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The Cheat Sheet: Can the Lions contain Shanahan’s offense?

Everything you need to know for Week 2 against the 49ers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The good news about this week for the Lions is that it’s short. The Lions need to quickly get the bad taste out of their mouths from Monday night.

The bad news is they’re facing one of the best offensive chess players in the entire NFL. The Lions’ key for this week will be containing Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered offense in San Francisco.

A staple of Shanahan’s offense is creating big plays out of ‘21’ personnel (two running backs and one tight end). He especially likes to attack the middle of field against linebackers and safeties. His plans have gone a bit awry since running back Jerick McKinnon went down with a season ending injury, but the strategy remains the same.

Now the 49ers are looking at the combination of Alfred Morris and Matt Breida to man the backfield. Shanahan’s biggest backfield threat might just be fullback (yes, fullback) Kyle Juszczyk.

Here’s a 56-yard bomb from last week’s game against the Vikings.

This offense is designed to get guys open – even fullbacks. It’s going to be necessary for the Lions to stay disciplined and not give up chunk plays down the field.

Opponent snapshot

The San Francisco 49ers certainly have their own issues, but Sunday is their home opener and they’ll also be trying to avoid going 0-2 to start the year. The Niners won’t come into Sunday’s game without a few open questions of their own. Two offensive guards went down last week with injuries, along with budding star Marquise Goodwin.

“They’ll be day-to-day,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanhan said. “Hopefully, they’ll have a chance this Sunday.”

Even without Goodwin and their top guards, the 49ers still have enough firepower to give the Lions’ defense fits.

49ers’ biggest threat

George Kittle

Unless you’re big into fantasy football, George Kittle might not mean much to you. But for the 49ers he’s a big reason they’re able to attack opposing linebackers.

Although he’s coming off an injury, Kittle still played 51 snaps last week against the Vikings. And against Minnesota’s stout defense he still managed five catches for 90 yards. He didn’t find the end zone, but he did miss a couple of big plays that could have been dangerous.

49ers’ weak link

Defensive secondary

The 49ers signed former division rival Richard Sherman from the Seahawks this offseason to try and bolster their secondary. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to do much to help them. After watching (and re-watching) their Week 1 matchup against the Vikings, it’s clear the 49ers’ cornerbacks can be exposed.

When plays were there to be made, the cornerbacks simply couldn’t make them. Often times they failed to look for the ball until it was too late, if they looked for it at all. Because of this, I think Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay could be in for big games.

Remember, Jones dropped two could-be touchdown passes against the Jets. Those were plays he routinely made last season, and should start to make.

Bottom line

The Lions are going to have to prove it to me. I don’t expect the blowout from last week, but there wasn’t much from the preseason or Week 1 to give me much confidence. I think they’ll have some nice drives, but in the end it won’t be enough to win.


49ers 24, Lions 21

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