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Can Matt Patricia thrive outside of Bill Belichick’s shadow?

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2018. Today it’s the Detroit Lions.

The Detroit Lions are interesting. When you thought they might be getting over the hump with Jim Caldwell, they wound up just being stuck in .500+ hell, tallying back-to-back 9-7 seasons but missing the playoffs. It’s the story of Caldwell’s life—he has a great first season, then just can’t keep it going. Despite leading a Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts to 2-14, he also managed to get them to the Super Bowl his first year. With the Lions, he got them to the playoffs his first year, and then couldn’t do anything.

The playoff drought cost Caldwell his job and in is New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Patricia has come to a team with maybe the most polarizing sides of the ball; his offense ranks towards the tail end of the top-half of the league while his defense was ranked towards the tail end of the bottom half. Make matters worse is the loss of some of the pieces—tight end Eric Ebron was released while defensive tackle Haloti Ngata went to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.

Draft picks

Round 1: Frank Ragnow (C)
Round 2: Kerryon Johnson (RB)
Round 3: Tracy Walker (S)
Round 4: Da’Shawn Hand (DE)
Round 5: Tyrell Crosby (OT)
Round 7: Nick Bawden (FB)

Notable free agents

DeShawn Shead (CB)
LaGarrette Blount (RB)

The Lions desperately needed a running game, and they may have it with the running back selection of Johnson. Johnson can play three downs and may put an end to the running back shuffle the Lions were using. The addition of center Frank Ragnow can only help with all the pressure in quarterback Matthew Stafford’s face last season, but that offensive line is still bad on levels with the 2015 49ers line. The addition of LaGarrette Blount will help the running game out as well. One thing is certain, the Lions are trying to at least get the backfield figured out.

On the flipside, the lions have some new toys to play with on defense with. Their pass rush was atrocious in 2017 and the selection of Hand probably isn’t going to improve things right away. We’ll see what Patricia can do with this unit.

Way too early gambling line

49ers -3.5

The matchup

Somehow, some way, despite having issues, the Lions carved out a 9-7 record in 2017. They managed to beat the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota, but also benefited from an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team. So trying to decide what the Lions are is anyone’s guess.

The Lions pass rush has issues and it seems like they did little to address it in free agency. Not to mention, their running game is non-existent, which could be a product of their offensive line. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 47 times in 2017, the second-most in the league. Even the 49ers defense has to be licking their chops with that O-line.

On the other end, Jimmy Garoppolo’s quick release can make the Lions pass-rush pay dearly, if it even gets into his zipcode in time. Matt Patricia has some pieces to work with, but it seems like that he may need some time to get things where he wants it.

Stafford can’t be slept on, despite all that pressure, he still only threw 10 interceptions and amassed 4,446 yards. The Lions liked to pass under Caldwell, and they retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, so not much should change unless their running game somehow shows up. Given the unknown factor of the 49ers secondary, that passing game could give them fits. That said, I still see the Lions being beaten handily by the 49ers. Despite retaining Jim Bob Cooter, I think the 49ers can contain Stafford and whatever running game the Lions attempt to install this season.