the NFL in many passing categories in the 2h of the season (since Week #10).

With regards to the last handful of games -- those Minnesota game -- Mullens was out there gunslinging -- yards were to be had.

Lions RB carries(RB1 and RB2) since the Las Vegas game on MNF(with boy guys healthy_)

  • 26 @ Chargers
  • 20 vs Bears
  • 26 vs Packers
  • 26 @ Saints
  • 21 @ Bears
  • 28 vs Broncos
  • 32 @ Vikings
  • 29 @ Cowboys
  • 23 vs Vikings
  • 22 vs Rams
  • 19 vs Buccaneers

I've bemoaned the lack of running at times. We need to remember that each game varies in the # of plays. For instance, Goff still threw 40 passes at Minnesota. On the other end, we know Detroit had a low amount of plays in the Rams game. Those Saints and Bears games they got away from the run in the 3rd quarter for no reason. They were averaging 6+ a carry in each game. One, they nearly blew and the other they lost the 2nd half badly. We saw them go away from the run for about an hour this past Sunday, and that turned that game into a battle for a bit.

I think they need 26 carries min in order to have a chance in the 4th quarter here this week.

I expect Deebo plays. How effective he is will be the BIGGEST question.

Ertz practicing Thursday and Friday to get up to speed

Jonah Jackson OUT

Frank Ragnow playing through 4 injuries

Anzalone with multiple broken ribs