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Detroit Lions Week 1 scouting report: The 49ers are true NFC West contenders

The 49ers are entering 2021 healthy and could present a lot of matchup problems for the Lions.

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions open up the Dan Campbell era with one heck of a challenge. The NFC West figures to be one of the toughest divisions, and the San Francisco 49ers are perhaps the most underrated team amongst its four competitors.

Just two seasons ago, this team was in the Super Bowl, and a lot of the key parts from that squad still remain. They’ve got one of the most well-respected coaches in the league in offensive guru Kyle Shanahan, and they have a reputation of one of the most feared defenses (when healthy).

But like every team, they’ve gone through some changes this offseason, making Week 1 a tough game to project. Still, this team could be dangerous, giving the Lions a very interesting matchup in their season opener.

Let’s take a closer look at the San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco 49ers

Last season:

6-10 record (4th in NFC West)

21st in points scored, 17th in points allowed

Overall DVOA: 11th (20th on offense, 6th on defense)

The 2020 season for the San Francisco 49ers was all about injuries. The following players spent at least half of the season on the sidelines due to injury:

  • WR Tavon Austin
  • WR Travis Benjamin
  • DE Nick Bosa
  • RB Tevin Coleman
  • DE Dee Ford
  • C Ben Garland
  • QB Jimmy Garoppolo
  • TE George Kittle
  • C Weston Richburg
  • CB Richard Sherman
  • S Jaquiski Tartt
  • DE Solomon Thomas
  • CB K’Waun Williams

... and those were just the players that were lined up for significant roles. In total, the 49ers suffered 161.6 adjusted games lost due to injury, which was by far the most in the NFL (Eagles were second with 126.1).

Even with all the injury issues, the 49ers managed to stay competitive. They hovered around .500 for most of the season before dropping four of their final five games. Surprisingly, their defense remained very strong, allowing just 4.0 yards per carry (sixth) and an average passer rating of just 88.6 (eighth).

Offense was a bigger issue, but that’ll happen when Nick Mullens is your starting quarterback for eight games.

2021 offseason

Key free agent additions: C Alex Mack, DE Samson Ebukam, DT Zach Kerr, S Tavon Wilson, DE Arden Key, WR Mohamed Sanu

Key losses: WR Kendrick Bourne, DE Kerry Hyder, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, DL Solomon Thomas, RB Tevin Coleman, CB Richard Sherman, DE Dion Jordan

2020 NFL draft picks:

Round 1: QB Trey Lance
Round 2: G Aaron Banks
Round 3: RB Trey Sermon
Round 4: CB Ambry Thomas
Round 5: OT Jaylon Moore
Round 5: CB Deommodore Lenoir
Round 5: S Talanoa Hufanga
Round 6: RB Elijah Mitchell

This offseason, the 49ers only really added a couple key pieces. Veteran Alex Mack takes over at center after San Francisco dealt with injuries at the position. Samson Ebukam takes a reserve role left by the departure of former Lion Kerry Hyder.

But looking at their losses, none seem particularly damning for this team. Witherspoon and Thomas are young players that never really lived up to their potential, while Sherman was well past his prime.

Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t expect a ton from the 49ers’ draft class right away. Trey Lance is dealing with an injury, and even if he’s good to go on Sunday, we’ll likely only see a little of him. Aaron Banks is not expected to start, and Trey Sermon will be RB2 behind the underrated Raheem Mostert.

Really, the 49ers’ 2021 roster is more about getting all of those injured players back than it is bringing along new additions.

Coaching changes:

Lost: Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (Jets HC), Pass game coordinator Mike LaFleur (Jets OC), QB coach Shane Day (Chargers QB coach), OL coach John Benton (Jets OL coach, run game coordinator), CB coach Tony Oden (Jets CB coach)

Promoted: DeMeco Ryans from iLB coach to defensive coordinator, Mike McDaniel from run game coordinator to offensive coordinator, Chris Foerster from asst. o-line coach to o-line coach,

Hired: QB coach Rich Scangarello, DBs coach Cory Undlin

The 49ers went through a lot of coaching changes this offseason, as defensive coordinator Robert Saleh earned the Jets head coaching job and brought several coaches along with him.

The good news for the 49ers is that they developed their coaches from within, and filled most of their vacancies by promoting internally. Perhaps most noteworthy is former inside linebackers coach—and player—DeMeco Ryans taking over Saleh’s spot at defensive coordinator. Much like some of the coaches on the Lions roster, Ryans’ perspective as a former player and the energy he brings to practices have him pegged as an up-and-comer who may have head coach written all over him.

Also, hey there Cory Undlin!

Key injuries: QB Trey Lance (finger), EDGE Dee Ford, LB Mychal Kendricks (IR), DT Maurice Hurst (IR), S Tarvarius Moore (PUP)

It sounds like Dee Ford is going to play, but he’ll be on a pitch count given his injury-riddled career. Less is known about Lance, who no longer has a splint on his finger, but was not throwing the ball during the open portion of practice on Monday.

We’ll know more about the 49ers’ injury situation on Wednesday afternoon when the first injury reports are due. We’ll update this spot once that drops.

Biggest strength: Pass rush

In our conversation with 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco, he said that Nick Bosa—who had 9.0 sacks and an 89.8 PFF rating his rookie season—looks even better after missing most of 2020 with a torn ACL. Throw in Dee Ford (13.0 sacks in 2018), Arik Armstead (10.0 sacks in 2019), and Samson Ebukam, and the Lions’ new-and-improved offensive line will be tested right away.

Biggest weakness: Secondary

The 49ers defensive backs aren’t high-profile names. Jimmie Ward is the best known of the bunch, followed by cornerback Jason Verrett. Aside from third-year corner Emmanuel Moseley, it’s an aging bunch following by complete unprovens as depth. The team’s concern about the position is evidenced by their addition of Josh Norman this week. Norman is 33 years old and his best days are clearly behind him.

But do the Lions have anyone who can take advantage?

Vegas line for Sunday: 49ers by 7.5

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