Warning: the following article contains multiple puns, results may vary.
The San Francisco 49ers look to build off a huge (an historic, given the 22 years between wins there) win in Green Bay. The 49ers look sharp across the board, definitely sending a message to the rest of the NFC: Last year was not a fluke. The 49ers face another test tonight, a 2011 week 6 rematch with the Detroit Lions (surely most fans remember Handshake Gate). With another strong team on the schedule, here are three keys to a Niners win.
1. Protect Alex Smith
This is easily the biggest key to the game. While Smith has vastly improved his game under coach Harbaugh, he still has a penchant to hang on to the ball too long. With that said, Smith is very vulnerable to sacks. And rest assured, the Detroit defensive line knows this. The Lions ferocious (too cliché?) pass rush will do everything in their power to pressure Smith. If they get pressure, Smith becomes susceptible to turnovers. Smith's ability to protect the ball has played a large part in both his and the team's newfound success. The pressure is definitely on the offensive line to alleviate pressure on Smith. If Smith has a nice pocket to throw from, he could post very solid numbers once again.
2. Find Optimus Prime
For those that don't get the reference, Lions All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson's nickname is 'Megatron.' Megatron is the leader of the villains in the Transformers series while Optimus Prime is the leader of the 'good bots.' Now that the 'history' lesson is over, back to my original point: The 49ers have to slow down Johnson. Johnson is absolutely deadly. He has size, speed, and incredible talent. He can beat teams going deep, catching and running, or even across the middle of the field. Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford have become one of the most dynamic QB-WR duos in the league. The Niners will have their hands full dealing with the monster that is Johnson. Expect a healthy dose of double coverage on Johnson throughout the night. If they can keep Johnson near the 100-yard mark and limit him to one touchdown, it will definitely be considered a win. Forcing Stafford to go to a second or even a third option will put the 49ers in "prime" position to win.
3. Pressure Matthew Stafford
While the Offensive line will have to protect their quarterback, the defensive line (and outside linebackers) will have to wreck their own havoc on the opposing quarterback. It's no secret that Stafford, despite the great numbers, throws a lot of interceptions. It's also no secret that the 49ers create a lot of turnovers. This makes for a volatile combination. If the Niners defense can get to Stafford, the probability for a pick increases significantly. Stafford forces a lot of passes when he has a comfy pocket, so being chased by a guy looking to plant him to the ground should force even more interception opportunities for the Niners' secondary.
Final prediction: 49ers win 27-17