Here we are, folks. Win this game, and we're in the Super Bowl. Lose, and we go back home with our tails behind our legs. For once, historical precedent might be on our side slightly. The last time the Lions won an away playoff game, it was against San Fransisco, in a 31-27 comeback victory led by Tom Tracy on the ground (11 carries for 86 yards and 2 touchdowns).
One of my favourite all-time Lions also played in the game on the back of being listed as a 2nd-team All-Pro and elected to the Pro Bowl. While it's hard to find out his defensive stats, he did punt the ball 4 times for an average of 43.3 yards in the game. I am, of course, talking about the dual-threat Yale Lary, who played both defensive back and punter for our Lions. Anyone who knows me knows I love special teams, safeties, and random tangents into things that aren't relevant, so you should have seen that small excursus coming.
Getting back to business, it's time to highlight the four matchups and one position group I'm going to be watching most on Sunday night. And no, I didn't put Sewell versus the Niners' edge rushers, because that was too obvious😝
Hutch vs. McKivitz- I said I wasn't including Sewell versus Bosa and Young, but I didn't say I wouldn't include what I see as one of the biggest mismatches in our favour tomorrow. You've heard it enough from me over the season that Hutch takes the majority of his snaps against the right tackle. This week, that poor soul is the Niners' fifth-round pick out of West Virginia in 2020, Colton McKivitz. When Mike McGlinchey left SF last off-season, McKivitz took up the starting job at that spot.
So far this season, he has a 65.3 offensive grade from PFF, so roughly about average for an NFL player. This grade is made up of a 68.1 run-blocking grade, and a 56.7 pass-blocking grade. On his 616 pass-blocking snaps this season, he has a 94.8% efficiency, giving up 52 pressures. Of those pressures, 9 have been sacks, 5 have been QB hits, and the other 38 were hurries. In comparison, on his 686 pass-rushing snaps, Hutch has a 21.4% win rate, creating 118 pressures. 14 of these have been sacks, with 8 of these coming over the past 4 weeks. Hutch has also had 28 QB hits and 76 hurries on the season. Definitely appears to be advantage Lions here.
Deebo vs. Sutton- We always give up big yards to opposing WR1s. Justin Jefferson, Ceedee Lamb, Puka Nacua, Mike Evans... all got big yards on us, but arguably it didn't matter as we were 4-1 against them (and should have been 5-0 if the refs knew how to do their jobs). This week, it's Deebo Samuel who is lined up to get the Cam Sutton coverage treatment.
In his 16 games this season, Deebo has caught 69.7% of his targets for 14.8 yards per reception, 8.8 yards after the catch per reception, 2.34 yards per route ran, and a 4.6% drop percentage. His ADOT was 7.2 yards which is the shortest of their main starters other than CMC. He also has a 42.9% contested catch success rate, which might be even lower tomorrow due to the shoulder injury he is nursing. The most worrying stat is that Deebo has forced 25 missed tackles this season, and that could be an issue against our defence which has had a few tackling problems this season.
Cam has given up a 67.8% catch rate for 15.9 yards per reception, 4.4 YAC per reception, and average a reception allowed every 10.7 snaps. The average depth of targets he sees is 14.4 yards. Long story short; he might have some major issues against Deebo's speed and shiftiness on Sunday, and we might have to yet again endure some explosive plays through the air.
ARSB vs. Lenoir- However, in what might be more of an even matchup, the Niners' secondary might also have issues against the Sun God. The guy is on a tear, a Super Saiyan Blue streak if his hair is anything to go by. This season, he has caught 74.9% of his targets for 12.7 yards per reception, 2.62 yards per route ran, 5.7 yards after the catch per reception, an ADOT of 5.7 yards, a 3.6% drop rate and a 53.6% contested catch rate. He has even forced 20 missed tackles this season. He really is a beast.
On the other side, Deommodore Lenoir will likely be lining up opposite him. Lenoir has lined up in the slot on 258 snaps this season. Overall, Lenoir has given up catches on 68.9% of his targets on an ADOT of 8.5 yards, for 11.4 yards per reception, 5.0 yards after the catch per reception. This means he averages a catch allowed on every 9.3 snaps.
Alim vs. Banks- Just as we will have a weakness at LG this week with Jonah out with his knee injury, so too will the Niners with Aaron Banks suffering from a lack of talent. This season he has posted a 54.9 offensive grade, which must be offensive for Niners fans to see. This is made up of a 56.5 run-blocking grade, and a 53.6 pass-blocking grade. On his 517 pass-blocking snaps, Banks has given up 28 pressures (21 hurries and 7 QB hits) for a 97.1% pass-blocking efficiency. Now, luckily for us, Alim lines up over the LG on 48.7% of his snaps. On his 406 pass-rushing snaps, Alim has created 40 pressures (5 sacks, 6 QB hits and 29 hurries), for a 12.2% win rate. That doesn't seem much, but pressure from Hutch and Alim combined will hurry Purdy and force him into mistakes.
The safeties: Stop the deep passes. Please. I'm sick and tired of Cover 1 on third-and-longs allowing the opposition's WR1 single coverage to beat, which they do. It's not even funny at this point.
Hot Take: We continue our streak of holding opposing running backs to 70 yards or less against the best back in the league.
Score Prediction: Just like last week, this has the potential to be a shoot-out. It could also be a defensive struggle. It could also be a blowout. I'm going to chug the Kool-Aid however, and say our Lions shock the Niners in their backyard by gritting out a hard win, setting up a rematch against a foe from earlier in the season in the Death Star as we finally get to a Super Bowl.
San Francisco 49ers 21, Detroit Lions 24
How do you see the game going? Will the Lions reach their first-ever Super Bowl, or will the juggernaut of the Niners be just too much for us?
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