NFL News & Analysis

NFL Week 1 Game Recap: San Francisco 49ers 41, Detroit Lions 33

Sep 12, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers held on for a 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions despite watching their 28-point lead reduced to just eight during the game’s final minutes. San Francisco’s offense was dominant both rushing and passing, decimating Detroit’s defense en route to the victory.


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San Francisco 49ers

Quarterbacks

Starter Jimmy Garoppolo finished with 314 yards on 17-of-25 passing despite opening the game with a turnover on a mishandled snap. Garoppolo’s fumble was one of his few blemishes on the day — he finished with a 73.6 overall grade operating Kyle Shanahan’s play-action heavy scheme with ease. Garoppolo began the game with eight-straight completions, finding his receivers in short and intermediate areas with lots of room to run. While Garoppolo wasn’t pushing the ball downfield, finishing with an 7.5 average depth of target and 59.6% of his yards coming after catch, he was incredibly effective on bootleg actions and quick throw opportunities.

Quarterback Dropbacks Yards per attempt  Adjusted completion percentage  Passer rating
Jimmy Garoppolo 27 12.6 81.8% 124.2
Trey Lance 1 5 100% 127.1

Trey Lance came in for four plays, including a touchdown strike to Trent Sherfield. The No. 3 overall pick was primarily used in RPO actions, gaining just 2 yards on his three carries.

Running backs

Raheem Mostert started the game but only managed four snaps before exiting with a knee injury. He was replaced by a committee headed primarily by rookie Elijah Mitchell. The sixth-round pick averaged an impressive 5.5 yards per carry, finishing with 104 rushing yards including a 38-yard touchdown scamper early in the second quarter. Mitchell displayed some outstanding elusiveness throughout Sunday’s contest, forcing six missed tackles while collecting 70.2% of his yards after contact.

Wide receivers and tight ends

San Francisco’s pass-catchers were effective, torching Detroit’s secondary to the tune of 219 yards and two touchdowns. Deebo Samuel was the standout of the group, reeling in nine of his 12 targets for 189 yards while averaging 12.1 yards after the catch per reception. Picking up yardage after the catch was a theme throughout Sunday’s victory, as 49er pass-catchers totaled 189 yards after the catch including 57 from tight end George Kittle, who averaged 14.3 yards after the catch per reception. 

The only mystery emanating from the San Francisco wide receiver room is the status of Brandon Aiyuk. The second-year receiver was poised for a big sophomore season following a strong rookie year, but he didn’t draw a target on 15 snaps.  

Receiver Receiving snaps Targets  Receptions  Yards/yards after catch 
Deebo Samuel 25 12 9 189/109
George Kittle 20 5 4 78/57
Brandon Aiyuk 15 0 0 0/0
Trent Sherfield 14 3 2 23/5
Mohamed Sanu 11 1 1 7/2
Elijah Mitchell 10 0 0 0/0
JaMychal Hasty 10 1 1 15/14
Kyle Juszcyzk 10 1 1 7/2
Offensive line

The 49ers’ offensive line was a well-oiled machine Sunday, routinely opening up sizable holes in the run game while consistently maintaining strong pockets in the pass game. San Francisco’s tackles were especially dominant against Detroit, dominating the edge as the 49ers averaged 6.2 yards per carry on outside zone runs. Left tackle Trent Williams was the highest-graded member of the unit, finishing with a 75.7 pass-blocking grade and an 79.2 run-blocking grade to earn a 80.5 overall grade.

Defensive Line 

San Francisco’s defensive line caused serious havoc throughout Sunday’s win, consistently overpowering Detroit’s young and inexperienced offensive line. The unit was dominant in pass rush opportunities, totaling 27 total pressures and three sacks. Dee Ford was especially effective coming off the edge, earning a 79.1 pass-rush grade while generating pressure on 20.7% of his pass rushes, including a sack of Detroit quarterback Jared Goff.

Defender Pass-rushing snaps Pressures Sacks 
Arik Armstead 27 10 0
Nick Bosa 24 6 1
Kentavius Street 23 5 1
Samson Ebukam 19 1 0
Arden Key 17 1 0
Kevin Givens 14 2 0
Dee Ford 9 6 1
D.J. Jones 7 1 0
Zach Kerr 3 1 0
Linebackers

The 49ers linebackers were inconsistent, allowing a number of explosive rushing plays. Dre Greenlaw was exceptional in coverage Sunday, finishing with a team-best 92.5 coverage grade thanks in part to a 39-yard pick-six. The group was more susceptible in run defense, allowing the Lions to average 4.8 yards per carry with an EPA of -0.009.

Secondary

The San Francisco secondary was impressive, limiting Detroit to just 6.0 yards per attempt with an EPA of -.097. Despite facing 57 attempts from Goff, the defensive backs were able to limit explosive plays, allowing just six plays over 15 yards while holding the Lions to just 3.9 air yards per completion. Rookie cornerback Deommodore Lenoir picked up where he left off this preseason, earning a unit-best 59.3 coverage grade and allowed just one reception in 68 coverage snaps while producing a 39.6 passer rating against.

