It has been a long offseason in Detroit with a lot of change, but we finally get to see the product of all that hard work on the field as the Lions kick off the Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell era with today's regular-season opener vs. San Francisco at Ford Field.
Here are five things to watch out for in today's matchup:
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
When we sit down and look at the biggest strengths for both Detroit and San Francisco, it's hard to ignore the big guys up front. More specifically, the offensive line for Detroit and San Francisco's defensive front.
The 49ers might have the best pass rush in the NFL with 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa back in the fold. He missed most of last season due to injury. He's a game wrecker, and when you line up Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and other dynamic players alongside Bosa, it's a front with a lot of juice.
Detroit might have one of the best starting five along the offensive line in football, but they'll unfortunately be shorthanded in this one with left tackle Taylor Decker missing today's game with a finger/hand injury. Decker was placed on IR Saturday.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Friday the team has options to fill Decker's spot at left tackle. They could move rookie Penei Sewell to left tackle and put swing tackle Matt Nelson at right tackle. The could also put Nelson at left tackle. Another option would be to move former tackle turned guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai back to tackle and start second-year player Logan Stenberg at guard.
It's certainly not a great situation for Detroit against a talented defensive front, but Campbell and Co. have a next-man-up mentality.
Jared Goff was admittedly upset when he was first told he'd been traded to Detroit for Matthew Stafford and two first-round picks. Goff grew up in California, attended college at Cal and was drafted and spent his first five seasons in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams. It was a bit of a culture shock moving to the Midwest.
But Goff, 26, has proven to be resilient, and since coming to Detroit and embracing the football culture here, he's grown to love the area and thinks a fresh start was needed.
Goff, who has a 42-27 record as a starter in the NFL, makes his Lions debut today against a familiar NFC West opponent in the 49ers.
A two-time Pro Bowler who took the Rams to the Super Bowl three seasons ago, Goff is trying to prove he can still be a very good signal caller in this league, and he isn't a place holder for the next Lions quarterback not yet on the roster.
Goff's got some weapons at his disposal, especially at tight end and running back, but there's big question marks surrounding the revamped wide receiver corps. Can Goff get the most out of those pass catchers? Can they get open and make plays for him?
It's been 623 days since the Lions last hosted a football game in front of a full crowd. That was the 2019 season finale on Dec. 29 of 2019. It's been a long couple years since that contest, and Lions fans and the rest of the world have been through a lot. But it will be great to welcome fans back to Ford Field later today. The atmosphere should be tremendous – at least head coach Dan Campbell expects it to be.
"I would say the message is, 'Your energy feeds our energy,'" Campbell said this week, when asked what his message to Lions fans coming to the game today would be. "I really believe that. Like last year, there was so much of an emphasis on creating your own energy because you had to. To know that you're going to be back in front of your home fans that are eager, they're anxious, they're ready to go, I think just gives you that much more of a little bit of a boost.
"I think that it can play a factor for our guys on third down, I do. I think that there is such a thing as a homefield advantage. When you can't hear out there and you can't communicate properly, I think mistakes get made for your opponent. I'm looking for a rowdy house. I expect them to be loud and I expect us to give them something that they can be loud about. That's the plan."
HOCKENSON VS. KITTLE
Detroit's T.J. Hockenson and San Francisco's George Kittle are both Iowa grads and best friends off the field. For this week, however, they're opponents.
Hockenson and Kittle won't line up across from each other today, but they'll have huge impacts for their respective offenses.
Kittle had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019 for the 49ers, earning a Pro Bowl nod in both seasons and being named All Pro in 2019. He missed half of last season due to injury. He can do it all at the position, which is why he's so well respected by the league's coaches and players.
Hockenson is coming off his first Pro Bowl season in 2020, and has arguably been the top weapon for Goff all offseason. Hockenson enters his third season healthy, stronger, more experienced, and ready to be a major player at the position in the NFL. Like Kittle, he can do it all.
Detroit's defense was historically bad in 2020, allowing the most points and yards in franchise history.
Aaron Glenn steps in at defensive coordinator and has instantly brought with him an attitude and aggressiveness his players and assistant coaches seem to feed off of. Glenn was most recently the defensive backs coach in New Orleans, where he turned the Saints secondary from one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best in just a couple seasons.
Glenn's installed a base 3-4 defense in Detroit with a strong defensive interior and a pretty good outside linebacker crew to work with. Detroit's experienced at linebacker, but their biggest question marks are probably in the secondary. How much of a step will Jeff Okudah take in his second season? Can Tracy Walker bounce back from a down 2020 season? Campbell praised cornerback Amani Oruwariye and safety Will Harris for the training camps they had. Just how big has their improvement been?
This is a good San Francisco offense led by one of the best play callers in the game in Kyle Shanahan, so it will be a good first test to see where Glenn and his defense stand after Week 1.