There has been a fair amount of discussion this week about what, if anything, the Detroit Lions should do with receiver Titus Young as they prepare for Sunday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers. Young committed another costly personal foul in last week's 27-23 victory against the St. Louis Rams, and there have been some calls for a one-game benching to escalate the internal discipline he's previously faced.
I understand the sentiment, but this is one week where I'm kind of hoping the Lions look the other way. From a pure football perspective, I would love to see the Lions play Young and work him hard on the outside to challenge the 49ers in what should be a strength-on-strength matchup.
As the chart shows, the 49ers stymied the Lions' offense in a 25-19 victory last season in part by taking away throws outside the numbers. It was a testament to the 49ers' sideline-to-sideline speed as well as their downfield coverage, attributes they continued employing in last week's 30-22 victory against the Green Bay Packers. The Lions were left to work the middle of the field, where there is less of a chance for a big play.
I, for one, want to see if the Lions have the personnel and balance to pressure the 49ers' defense in a way the Packers couldn't last week. We all know what receiver Calvin Johnson can do, but the 49ers aren't likely to let him run unfettered down the sideline too often Sunday night. That puts Young at center stage as far as I'm concerned.
(I suppose the Lions could take a different route and make slot receiver/inside specialist Ryan Broyles active for this game, and try to maximize one advantage the Lions had last season. But from a spectator viewpoint, I would rather see them attack the 49ers' strength.)
Young's development this summer has been well-documented, and if he is now as versatile and skilled as purported, he could give the Lions opportunities they didn't have last season against the 49ers. Young wasn't much of a factor in that game, catching one pass for 14 yards. Johnson caught seven passes for 113 yards, but in the end the 49ers were one of only four opponents that held the Lions under 20 points last season.
I'm not saying that Young or anyone else is going to break out against what is clearly one of the NFL's most formidable defenses. But he can help prevent the 49ers from closing off a portion of the field, which would make a big difference in the Lions' play-calling, and also reduce the options available for 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
It's only relevant, of course, if Young plays. For one week, at least, I'm hoping the Lions disregard calls to punish Titus Young.