Detroit Lions

Quarterback

Jared Goff shook off an inconsistent first half to finish with a respectable 338 yards through the air on 33-of-57 passing with three touchdowns and one interception. Trailing for much of Sunday’s contest, Goff was forced to look through the air early and often, dropping back 71 times while earning a 69.3 overall grade. He struggled to attack the deeper parts of the field, as just 35.4% of Goff’s yards went past the sticks and he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt.

Dropbacks Yards per attempt  Adjusted completion percentage  Passer rating
Jared Goff 71 5.9 74.6% 90.9
Running backs

The Lions totaled 116 yards on the ground with five explosive runs. Jamaal Williams received the start at running back for Detroit, earning a team-best 67.4 rushing grade with 54 yards and the group’s only rushing touchdown. D’Andre Swift handled a team-high 11 rushing attempts but was mostly ineffective, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. Swift and Williams averaged just 2.2 and 2.7 yards before contact, respectively. Williams fared much better in this respect, collecting 55.6% of his yards following contact while Swift only managed 38.5%.

Wide receivers and tight ends

Tight end T.J. Hockenson was the main beneficiary of Detroit’s pass-heavy game script Sunday, hauling in 10 total receptions on 13 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown. The former first-round pick earned a team-best 71.2 receiving grade, due in part to his seven receiving first downs and two explosive plays. As a whole, the Lions’ receiving corps struggled, dropping four passes between the unit. Kalif Raymond was Detroit’s most effective wide receiver Sunday, finishing with three receptions for 50 yards while leading the Lions wide receivers in snaps with 51.  

Receiver Receiving snaps Targets  Receptions  Yards/yards after catch 
T.J. Hockenson 59 13 10 105/59
Kalif Raymond 51 4 3 50/4
Amon-Ra St. Brown 50 4 3 37/0
D’Andre Swift 48 11 8 65/72
Trinity Benson 44 8 3 19/0
Quintez Cephus 28 7 5 38/2
Tyrell Williams 25 4 2 14/7
Jamaal Williams 23 9 8 56/58
Darren Fells 13 1 1 2/1
Jason Cabinda 6 2 0 0/0
Offensive line

Detroit’s offensive line was debatably their worst performing unit Sunday, conceding almost instant pressure in the passing game while failing to open substantial rushing lanes. The unit’s performance in pass protection was abysmal, conceding 33 total pressures, which San Francisco converted to 19 quarterback hurries and three sacks.

The team averaged only 2.3 yards before contact in the running game. Penei Sewell made his NFL debut, starting at left tackle after presumed starter Taylor Decker was placed on IR. The rookie earned the second-highest overall grade among the unit, finishing with a 70.8 overall grade to go along with a 71.8 run-blocking grade and 65.3 pass-blocking grade.

Defensive line 

The Lions defensive line performed admirably Sunday, clogging up running lanes while causing disruption in the passing game. Detroit’s play against the run was downright dominant, limiting San Francisco to an EPA of -.241 on running plays while holding the 49ers to an average of just 1.3 yards before contact. Rookie Alim Mcneil was the highest graded run defender in the unit, totaling four tackles with an average depth of tackle of 3.25 yards en route to a 65.3 run defense grade.

The group was about average against the pass, collecting six total pressures and five quarterback hurries. Edge Romeo Okwara’s 78.2 pass rush grade was the highest of the unit, as the former Notre Dame star led all Lions with four pressures and three quarterback hurries. 

Defender Pass-rushing snaps Pressures Sacks 
Romeo Okwara 21 4 0
Trey Flowers 21 0 0
Kevin Strong Jr. 18 0 0
Nick Williams 14 1 0
Michael Brockers 13 0 0
Alim Mcneil 11 0 0
Charles Harris 10 1 0
John Penisini 8 0 0
Tracy Walker 4 1 1
Ifeatu Melifonwu 2 1 0
Alex Anzalone 2 0 0
Austin Bryant 1 0 0
Jamie Collins Sr. 1 1 0
Linebackers

Detroit’s linebackers were hit-and-miss Sunday, doing their part to quell San Francisco’s rushing attack yet allowing the pass attack to thrive in the middle of the field. The 49ers averaged 8.7 yards per play and an EPA of .171 in part because of the Detroit linebackers' inability to eliminate short and intermediate receptions. Jamie Collins Sr. and Alex Anzalone, the two Detroit linebackers to log more than one coverage snap, earned 43.2 and 35.6 coverage grades, respectively. The unit was more respectable against the run, as Collins earned a team-best 88.9 run-defense grade thanks to a unit-high three tackles, including one for loss.

Secondary 

The Lions' secondary allowed a gaudy 17.7 yards per completion with an average EPA of .599 per pass play. The 49ers were not particularly focused on pushing the ball downfield, averaging just 7.2 air yards per completion, but they found immense success through the air, earning 189 yards after the catch. Safety Tracy Walker was one of the few Lions defensive backs to perform competently, allowing a unit-low 95.8 passer rating en route to a 62.6 coverage grade, tops among all Detroit defenders with over 20 coverage snaps.

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