Allen Park — The Detroit Lions defense had plenty of problems against the New York Jets, but one recurring issue that wasn’t tested was the team’s ability to defend tight ends. That’s going to change this week, when up-and-coming receiving threat George Kittle tests Detroit in the second level.
The Jets didn’t really pose a threat on that front. Their tandem of Neal Sterling and Eric Tomlinson had combined for 26 catches in 42 games prior to hauling in four passes for 34 yards in Monday's victory. Kittle, on the other hand, had five grabs for 90 yards for the 49ers in Week 1, just short of his career-high 100 yards, which he recorded in the season finale last season.
“Outstanding tight end,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Second year here out of Iowa. He’s really come into his own. I think he’s a reliable player for them in their offensive scheme. I think even if you go back under the West Coast roots, there's a lot of great tight ends that have played in that system through the course of the years.
"He’s certainly one that demands a lot of respect and a lot of attention," Patricia said. "Really a clutch player for them, a guy that’s performed very well on third down in the red area. He’s a big guy and he has the ability to move vertically into the defense. He has good hands, really is very trusted by the quarterback.”
Kittle’s day could have been even bigger had he not dropped a long touchdown pass when he came free down the middle of the field.
The matchup will have an air of familiarity for Lions safety Glover Quin. When he came into the league, with the Houston Texans, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was the team’s offensive coordinator. Quin got used to practicing against how the coach liked to use the position.
“It’s so vivid for me, because I was on a team with Kyle Shanahan,” Quin said. “When I first got in the league, Kyle Shanahan had Owen Daniels, in Houston. Owen Daniels was a legitimate receiving tight end. Fast forward, they’ve got Kittle. He’s a legitimate receiving tight end.”
Stopping opposing tight ends has been problematic for the Lions in recent years. The team has allowed 20 touchdown receptions to the position over the past three seasons. But with a new defensive scheme, under Patricia, it's possible the team sees improvement in the area.
Lions at 49ers
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Sunday, Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco
Records: Both teams are 0-1
Line: 49ers by 6